Balancing Bicultural Heritage: Mexican American Teen Mothers' Lived Experience

2015-03-02T00:00:00Z (GMT) by Phyllis Sommer
This research was conducted to explore how Mexican American teen mothers experience the conflicting demands of their own adolescent developmental needs, bicultural identity, and mothering, and how these demands influence their young parenting. Main research findings were divided into two manuscripts. The first manuscript describes how Mexican American teen mothers maintained a grounded Mexican heritage ethnic identity that they wanted to share with their babies. Autonomous thinking of adolescence and craving independence influenced teen mothers to strive for proving their worth as good mothers. Young motherhood was experienced as powerfully authentic. Being authentic mothers meant protecting their babies by enfolding Mexican heritage mothering approaches to ensure their babies’ acceptance into their families and communities, fostering familismo. The second manuscript describes how Mexican American teen mothers experienced dramatic changes in their proximal relationships as a result of early motherhood. Relationships with parents worsened with the advent of early motherhood for 8 of the 18 teen mothers, while it was perceived as improved for the other 10 teen mothers. The mothers who suffered worsening relationships with parents felt the lack of traditional familismo support that they had hoped for. Relationships with siblings and fathers of their babies were also perceived as improved or worsened, reflecting their level of involvement. Most mothers experienced loss of peer relationships, and felt lonely and ostracized from peers. Teen mothers felt negatively judged and disapproved of by neighbors, and co-ethnic people in public. Despite these challenges, motherhood for teen mothers was a transformational experience. Service providers should support Mexican American teen mothers’ emerging life changes from adolescence to responsible motherhood. The importance of strong ethnic identity for these mothers should be recognized as a proactive coping strategy for dealing with stress, and as a means for guidance with their childrearing and proximal relationships. Even while acknowledging the importance of strong Mexican heritage, providers should not assume that these young mothers are receiving strong family support, or support from their baby’s father. Service providers need to appreciate that these young mothers are striving to be authentic mothers, and support their strengths, rather than focusing on their deficits.