Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin

The text ‘Promises I Can Keep: Why Poor Women Put Motherhood Before Marriage,’ by Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas explain the results of their almost three-year in-depth study of hundreds of adolescent, unmarried mothers living in Philadelphia’s urban communities. Although research has been done to understand the profound increase in non-marital childbearing among young women in low-income communities, the authors say that the ‘perspectives and life experiences’ of low-income single mothers were excluded from the body of scientific evidence. There is one girl, Jen, in particular, that gets interviewed.

According to the sociological imagination, C. Wright Mills would apply the term private troubles to Jen’s life. These private troubles include personal problems that are happening in her life. These are categorized as troubles with her baby daddy, the fact she can’t go back to school, and her employment situation. The sociologists in charge of the study brought on sociological imagination by making others look at the situation from Jen’s point of view.

This caused the reader to empathize with her. This made the reader think about Jen’s circumstances. To look at her problems and poverty from a different unbiased perspective. It is essential to have an open mind when reading about these circumstances. There are always two sides to a story.

During their interviews with the women in their study, they found that low-income teenagers become pregnant on purpose, and many consider early, out-of-wedlock childbearing as a sensible choice. ‘To most middle-class observers, depending on their philosophical take on things, a poor woman with children but no husband, diploma or job is either a victim of her circumstances or undeniable proof that American society is coming apart at the seams,’ according to the authors.

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‘But in the social world inhabited by poor women, a baby born into such conditions represents an opportunity to prove one’s worth.’ While the poor women they studied see marriage as a ‘luxury’ having children is viewed as a necessity, ‘an absolutely essential part of a young woman’s life, the chief source of identity and meaning.’

The stories in ‘Promises I Can Keep’ tell us about the real picture of single motherhood in America. Also, the fact that it’s not productive to try to comprehend the experiences of young, low-income single mothers through the privileged lens of middle-class ideals.

When outsiders generally view childbearing in such circumstances as irresponsible, within the community of these down-and-out neighborhoods these ideals work in reverse, the choice to have a child despite the obstacles that lie ahead is a compelling demonstration of young women’s maturity and high moral stature. Obviously, villainizing low-income single mothers is dehumanizing when their circumstances and limited opportunities for self-determination are considered. The authors write, ‘children offer a tangible source of meaning, while other avenues for gaining social esteem and personal satisfaction appear vague and tenuous.’ Yet it’s not right to romanticize the struggles of poor unmarried mothers as heroic. On the other hand, those of us on the ‘outside’ should look for an unbiased understanding of the social and economic realities that shape the worldview of mothers whose attitudes about childbearing and child-rearing. Then we can realize these in many respects are vastly different from our own.

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Promises I Can Keep by Kathryn Edin. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from

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