Pippa was 17 when she had Bessie. Her boyfriend then left, and Pippa had to return to work when Bessie was three months old. Pippa is now 25 and Bessie is seven. They live in Melbourne, Victoria.
‘I’d just broken up from a two-year relationship with Bessie’s father when I found out I was four months pregnant. I was 17 at the time. Although we tried to get back together it just didn’t work, and we didn’t see each other for most of the pregnancy. After Bessie was born her father made contact for the first six months, but after that, he just disappeared. I haven’t seen him since.
‘I had a full-time job when I got pregnant, and three months after Bessie was born I returned to work. I had to. I didn’t have any support from my parents and Bessie went into child care. I’d already been living out of home for a while and my parents freaked out – we didn’t have the best relationship at the time.
‘I coped because I had to. I didn’t have much help except from friends, but I didn’t find parenting as difficult as some people made it out to be. The hardest part was dealing with so many different bits of expert advice from books, other parents and so on. Everyone has a different view on how children should be raised and I learnt that you can’t panic – you just have to trust your instincts in the end. Mind you, I think if I had a baby now, I’d be much more stressed than when I had Bessie. When she was a baby and she got sick I’d think, "Oh, she’ll be right" and she always was. I think now I’d be much more aware.
‘One of the hardest parts of bringing Bessie up has been dealing with other people being judgemental. I’m aware that at school other parents gossip and I know that Bessie suffers from this. I’ve discussed it with her teacher – the bullying and teasing from other kids. Sometimes I worry about how this is affecting her, but I guess all kids get it in some way at some point in their school lives.
‘At the end of the day though, we have a very special relationship. We’re very close and have excellent communication, and Bessie understands that she can talk to me about anything. My relationship with my parents has also improved a lot and they now play an active role in her life, which makes me just so happy.’
At a glance
- The teen birthrate is declining: there were 55.5 babies per 1000 teen mothers in 1971, down to 16 in 2010.
- About 90% of teenage mothers are unmarried, and 60% have no male partner when they give birth.
- Unsupported teenagers are more likely to have babies with health complications such as low birth weight and prematurity.
- Getting extra support can help teenage parents manage any academic or behavioural issues their children might have.
- Research shows that if teenage parents get a chance to continue their education, it will make it easier for them and their childen in the long run.
Teenagers get pregnant for all kinds of reasons, but they’re more likely than older women to fall pregnant because they don’t use birth control (they may think, ‘I’ll never get pregnant’), or because they have romanticised ideas about having a baby.
Some teenagers are more likely to have a child than their peers. These include teenagers who:
- experience regular conflict in their family
- suffered violence and sexual abuse in childhood
- had a mother who was a young parent
- have unstable housing arrangements
- have trouble performing at school
- are from a low socioeconomic background
- have an absent father
- have low self-esteem.
Being a parent can make it harder to get an education or find a job. Juggling the responsibilities of being a parent with work, school and a social life can be tiring. It can also be very difficult to get child care, and almost impossible to get affordable child care (for more information see Work & Child Care). These difficulties can make it hard to cope financially, and can make parents feel lonely and apart from their family and friends.
On the other hand, teenage parents can find they have all the energy in the world to keep up with toddlers. They can also be better than older parents at dealing with the new lifestyle of being a parent; they’re much better at dealing with little or no sleep, for example. But young parents who are still physically developing while pregnant can struggle with sustaining two growing bodies at once.
Some teenage parents might feel they’re so busy trying to cope with the rest of their life that they can’t give their children enough attention. Because they might also have to worry about finishing their education, working or finding a job, they might not feel as though they can enjoy their children or feel as satisfied as much as older parents.
For further help
If you’re a teenager and a parent, there are ways to help yourself and your child. Getting support from your family, friends and services in the community can help you cope with being a young parent.
- See if there’s a way you can finish school if you haven’t already. This might mean studying at night while a partner, friend or parent minds your child. In the long run, having an education will help with your chances of finding a job, and studying can help you to feel less lonely.
- If you can stay with your parents while your child is young, this may help you deal with the pressures of caring for your child or coping financially. Your parents might also be able to give you some backup when you need it, and even share some tips from when you were a baby.
- If you’re on your own or living away from your family, find out what sorts of financial support you can get through Centrelink to help with living expenses and rent.
- Contact your local community centre for support groups for parents. These sorts of groups can provide emotional support as well as information on child development and health care.
- See if your local council can put you in touch with a counselling service. Counselling can help parents with their own issues as well as those associated with being a parent at a young age.
- Speak to different experts that you come in contact with – such as your doctor, community health nurse or other experts associated with child care – to learn about creating the best home environment for your child. They can also help you learn about topics such as nutrition, health and emotional development.
- The government Job Services Australia program can help you find work or training if you’re struggling.