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A multigenerational odyssey: A 28 year follow-up of teen mothers and families Lee SmithBattle, RN, PhD, School of Nursin...

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A multigenerational odyssey: A 28 year follow-up of teen mothers and families Lee SmithBattle, RN, PhD, School of Nursing, Saint Louis University Preliminary Results

Background According to conventional wisdom, teen childbearing interrupts adolescent development and threatens the life-course of the mother and the health and development of the child. The pervasive focus on teen mothers’ deficits and failures overlooks their resilience, the role that parenting plays in redirecting their lives, and the impact of social disparities on long-term maternalchild outcomes. No known studies have adopted a multigenerational, qualitative Purposedesign to examine how mothers’ and children’s lives unfold over time and are shaped, for better or worse, by life events, family relationships, caregiving legacies, and social disadvantage.

Purpose The 7th wave builds on prior findings to investigate: • the turning points, and gains and losses in the life-course of mothers and children (Aim 1), • the long arc of childhood experiences on individual and family well-being (Aim 2), • and the unfolding of family caregiving legacies across 3 generations (Aim 3).

Method This qualitative study included 41 participants at T7. (see Table). Teen mothers, partners, and parenting offspring were interviewed twice; grandparents and non-parenting offspring were interviewed once. All interview guides were modified for T7 to reflect study aims and participants’ older ages. Interviews were recorded and transcribed. Adults completed 2 tools: Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) & Childhood Family Strengths (CFS). Data were coded inductively; Family Profiles were created; and cases and themes were compared and contrasted across participants, families, and waves.

Strengths & Limitations The study is unique in its multigenerational, longitudinal, and qualitative design. The small sample is diverse in terms of race (White/Black) and income (poor to middle class). Findings may not be transferable to contemporary families due to changes that have occurred since the study began in 1988. Changes include growing income inequality and increased levels of disadvantage among recent cohorts of teen mothers.

• The meaning that teen moms gained from parenting was a deep source of resilience . Several offpsring also described how parenting anchored their lives as young adults. • ACE varied among the teen moms. Four (44%) teen moms and their children reported few ACE and high CFS at T7. Five (55%) moms reported high ACE; children of 4 of these moms had lower ACE scores than their mothers. These families had interrupted a legacy of trauma. • Housing instability was pervasive for black mothers who were disadvantaged as children. Their housing stories included many moves, doubling up, sending children to live with others, depression, unreliable partners, and racism. In contrast, white advantaged moms were stably housed as children and adults. Stark differences in housing trajectories reflect and reproduce social inequities for teen moms and their children. Waves Age of firstof Study born child

Participants Teen mothers (age)


Partners of teen mothers

First-born children

Younger children (> 12 yrs of age)

T1 – 1988-89

8-10 mo

16 (15-19 yrs)



T2 – 1993


13 (19-23 yrs)



T3 – 1997


11 (23-27 yrs)



T4 – 2001


9 (27-31 yrs)




T5 – 2005


10 (31-35 yrs)




T6 – 2010


11 (37-40 yrs)



11 (& 1 partner)




9 (43-46 yrs)



9 (+ 1 Partner)

12 (+ 1 partner)

Conclusions These findings add to the critique of the theories and policies that privilege middle class norms for parenting and the lifecourse over the embodied experience of social inequities .

Many thanks to Chutima Chantamit-o-pas, RN, PhD, and Sumuttana Kaewma, RN, MSN, for research assistance.