Open Mike: Is a woman ever too young to parent?

I mentioned in the post I put up after I returned from Key West that my friend (also an adoptive mother) and I had a good discussion about adoption. It's a three-hour-plus drive, so we had a long time to talk about a lot of thing in more depth that is usually possible.

One of these has been turning in my mind ever since: If there's an age at which parenting simply isn't a viable option for a young mother.

Had you asked me this question twenty years ago, my answer would have spoken of the need for adults to do the parenting, and for children to be children. Adoption, aside, I think most everyone would agree that it simply makes sense for people to wait until adulthood before taking on the challenge of raising a child. But I would like to better understand if a mother's youth is or isn't a good reason to consider adoption before parenting.

I have to say that I'm not sure if this is the right question to be asking. Maybe the right one is simply how we best preserve relationships between mothers and children, regardless of their ages - that would force us to look at all possible situations, including teen mothers. But that strays from the question that's been turning in my mind, so let me ask it this way, in three parts:

Is there an age at which a woman is too young to parent?
Is adoption more appropriate when a single mother
is still a child herself?
Are there alternatives to adoption that are particularly
appropriate for single teen mothers?

I'm particularly interested in what first moms have to say, but would like to hear from anyone with an opinion. Please comment or post - and remember, anonymous comments are welcome.


Nicole said…
My answers?


Longer view: I think a very, very young woman (girl)--say, an eleven-year-old--is going to need a TON of support, if she parents. But I don't think there's anything inherently wrong, or that it would be detrimental to her baby, to give her the support as she raises her own child.

Maybe to some degree she'd need a "co-parent" of sorts... someone actually helping her with parenting decisions, even as she continues to be parented herself.

And I think it would be HARD, but doable, if the girl's parents (baby's grandparents) were willing to do it--to continue raising their daughter, AND help their daugher raise her child (their grandchild).

Alternatively, we could set up programs that allowed young girls to go live with older adults who would take in her AND her baby, and help raise them both, and support the young mom in learning parenting skills, until the day that the mom could take over herself, gain some more autonomy.
suz said…
too young? i would say no.

age does not guarantee a decent mother. look at how many older moms abuse, mistreat, neglect their children. (just like a college education does not guarantee one can actually function in a job they are hired to do).

i dont believe it has anything to do with age or even maturity but EVERYTHING to do with support systems and resources, even cultural influences.

having had a child at 18 and two in my 30s I can tell you without question my body was MADE to have children when I was younger.

put any woman, of any age, in desolation, with no support, no money, no housing and see how good she is at parenting. tell her she is awful and unwanted and her child deserves better than her and see how good she is at parenting.

it is society and environment that help make good mothers - not age.

i recently met a woman is the mother to seven children. her first she had at 15. she has been married 25 years and is truly amazing. what did she have at 15 that I did not have at 18?

support from a family and friends that loved her, valued her and her child.

Gwen said…
Well I have to say being a mom to an almost eleven year old daughter there is no way she could parent a child successfully. I think I would be kidding myself! Yes I could essentially do it for her (and I'm not saying I wouldn't because I would,) but I'm not sure that would be the best thing for everyone involved. First of all my daughter would no longer be able to be a child and oh how I have seen how damaging that can be. Secondly, I seriously believe that the child would not be in the best of care. Heck...I won't leave my other children alone with my almost 11 year old why in the world would I feel should be able to parent a child? Yes I definitely think 11 is too young.

Now...a little older like 15ish??? No that is not the best of situations but doable with support. I still see big problems arising from it though. I'm not sure those problems are any easier than dealing with adoption. Of course I don't inherently see adoption as a bad thing though.

All in all I think there is no one specific age that says, "yes you are old enough to parent." I think you have to look at the individual and see where they are in their maturity. No matter what if it is was my child pregnant I would help any way I could but I'm having a very difficult time visualizing my daughter where she is at in life now ever being able to parent at all. views are probably skewed by that. At the same time I cannot invision placing my grandchild for adoption either. Again..very difficult situation and I would have to think long and hard about what is best for the child because in reality an 11 year old cannot make that decision wisely.

This is a very difficult set of questions you pose and clearly I'm having a hard time finding a good answer so now I ramble!!!
Gwen said…
In my previous post I wrote,

I'm having a very difficult time visualizing my daughter where she is at in life now ever being able to parent at all.

I didn't write that well and I didn't mean that she would never be able to parent. What I meant to say was that I can't see her being able to parent in any kind of way where she is at right now in life. Does that make any better sense? LOL!!!!
Dana said…
I like what Nicole said, especially Alternatively, we could set up programs that allowed young girls to go live with older adults who would take in her AND her baby, and help raise them both, and support the young mom in learning parenting skills, until the day that the mom could take over herself, gain some more autonomy.

But honestly, I think that would be next to impossible. It just goes against the control-freak aspect of human nature, and the desire to be Loved Above All Others when you're the one calling the shots for a baby. It would take a very special kind of person to walk the balance of nurturing the young mother without pulling the "I'm older and know better" trump card all the time.
Dawn said…
I know there are programs like the one Nicole mentioned but they are few and far between. To the questions:
--Depends on the woman.
--Not necessarily.
--Yes and what those are depends on the woman.
Anonymous said…
Younger than 15 seems too young, but I suppose it would depend on the individual and she certainly would need lots of adult support. I don't think it's the ideal childhood to be raised by a teenaged mom; and yet I realize that there are many less-than-ideal situations. My basic belief is that a child deserves to be parented by an intact family, a mother and a father if at all possible. Teenaged girls are very unlikely to choose adoption for their first born children in modern day society; most mothers relinquishing children are over 21 now. Second borns are a different story. Even teens who are doing a great job mothering a first born cannot handle a second and third child. That is why we now see a large majority of relinquished babies are second or third borns. Interesting topic. My basic wish is that more teen girls would focus less on sex and more on education.
Karen M said…
The vague, nebulous depends.

I've known some 16 year olds who were certainly able to be a parent, with some adult/second parent support. On the other hand, there's a 45-year-old woman of my acquaintance (not me) who isn't quite mature enough to parent her children. And hers are 7 and almost 5.

As Dawn said, it all depends.
Mom2One said…
Those are good questions, but hard to come up with substantial answers because I'm also of the "it depends" answer. I would think it would depend on the individual girl/woman who's pregnant and if she has support or someone who would be willing and able to co-parent or at least help out a great deal.

Generally, I would hesitate letting a teenager younger than 15 or 16 parent, but again, it would really depend on the individual.

Then again, I really wouldn't want to force a young woman to place her baby for adoption. I don't think that would be right either.

This is just a really complicated question with such complicated possiblities for answers.
Jen said…
My fifteen year old niece and her son lived with us for a number of years. She is a great mom, I learned alot from her. We never sought to parent her son for her. Having the bills and household taken care of for her until she was able to manage them on her own allowed her the chance to parent her son well.

This was an unconventional arrangement that served her well. She has continued the unconventional and lives in an apartment beside her son's father to allow her son access to both parents.

Here in Canada, foster care attempts to place young mothers in their care in homes like this with varying degrees of success.

Not sure where I found the fortitude to help her keep her son when we so desperately wanted to adopt ourselves. The media drives me crazy painting AP as desperate individuals willing to do anything. I think that is the exception not the norm.
Thea said…
To those who are saying that an 11-year-old shouldn't parent because it "wouldn't allow her to be a child" I'd ask, how much childhood do you think she has left after having been impregnated (almost by definition an act of rape in this case) and experiencing pregnancy and childbirth? I think the "preserving her childhood" argument is incredibly fallacious and highlights a major problem in how we think about this kind of issue. We think in terms of "what girls should be permitted to do" and not in terms of "how to best defend the interests of girls." If we were really interested in protecting girls, we'd be having conversations about how to minimize the trauma of pregnancy related to sexual assault at an early age. Not conversations about whether those girls should be "allowed" to keep their own babies.

In fact, I find it curious that when this topic comes up for discussion in adoption circles there is seldom any discussion whatsoever of how young girls/teens became pregnant in the first place. Possibly because that conversation might lead to comments on how a coercive adoption industry might simply be the next stop on the oppression and injustice conveyor belt for such young women, and that's not a fun conversation to have.
MomEtc. said…
Yes. If my daughter got pregnant at a very young age, as her mother, I would see it as my job to help her parent. It boggles my mind when I read about parents who force adoption on their daughters.
Lisa V said…
I am a contextualist at heart- so for me it depends on the child and her circumstances.

My 12 year old would not be a competent parent, as far as being responsible and figuring things out. However, she is an excellent nurturer. With help she would probably be an okay mom- though truthfully Bert and I would end up parenting for a specific period of time.

My 15 year old is very responsible and could figure out what needed to be done to parent a child competently. However, she is not a nurturer. I honestly don't think she would choose to parent. She has said as much to me and other teenagers. She would either place or abort.

The social worker that did our adoptions told me that the younger the girl the more likely she was to parent. The older the more likely she was to place.

I used to think this was because the older girl new what really happened in parenting, and the younger one saw the baby as a doll without seeing the full implications. But in retrospect, I suspect the younger the girl is the more likely she has resources available to her (family, aid) that older girls are expected to provide for themselves.
Dana said…
, how much childhood do you think she has left after having been impregnated (almost by definition an act of rape in this case) and experiencing pregnancy and childbirth?

I think that's an excellent point, Thea, and not one that you hear often enough.Considering the amount of trauma that would be included in all that, I don't see why it should be necessary to add more to it by pressuring her to give up the baby (assuming she has people who can help her). It's not like she'd be able to revert back to her carefree "ride my bike and play Barbies" days anyway.
Margie said…
Thank you all for sharing your points of view. I struggled with how to pose this question, and see that there are many, many questions that should precede this one.

Thea, thank you for bringing something extremely important into this discussion - the fact that once a young girl or teen has experienced pregnancy, her childhood is essentially over. This triggered a mile-long comment, which I'm going to put up as a separate post.
Anonymous said…
I know this is going to be controversial -- but I don't think an 11 year old should deliver, forget about parenting. I have an ob friend who said it can ruin their bodies. I would strongly counsel my daughter to terminate (PARTICULARLY if it was rape or some other very awful experience that led to her pregnancy). Of course, I would not make her, and would try to be exceedingly sensitive, would even probably involve a counselor, but I am her mother and I would, I am sorry to say, strongly push abortion.
suz said…
this queston brought another interesting one to my mind. maybe you could consider it for a future open mike....

why is the white community in USoA so willing to discard their daughters and their children to adoption where the black and hispanic communities support their women?

is it that their communities find accpeting social welfare acceptable or do they place a higher value on the mother child bond? or? or? or?

i am going to post on this in my own blog but wanted to drop it here too.
Violeta said…
as others have said, i think that resources and support are the most essential needs for young mothers. i think that all of us should focus most on providing these in a way that keeps the original family intact (social support, familial support, community programs). however, should a young mom (or a birthmom of any age) chose to place, i believe we still need to focus on these things within this relationship as well (ethical agencies, open adoption, family support, open records, etc.). i guess what i'm getting at is that age and situation shouldn't matter as much as they do in the help the young moms/ birthmoms receive and the course that is plotted for them. i think no matter her age though, it's important for the birthmom to be the one in charge of deciding whether to place or parent- if she is the one impregnated, carrying and delivering the child, she, not her parent or guardian should be the one to make the final decision... and whatever it may be she deserves to be supported in it to the fullest ability of society and those around her.
MomEtc. said…
suz - that's a good question. I think it also has to do with social class. Where I grew up, young mothers gave birth, went on welfare and mostly lived in poverty. It was accepted. Everyone had people in their family who did the same thing. Some families were very happy about it, because they valued the new addition to the family more than what society thought, what opportunities their daughter would lose, etc.

I think in many of the families I knew, the girl may have been shunned if she relinquished rights to the child.
Thea said…
I'm looking forward to your follow-up post, Third Mom.

Suz, that is such a GREAT question. I think about what ifs for my daughter's future a lot, and when the question "what if she became pregnant very young?" came up I didn't hesitate at all--I'd support her in any choice she made. I would definitely encourage her to parent over relinquishing, though, with the understanding that she would get all the help I could possibly give her. And no question at all, she and her child would be welcome to live in my house, eat my food, and share my resources so long as they needed to. Absolutely. There would be no blame/shame/pressure/passive-aggressive BS. She is too valuable to me for that!

But then I think about most of the white parents of my parents' generation who I know...and I am decidedly weird compared to them. Had I become pregnant as a teen, I would have been in deep shit with my family, and likely would have been pressured to "get rid of it" or at least get out of their house and out of their sight. In fact, when I became pregnant at 25--planned pregnancy, married for 4 years, solvent, working on a very flexible creative career--my parents' first question was "what are you going to do about it?"

I think maybe the bonds of oppression help families of color see more clearly that each other really is all we have in this world, and white families are too easily blinded by their own privilege and materialism. Sad but true.
Mom2One said…
Suz, I think there are definite cultural differences working there, and I would guess that they place a higher value on family overall. That's a generalization, but they tend to have extended family living with them, more family members in one household and therefore more family members who could help out with a baby. Again, a generalization, but it does seem to fit in many -- not all -- but in many instances.
Gwen said…
Having a brother that married a woman from Mexico I can tell you that having extended family living with you and helping out etc. does not always equate to a good thing. My sister-in-law had a child in her late teens and although she did not relinquish the child she has really not raised her either. Now that the child is 15 years old and finally living with her mother without the extended family for the past year things have not been that great. She is wayyy confused about who the authority is etc. SHe is rebelling and I think may in fact end up pregnant as a teen herself. Of course my sister-in-law is not an A+ Mother to the child she has had with my brother either so I'm probably just venting family issues here rather than making any headway with this discussion! LOL!

I guess my point was that I see this situation as a perfect example as to why perhaps placing COULD have been better for this child.
Anonymous said…,,21441919-661,00.html
Anonymous said…
Oops. I was the person who left the link above. The story refers to a situation that occurred near where I live in Australia.

As Nicole has mentioned in her blog, there is an enormous difference in attitude towards adoption in Australia vs. The U.S.

I had my son when I nineteen, and although I was 'prospected' by a woman who wanted my baby (an event that turns my stomach to this day), it was generally assumed that I would parent, which I did.

I lived with my parents and younger brothers until my son was six months old and then I was approved for government-subsidised housing and was paid a single parent pension, which made it possible to stay home with my son.

Even so, it was hard. I fell pregnant during my first year of college, and there are times where I - not regret, not resent - but just feel... wishful, that I could have experienced adulthood a little more before taking on the responsibility of parenthood.

I do wish I'd had the resources to provide more for my son. And I don't just mean materially, or financially. Mentally and emotionally, as much as I loved him, I don't know that I was ready to be a parent.
And the one thing that I longed to be able to provide, but couldn't, was his father.

I was still very young at nineteen. In hindsight, I shudder at how naive I was, at how much I was unaware of in the world around me. My fundamentalist Christian upbringing (in a small town, no less!) contributed largely to that.

I know you didn't ask for life stories, so I'm sorry if that was too long! Just wanted to provide a little background to go with my answers. Which are:

- I don't think there's a specific age that renders a girl too young to parent. That's not to say that I don't think a girl can ever be too young, just that I don't think an arbitrary number can decide that.

- No. Even if a girl is too young, I don't believe adoption is the answer. Look at that article with the twelve year old being assisted by her parents. Support and assistance is a far better alternative to placement.

- Yes, I think some alternatives are definitely more suited to teen single mothers. As a pregnant teen, living with my parents still seemed like a normal, natural thing to do. I can't imagine moving back in with my parents as an almost thirty year old, nor would I accept their advice or assistance as readily.

Katerina -
Margie said…
Suz, your thought has been on my mind for a long time, too - please do post about that! I believe that what Thea points out (that a history of oppression among people of color gives them a different sense of the value of each life) is a definite factor.
Maria said…
The average age of mothers who place a child is in their 20s. Children shouldn't be having sex much less raising children..... an 11 year old should never parent!
Anonymous said…
Well I am surprised to see so many people who say NO a girl is never too young to parent.
How about a 5 year old?
Not just pulling numbers out of the air, true story go read if you care to her name is Lina Medina and she still lives in Peru.
I think it's a matter of maturity. A young child is not mature enough to provide the structure (let alone the support as in food, clothing, housing) to raise another child.
Anonymous said…
suz - I loved your comments about cultural differences. My daughter was in college when she became pregnant, and the pressure to choose adoption from our/her upper middle class, white friends was unbelievable (almost everyone we knew had friends or family members looking for an infant to adopt). It was my AA friends who made us step back and think about the consequences of losing a child from our family. Of course, once we did that we realized that there was no "crisis" in her unplanned pregnancy, and we started to allow ourselves to experience the joy of anticipating a new family member.

Sorry I did not mean to steer the blog off-course. Very young girls parenting is doable if she gets support from her family, a well-staffed shelter for moms and children (we have one that we support in our area), or a foster family.

Someone mentioned foster homes for young mothers and their babies. I have a French friend who went to South America many years ago to adopt an infant. When she heard that the 14 year old mother was in deep mourning over the loss of her child that she had cared for 6 months, my friend adopted the mother as well. Yes - my friend is a very special kind of person, and I think that the French culture is more supportive of non-traditional families than the American culture. My friend found the balance to nurture both children. The family is tri-lingual (French, Spanish, English), and celebrate French and Latin-American cultures.

All too often, the youngest mothers are just thrown aside with little regard for their sense of motherhood and feelings for their children.

Erika said…
there are immature people at any age. i think all pregnant mothers, teen aged or otherwise, should be given resources and support to get ready for parenting. i am an advocate for family preservation.there also newer programs popping up all over, where young moms live with foster type parents, where they can continue with school, keep the baby and have the foster family for support.i dont think adoption is always the answer.
Margie said…
Hi, Erika, thanks for commenting. And you raise a great point - age is NOT necessarily equivalent to maturity. We have to look at each situation, and consider the best course of action across a range of programs. And at all times, our focus should be on preserving the first family, and if that's simply not possible, preserving the connection.

I know you are doing a lot to raise awareness in Canada, and I appreciate that you stopped by here to add your voice. Thanks again!
Anonymous said…
Well I'm a little behind in reading this, so no one may read my

Just a thought, as a parent, honestly if my five year old managed to both concieve and bear a child (though I think any doctor would recommend a termination just to save the young girls life, or risk to her life) but if somehow that happened, I would view my daughters child as my own and she would be raised as such, not with any secrets, but you would obviously parent both your 5 year old child and grandparent as you would a five year old and another five year old.

I would look at it the same way I would a crisis pregnancy for myself, hey, it happened and now how do we be there for all of our family members?

I would assume responsability for my grandchildren if they were born to my child when the child is a minor.
proud mommy said…
I noticed you were asking about an age problem.. well i just turn 16 in august and i just had my first child in june, and i am a fine mother im mature and i know what to do and what not to do.. but dont get me wrong i have a TON of family and friend support and without them i couldnt make it.. so yeah i would say it depends on your age.. like some others have said i know a few that right now it seems they will never grow up.. thanks for taking my opinion..
i really like this page :)
Margie said…
Proud Mommy, I'm really glad you commented. I think if we could hear from more young women who are successfully parenting their children, it could go a long way toward change the knee-jerk reaction that some people have toward teen parents.

If we accept that we are all unique individuals, we should accept that each case must be looked at the same way. I'm really glad that you were and are given the kind of support that has made it possible for you to be your child's mom at your young age. Kudos to you and to everyone who supports you for allowing that to be the case.

And thanks for stopping by!

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