My boyfriend and I had a baby together far before we ever considered getting married. Just weeks after we celebrated our one-year anniversary, we hastily picked up a home pregnancy test at a corner pharmacy one dreary Sunday morning. Two bold lines darkened almost instantly and confirmed our greatest fear: we were going to be parents. Fresh out of college, and just 22 years old, we’d both just begun our first jobs teaching abroad. After painstakingly considering all of our options, my boyfriend and I made the most sensible decision to return to our home country and start a life together with our new baby. Surprisingly, the last thing on our minds was a “shotgun wedding,” and we chose to remain unmarried indefinitely.
Having a baby unexpectedly threw us into a world of uncertainty, and adding the stress and attention of getting married was unappetizing for both of us. Besides, a marriage certificate couldn’t guarantee stability — that’s something we had to work on regardless. Though our decision to not marry is countercultural, we’re part of a growing cohort of couples who procreate and cohabitate before getting hitched. Statistics are against the success of relationships of our kind; data shows that unmarried parents are three times more likely to separate than married parents. The National Marriage Project even argues that because of our unmarried status as parents, our kid is more susceptible to social and emotional problems like depression, drug use, and even dropping out of school. Yet, after two solid years of living together unmarried, sharing finances and childrearing duties, I can confidently report that our marital status has hardly affected our ability to be decent parents.
We made the big move to live together when our daughter was just 2 months old so we could provide her with a consistent environment in which mom and dad are both present, something we both yearned for. The transition was rough in all the expected ways. I stayed home with our baby while my partner worked long 10- to 12-hour days, and arguments about whose turn it was to change the diaper and who needed more sleep inevitably ensued. We quickly realized that life with a child demanded a lot out of both of us, so we found ways to work out the kinks to balance work, family, and our relationship — a struggle most parents undergo.
To ensure that we both play a role in our child’s day to day, we split childrearing and housekeeping duties right down the middle. As soon as my boyfriend gets home, we take turns changing diapers. When I cook dinner, he bathes the little one. When we finish dinner, we swap duties and he washes dishes while I get our daughter ready for bed. The three of us snuggle in bed together, and my partner and I take turns reading stories and kissing our kid goodnight. We aim to show her that mom and dad both want to be present and engage with her in every way we can.
As our daughter gets older, we’ll try our hardest to make sure she doesn’t end up with poor social and emotional management skills, as studies say she’s susceptible to developing. In true toddler fashion, she’s gotten into the common, yet undeniably unpleasant, habit of hitting people when she’s frustrated. My boyfriend and I often discuss disciplining methods together and support each other in implementing them. Together, we are a team. Even though we’re not married, my boyfriend and I are committed to our relationship and make it a point to model kindness so that our daughter learns how to build strong relationships.
Quite honestly, affection is the last thing on my mind when a sticky toddler has clung me to all day. However, I’ve learned that my boyfriend feels validated when he comes home and is greeted with questions about his day and a kiss. He also makes a deliberate effort to say goodbye every morning, even if our daughter and I are still asleep. When my partner or I are sick, we show our daughter how to put someone else’s needs ahead of our own by “making daddy soup” or “giving mommy a hug.” However small, they set the tone of kindness.
Our daughter’s picked up on our small gestures of affection, and follows suit by kissing her dad before he goes to work and excitedly clinging to him when he returns. I’ve recently seen our daughter’s own empathy develop when she stops to ask why other children cry. She responds so poignantly to others’ emotions by offering Band-Aids and kisses to strangers when they hurt. My partner and I value thoughtfulness greatly, and we’re glad we can demonstrate it to our daughter together, even if we aren’t married.
At 2 years old, our daughter is still too young to ask about marriage, question why mom and dad aren’t married, or wonder when we will. In our daughter’s eyes, she simply sees two people on a daily basis who love her unconditionally, who are willing (albeit reluctant) to sing “Let It Go” with her for the zillionth time, and who comfort her amidst the emotional and unpredictable season of toddlerhood. If we were married, or even when we do get married, I doubt a single thing would change about how we parent. I don’t think we could do better than we already are, because we are already doing our very best.
We didn’t want the pain and potential regret of making the decision to get married so hastily to haunt our future together. So far, the choice to not marry hasn’t hurt us. Instead, it’s made us thinking seriously about how to make a relationship and family not only last, but thrive. We aim to be the best parents possible and provide an environment that fosters our daughter’s future success. Though research indicates finances, health, and educational attainment are all indicators that predict a child’s life outcome, the truth is that there is no “perfect family structure” that guarantees a child’s success in life. As my partner and I strive for further education and career advancement (he’s obtaining a Master’s degree), financial stability (I take on freelancing jobs when time permits), and an egalitarian household where we share most parenting duties when possible, it’s hard to believe that we’re “harming” the success of our child by not marrying. Our marital status itself isn’t the sole threat to the success of future and well-being: family income and parenting skills have a greater impact overall on how well our child will fare, and we aim to improve in both areas.
We hope to (maybe) marry one day, but more importantly, we've already committed to working through the great difficulties of raising a family together. If, and when, we do get married, we’ll have the rare pleasure of our daughter’s presence on our wedding day. Perhaps she’ll be young enough to have no recollection of her parents never being married. Or maybe she’ll be old enough to reflect on the journey it took her parents to get the to altar, witnessing the profound gravity of getting married. In the meantime, we fight any tendency to give in to a negative self-fulfilling prophecy and continue to do what we feel is right: to love our kid with all we've got, just as any parent, single or married, would do.
Images Courtesy of Loreann Talbo (5)