I used to be an unmarried mother. Not a single mom, just an unmarried one.
My son, who’s 2, was the only of my three children to be born “in wedlock,” which sounds so virtuous, like his father and I finally worked out all our issues, embraced stability and tradition, and focused on our family — for the sake of the kids. Really, we just wanted the free health insurance.
Our kids’ “sake” was never in jeopardy — we’re decent parents. We have always been financially stable. We eat vegetables, we own books, we impose bedtimes. Everyone’s going to end up in college; the risk one or more will wind up a teenage parent is pretty low.
Our married status didn’t confer upon my son’s birth anything different than the out-of-wedlock births of my girls. In fact, it was months later that whole in-wedlock/out-of-wedlock thing even dawned on me. Which shows you how little I thought about not being married and think about being married.
We’re just not a scarlet letter society anymore. We heathens won!
A study in 2007 found that nearly 40 percent of all births are to unmarried women. An earlier study found that 41 percent of first-births by unmarried women were actually to co-habiting partners. Nearly 40 percent of different-sex partners living together include children. In other words, legal marriage is not always part of the Mom/Dad package.
Couples have all sorts of reasons for staying together but unmarried. Lack of love rarely has anything to do with it.
What we can’t expect, no matter how much some policy-makers push marriage as a way to fix society’s problems, is for the trend to reverse. There are simply too many unmarried but committed partners raising kids to call it a trend. But don’t look for marriage to end anytime soon either. There’s a whole lot of legal commitment out there too.
What we have in the U.S. now is a choice. Not just granted by legal institutions but also social ones. So when another starlet, like Natalie Portman, shows up at the Oscars with a baby bump and an empty ring finger, a few hold-outs gasp and shake their heads. The rest of us place bets on due dates and severity of stretch marks and whether she’ll pull off her pregnancy with style. (Which she will — and you can too. Enter Babble‘s Stella & Dot jewelry package giveaway.)
No one wagers on a future wedding, though. Because that? Doesn’t have to come first or at all.