Raising Children as a Couple without Marriage

02/21/2017 08:23 pm ET

Raising Children as a Couple Without Marriage

The choice of marriage isn’t always in the cards for some who don’t make that legal choice yet want to raise a child. Why do they do this? How can it be done? What’s the effect on the child?

In my practice as a psychoanalyst I have come across several couples who make this choice. They want to be parents, they are fond of each other, but don’t want marriage for a range of reasons. If you fit into this spectrum, you may be glad to know you are not alone.

Why Do Some Folks Want to Raise a Child but Not Be Married?

There are many people who were raised by married couples that were very acrimonious to each other. They decided at a young age that they didn’t want to be married, fearing the repeat of their previous experiences. However, they want to be parents. They may become pregnant by accident or may make a deliberate choice but once the woman is pregnant they choose to give birth to this little being.

They choose not to make marital mistakes that legally bind them, so they choose to become unmarried parents. They may live together or apart but are united in raising the child. Most often if they live apart the child lives with the mother in my experience though this needn’t be the case. More often the couple lives together and works out their differences as they arise about the best approach to child rearing.

How Can Children be Raised without Married Parents?

Marriage insn’t the sine qua non of being a parent. Hardly in fact. Being a parent means being devoted to learning about and experiencing different stages of child development and responding to the needs of your offspring. It means often being willing to put your needs second to the child’s desires and wants and making a multitude of decisions about rearing your child.

Decisions are made from feeding, sleeping arrangements, daily routines, values of having chores to listening to your child as he or she tries to communicate their needs from infancy onwards.

Child rearing includes providing a good education for your child, helping with homework, and instilling the value of learning for its own sake.

None of the above requires being married. But what about demonstrating a loving relationship? We want our children to not only feel loved but to witness a couple who loves and cares for each other so they have the choice their parents didn’t want to make: to legally be bound to someone for life. Of course you can be bound together for life without the marriage legality, but it’s nice to have the choice in your future.

What’s the Effect of Not Being Married on the Child?

By the time the child is in grade school, they will become aware that their family is in the minority. They will meet children with intact families, divorced families, partners of different or similar genders, but rarely will they meet parents who are not married. This may not occur to them for quite a while unless their parents are acrimonious. But for argument’s sake, let’s assume the couple gets along as well as any married couple. What do you say when the child asks why you aren’t married or in fact asks you to get married so they don’t feel different?

The main issue is for the child to feel safe and secure.I would suggest that the parents share with the young child that they have decided they do and will always love this child and that marriage won’t change that. They have made a grown-up decision not to be married.

That may all that needs to be said until the child is twelve or so or definitely a teen. At that point they can say that their parents didn’t get along and it made them feel being legally married could be a mistake. By that time, teens are capable of reflection and can grasp that their parents made this choice because of their previous experiences which they may share to some extent that doesn’t burden the child or make them feel insecure.

Clearly state that when the child grows up they can choose to marry and you will be very happy for them.

Listening carefully and attentively through the child’s life is the key to helping them adjust to having a different family life in this specific respect. Carefully converse with them about their opinions, beliefs, values and imaginings without telling them how they must proceed with their lives. This will give them the clear notion that you have faith in their decisions and will stand behind the choices they make. The result will be a strong parent-child bond that the child can trust. No more needs to be said.

Laurie Hollman, Phd., is a psychoanalyst and author of Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior found on Amazon. Visit Dr. Hollman’s website for more insights on child rearing and marriage:http://lauriehollmanphd.com.

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