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Pilot projects geared to 'demonized' young momsPilot projects geared to 'demonized' young moms
May 8, 2008 12:14 PM
Just days before Mother's Day, a York University professor has announced two North York pilot projects aimed at helping young moms "unfairly demonized" by society.
"To be a good mother today, first of all, you can't be (because) the standards are so high. All mothers I've met have guilt because they can't live up to those standards," said Andrea O'Reilly, founder and director of the university's Association for Research on Mothering.
"I think young mothers have it worse. I think there is an assumption if you're a young mother, you're a bad mom."
O'Reilly is receiving a $71,905 grant from the federal government's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to study two mother centre networks in Europe and the United States. The centres provide support and information for mothers in a variety of areas.
Research gathered about the networks will be used to launch two similar mother centres in the Jane and Finch area next January. The two pilot projects will be geared specifically to empowering young mothers under the age of 25.
Young, disadvantaged mothers are constantly condemned by a hyper-critical society, said O'Reilly, who is the author of 14 books, including Rocking the Cradle: Thoughts on Motherhood, Feminism and the Possibility of Empowered Mothering.
"I just think young moms are really watched. They are getting comments from bus drivers to pediatricians to people at the checkout at Zellers glaring and muttering under their breath," she said.
"If it (an unplanned teenage pregnancy) happens, we have to respond in ways that best serve the mother and child. They need support and validation. If you don't have those, then teenage pregnancies can be a disaster."
Vilma Raymundo, supervisor of North York's Don Valley East Ontario Early Years Centre, said that while there aren't many young mothers using the program, those who do come to the centre are made to feel welcome rather than stigmatized. She isn't aware of young moms facing harsh criticism in the community, either.
Despite common perception, there is no direct link between teenage motherhood and poverty, said O'Reilly, who designed and taught York University's first course on mothering in 1991.
If girl grows up poor, she is likely to live her life in poverty regardless of when in life she has children, she said. At the same time, becoming a young mother often jolts young women into getting an education, dumping a "loser boyfriend" and overcoming addiction problems, O'Reilly said.
"That doesn't mean being a teen mom is easy. But if it is difficult to be a teen mom, why do we make it more difficult?" she said.
"I think they need more support but I think all moms need support."
Until recently, it was normal for women to begin having children in their teens, O'Reilly pointed out.
Those who had babies out of wedlock usually gave them up for adoption so the issue of unwed teenage mothers wasn't as visible as it is today, she added.