We were having a conversation standing 6 feet apart, while waiting to be allowed into the store. We were talking to a guy who was later twenties or early thirties. He told us he is the father of a 4 year old boy, and that he's enjoying passing down all the things his dad had taught him. Then he said something I can't stop thinking about... "I always knew I wanted to be a dad. I always saw that... not married, necessarily, but I always pictured myself as a dad."
It really struck me: NOT NECESSARILY MARRIED, BUT A DAD. That's the "new normal" for Millennials and GenXs. Can't blame them, cohabitation became the "new normal" on my watch. I'm a Boomer. I remember how stupid I thought the objections raised by my elders were back in the day. Now, of course, I can point to thousands of studies no one bothers to acknowledge that cohabitation backfired 1000%. Cohabition = more divorce, less income, more teen pregnancy and incarceration, shorter life expectancy, and dozens of other negative outcomes. But ask any couple living together if they have EVER heard those stats... NOPE.
Many young parents today think parenting and marriage have nothing to do with each other. Their reasoning is, "A wedding ceremony and party are just a lavish treat I give to myself and my partner. And since it is just a party, a present FOR us, and to impress others, it's almost irresponsible to get married when there is a baby on the way."
Unmarried parents-to-be are not considering first and foremost, what is in my child's best interest? It IS in the child's best interest to have both a male and female parent who love them and each other (bio-parent or adoptive). Period. There is a mountain of proof that is the BEST environment to raise a healthy, successful child. Doesn't mean it ALWAYS happens and it doesn't mean single parents CAN'T raise a healthy, successful child. But the odds are not in that kid's favor.
So if unmarried parents aren't putting the child's interests first, then whose interest are they thinking about? Themselves, of course. I want a baby. For me. To love ME. To fill the empty place in my life. To have a legacy after I'm gone. To have an outlet for the love, resources, wisdom I have accumulated. To validate that I matter. Whatever the justification, the reason for becoming an unmarried parent is self-focused. It's using the child to meet the needs of the parent(s).
All unmarried parents believe they will be successful raising a child. But clearly they aren't confident they can be successful in relationship to another adult. After all, adults have complex needs, challenges and motivations. Adults make demands that we don't always want to fulfill and sometimes can't. But babies only need to be fed, changed, loved, cuddled -- how hard can that be? And if I'm not an expert at it, at least the baby won't tell me how inadequate I am.
So for unmarried parents, having the baby is the easy part, but being tied to the person involved in the conception, not so much. Which begs the question, what does "I want the baby, but I don't want to marry you" actually mean? Let's be honest, that person is really saying, I'm not sure YOU are the person I would choose to stay with for a lifetime of challenges and triumphs. YOU aren't in the category of "someone I can't live without." But you are (at least currently) in the category of "someone I can put up with."
In other words, the unmarried parent is thinking, "I believe I will be successful in The Most Important Job in the World (raising a child to be a good person) with someone I am willing to give my lowest standard of commitment -- I will stay with you as long as it works for ME."
Ouch. Of course, no one ever says that out loud -- but when you strip away the fluff, that is the naked reality. And to be honest, some of that thinking is definitely on me. My generation is the one who decided, "Marriage is just a piece of paper." Now we know we were WRONG (so wrong!) The proof is piling up: Children who see their parents work out and cope with challenges over their lifetime are the most successful. So your First Priority in raising a healthy, happy child ought to be demonstrating your love and commitment to their mom/dad.
Sometimes that "piece of paper" -- and promising better or worse, sickness or health, richer or poorer -- is what makes it more difficult to walk away. When you don't have it, bailing out is a heck of a lot easier. Your kid is depending on you to give them their best shot, so if you are living with your Baby Daddy or your Baby Momma, do whatever it takes to become capable of the making and keeping a lifetime commitment.
You can do it. We'll help you.