I had arrived at my classroom early and was writing information on the white board to prepare for class. Two female students entered the college classroom, took their seats and began a discussion about one of their mutual friends. The conversation went something like this.
Student 1: “I heard that Amy (fictional name) is pregnant.”
Student 2: “Yeah, she is but she is not going to marry the baby’s father.”
Student 1: “Oh, I didn’t know that.”
Student 2: “She doesn’t need the baby’s father anyway; her dad said she could live with him. She can do it on her own.”
I am not quite for sure what possessed me because I pivoted around with an incredulous look on my face and said to the student, “Do you really believe what you just said? If you do then I think you need to think about reality. The likelihood of your friend living in poverty has just increased. Statistically as a single mom she will not be able to complete her education and will struggle much of her adult life trying to raise a child while working at a low paying job. I addition if your friend makes no effort to keep the biological father in the picture, more than likely her child will struggle the rest of his life wondering why his father abandoned him.”
Oh there was so much more that I wanted to say, but I stopped myself because they were looking at me like I was a mad woman. Thank goodness it was toward the end of the semester and they knew that I usually was not so confrontational with students.
This scenario actually happened over 10 years ago; the vivid remembrance was sparked by the 2013 report, Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America, published by The National Marriage Project.
The report stated that though fewer teenagers are having children out of wedlock, there has been a substantial increase of unmarried moms in their twenties. “By age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married; by the time they turn 30, about two-thirds of American women have had a baby, typically out of wedlock. Overall, 48 percent of first births are to unmarried women, most of them in their twenties. (p. 3).” The researchers found that the highest number of unmarried women in their twenties with children were high school graduates with only a year or two of college. Women with a bachelor’s degree or higher were usually waiting to be married before having children.
Perhaps one of the key findings of the report was that young adults view “marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone’ – that is something they do after they have all their ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for a launching into adulthood and parenthood (p. 4).” The researchers point out that young people want to be married someday; they just don’t see any reason in marrying young. Nor do most in this age range see marriage as a necessity in raising children. Even if the couple is cohabitating when the woman gets pregnant, they still see no hurry in getting married – they can get married later. The reality is that in a high number of cases the relationship with the baby’s father doesn’t last. The couple never get married, the man leaves, and the woman finds herself parenting on her own.
Even though the unmarried mother may be older, the repercussions remain the same. Statistically the mother and child will have a greater chance of living in poverty, with the children having more behavioral problems, higher drug use, increased problems in school, are less likely to get a college education, and more likely to become single parents.
As I read through the report I kept thinking of the unintended consequences that these choices would have on the children and the single mother. My thoughts drifted back to last fall when I taught human development at a Liberian university.
It was a busy week with my afternoons filled with students who came to my office to discuss their biopsychosocial papers they were writing for the human development course. During the discussion of how each student’s family had influenced him/her biologically, psychologically, and socially a common theme began to unravel, especially with the young men. As personal stories were shared, students talked about being raised by their mothers who had sacrificed so much to care for them. But the stories inevitably included images of poverty, hunger, struggling to survive, and of the longing to know their biological fathers. The students’ voices waivered with deep sorrow as they shared how being abandoned by their fathers had shaped their lives.
I wasn’t surprised to hear these stories because Liberia has the second highest rate in the world of teen-age pregnancy between 15-19 years old. Obviously this has had a significant social and economic impact on Liberia with women and children bearing the brunt of this harsh reality. Many of these young women live in squalid conditions; their children never know their fathers, and the father of their children move on impregnating other women.
As a woman it breaks my heart that we live in a world that negates the importance of both a mother and a father being involved in and taking responsibility for child rearing. I know that life is not perfect and there are many single parents that are doing a fabulous job of raising their children, but I am sadden for them because parenting is hard and being a single parent makes it even harder. As much as the single parent tries to keep it together, the parent and the child(ren) are at the risk of facing unintended consequences.
The purpose of this post is not to cast aspersion upon women in their twenties that are having children out of wedlock, but to raise questions:
What deceptions have we fed and continue to feed to young women and men that these are wise-choices for them, for their children to-be, and for society as a whole?
How do we come along side these young women and children with hope and not condemnation?
How do we teach about the importance of marriage and child rearing without preaching?
How do we uplift without enabling?
And from my Christian worldview: How do we help young adults view marriage as a sacred institute that God has ordained, which is one of the safest and most viable places to raise children and build a strong marriage and fulfilling life?
What is a Think Through? it is an idiom that conveys the meaning of carefully considering possibilities and outcomes of a situation.
Today’s Think Through: I would like to hear your thoughts and/or response to any of the questions I posted above or maybe you have another thought concerning this issue that you would like to address .
Knot Yet: The Benefits and Costs of Delayed Marriage in America. (2013). Retrieved March 2013 from National Marriage Project at University of Maryland: http://nationalmarriageproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/KnotYet-FinalForWeb.pdf
Harmful Practices affecting Girls in West Africa: Perspectives from Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. (2011 August). Retrieved 2012 8-March from UNICEF: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cedaw/docs/cedaw_crc_contributions/DefenceforChildrenInternational.pdf