In today’s evolving society, traditional concepts surrounding marriage and family are undergoing huge upheavals. Millennials are marrying later–or not marrying at all. Less and less people are having kids. Couples get ‘sleep divorces’ and sleep in separate bedrooms, gender roles are changing, and some people even opt for open relationships or outright polyamory. As more folks embrace personal autonomy and diverse relationship models, it is not uncommon for someone to want to have children…but not get married.
Confused? Surprised? Or do you relate? Come with me as I explore this unusual but increasingly common arrangement. We will delve into why some people prefer to have kids outside of marriage, some guiding principles for anyone considering doing things this way, and explore the challenges and considerations associated with intentionally having kids outside of marriage.
The Desire for Children Without Marriage
Here are the main considerations and contextual factors that underscore the desire to have children without getting married.
Changing Perspectives on Family
The traditional notion of family centered around the institution of marriage, has evolved to accept a more inclusive definition. People are increasingly challenging societal norms and recognizing that love, commitment, and family can exist outside the boundaries of marriage. It has become commonplace for people to refer to their close friends as their ‘chosen family’ and for couples to cohabit for an extended period of time without tying the knot. Many in the millennial generation contemplating marriage today witnessed the deterioration of their parents’ marriages as children; they’re wary of following suit and are therefore more apt to gravitate towards alternative notions of what it means to be a family. This shift in perspective opens up possibilities for individuals and couples who wish to have children without getting married.
Personal Fulfillment and Parenthood
For some people, the desire to have children stems from a deep-rooted need for personal fulfillment through parenthood. This camp feels that having kids is an essential part of their life’s journey, regardless of marital status. For them, parenting is largely a journey that offers opportunities for personal growth, emotional connection, and the joy of nurturing another human being–none of which is contingent upon marriage.
Alternative Parenting Structures
Modern society recognizes that family structures can take various forms. Non-traditional families, such as co-parenting arrangements, single-parent households, or same-sex couples raising children, have become more widely accepted. Individuals who want children without marriage are now free to explore alternative family/parenting frameworks that prioritize the well-being of their children and create supportive environments. Those who embrace alternative parenting arrangements may subscribe to a ‘the village raises the children’ model of parenting in which a co-parent is not as necessary as a supportive and interconnected community, or they might be partnered and want to raise a child together but feel that marriage is simply not the best thing for their relationship.
Shifting Cultural Norms
Society’s perception of marriage has evolved over time, with a greater emphasis placed on individual happiness and fulfillment and less emphasis placed on marriage as a way to build economic or political alliances between families or to ensure that one is following the path society expects of them. Many people are instead opting for non-traditional relationship models, focusing on shared values, emotional connection, and personal growth–but not necessarily featuring marriage as the centerpiece. This shift in cultural norms allows for the possibility of having children outside the bounds of marriage.
Legal and Financial Considerations
Marriage comes with a complex set of legal and financial implications, such as shared assets, spousal support, and inheritance rights. Some individuals may choose not to get married in order to avoid the legal complexities associated with sharing assets, divorce, or separation. Having children without having to get married allows them to maintain greater autonomy and flexibility in managing their personal and financial affairs. While marriage remains the best choice for many couples, for some, the autonomy afforded by a union without marriage is exactly what their relationship needs to thrive.
Commitment and Longevity
While marriage is often associated with commitment and longevity, it does not guarantee the success of a relationship or the well-being of children. Many unmarried couples who want children place a strong emphasis on emotional connection, shared values, and long-term commitment outside the confines of legal marriage. Some simply see marriage as an unnecessary ritual that they don’t need in order to affirm their connection or commit for the long haul.
Prioritizing Personal Autonomy
People who choose to have children without getting married tend to be those who prioritize personal autonomy and independence. They may feel that marriage is a societal construct that limits their freedom and imposes a restrictive amount of expectations and responsibilities. By opting to have children without the legal and social obligations of marriage, they can maintain a greater degree of control over their lives and parenting decisions.
Kids Without Marriage: Guiding Principles
Are you yourself considering having kids without getting married? Here are important guiding principles to bear in mind if you decide to follow this path.
Co-Parenting Relationship Readiness
If you want to have children without getting married, co-parenting will be an important consideration. If you do opt to take this journey with a co-parent, the dynamic between you should be one that is characterized by open and honest communication, trust, mutual understanding, and shared responsibility. Check-in with yourself and consider whether the person you’re considering as a co-parent is someone you can genuinely say you have that kind of dynamic with. If not, step back and focus on developing these aspects of your relationship first, and give it at least a year to work on these things before you take the plunge and decide to have a kid together.
Choosing a Co-Parent
If you have a romantic partner and this person also wants kids, choosing a co-parent is a straightforward process. However, if aren’t partnered but you want your child to have two parents, you’re going to have to find a co-parent in a less conventional way. Whomever you embark on the journey of having children with, clear, honest, and explicit communication is paramount. Discuss your expectations, parenting styles, and long-term goals with all potential co-parents in order to establish a solid foundation for successful parenting and relationship dynamics.
Finding a co-parent is less straightforward than finding a romantic partner. If you’ve been infected with baby fever, you might be tempted to simply accept anyone you like who is interested in taking the co-parenting journey with you…but don’t. Take the time to really make sure that person is a fit, just as you would with a romantic partner. Creating a strong parenting partnership requires shared values, mutual respect, and effective co-parenting strategies that you both agree on. A co-parent is a lot more than just a sperm or egg donor.
This is extra important if you decide to raise children without having a co-parent–an arrangement that is becoming increasingly common, particularly for unpartnered women who want kids. In order to be a good parent, it’s absolutely crucial that your own emotional needs are attended to and that you have a strong support system, whether it’s comprised of family and friends, neighbors in a co-living community or tight-knit neighborhood, or anyone else. Aside from providing emotional support, these types of support systems are often also able to share in childcare responsibilities.
No matter what shape your network takes, having a strong support system is even more vital when raising children outside the structure of marriage, although it’s also very important for married parents, as well. Unmarried parents must prioritize their emotional well-being and make sure they have sufficient emotional support in order to provide a stable and nurturing environment for their children.
Balancing Personal and Parental Priorities
Unmarried individuals who have children without a partner or co-parent must take extra care to find a balance between their personal aspirations and parental responsibilities. Of course, this is true for all parents, but it’s even more pivotal for those who choose to go it alone. If this is you, make sure before you have a kid that you have systems in place that will allow you to have time for yourself and your own goals and hobbies.
Have childcare lined up, either through family and friends or through paid services, and consider taking a step back from full-time work even after the initial period of your child’s infancy. Working part-time as a single parent means not only more time with your kid, but more energy to focus on the parts of your life and personal development that aren’t centered around your child.
Unfortunately, financial realities make this balance unattainable for many. It’s important that you get your financial house in order before you have kids, so that money woes don’t deplete your energy and keep you from being able to balance personal and parental priorities. Nurturing personal growth, pursuing individual passions, and maintaining self-care are essential aspects of maintaining a fulfilling life–and most importantly, staying physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy on behalf of your kid(s).
Challenges and Considerations
Having kids outside the bounds of a traditional marital relationship comes with a unique set of challenges and considerations. Be aware of these in order to decide how you will navigate them before you take the leap.
Social Stigma and Judgment
Choosing to have children without getting married will in some cases mean that you will be subject to social stigma and judgment from others. However, everyone’s path to parenthood is unique, and the well-being and happiness of the child should be the ultimate focus. Haters gonna hate, but that doesn’t mean you have to indulge them by engaging.
Legal Protections and Parental Rights
In some jurisdictions, legal protections and parental rights may differ for unmarried parents compared to married couples. If you’re considering the path of unmarried parenting, get familiar with the legal landscape in your specific region and seek legal advice to protect your rights as a parent.
In the absence of a legal framework provided by marriage, you may (contingent upon your specific situation) need to establish co-parenting agreements, custody arrangements, and financial support systems through other legal means. Therefore, rather than simply googling, it is essential to consult with reputable legal professionals about all of this in order to ensure the well-being of any possible future children.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Having Children Without Getting Married
Q: Is it really ok to have children without being married?!
A: Yes, it’s really ok–in some cases, just as having kids while married is also only ok in some cases. The most important thing is that the parent(s) are physically, intellectually, emotionally, and financially fit to take on such a major responsibility. Marriage is not a prerequisite for starting a healthy and functional family, but readiness in all of the aforementioned areas is.
Q: What are the advantages of having children without marriage?
A: Having children without marriage means that parents are free to prioritize personal fulfillment and autonomy and explore non-traditional relationship models. It provides flexibility in managing personal and financial affairs and (if done well) promotes the intentional creation of a supportive and nurturing environment for children.
Q: What are the potential challenges faced by unmarried parents?
A: Unmarried parents are likely to face social stigma or judgment from others and may also run into extra-legal complications and difficulties balancing their responsibilities as parents with their personal needs and interests.
Q: How can unmarried parents navigate co-parenting effectively?
A: Successful co-parenting requires open communication, mutual understanding, and shared responsibility. Unmarried parents should prioritize the development of effective co-parenting strategies before they have a child while knowing that they may need to continually pivot and adjust to changing realities after the arrival of the child(ren). They should also take care to establish clear and explicit expectations and continually nurture their own relationship–even if it isn’t a romantic one.
Q: Is it possible to maintain a long-term commitment without marriage?
A: Yes! Marriage is only one valid way to commit to a relationship for the long haul. Today, many healthy couples enjoy strong, lasting relationships without being married. Commitment, emotional connection, and shared values are essential factors in sustaining a lasting partnership, regardless of legal marriage.
Choosing to have children without getting married is a personal decision influenced by a range of factors. This decision is a reflection of the changing dynamics of family structures in modern society and of the fact that it is increasingly acceptable to challenge societal norms in favor of creating new systems based on what works well for each individual, couple, or set of co-parents. So cheers to coming up with whatever parenting arrangement works well for you, your co-parent (if there is one), and your child.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]