I was talking with one of my clients the other day. She told me her 17-year-old son had accidentally gotten a girl pregnant through failed birth control. He made it clear that, as a senior in high school, he was in no position to be a father. He didn’t have the education. He didn’t have the life experience. He didn’t have the money. The girl chose not to terminate the pregnancy and will be carrying the child to term this year. She will be bringing a child into the world against the biological father’s wishes. This is, to be delicate, not the ideal way to start a family. And yet 50% of all children born to Americans under the age of 30 are born out of wedlock.
I’ve written about this before and I’m not going to relitigate it here, but instead, use it as a jumping off point for this article by Laurie Shrage in Aeon. Shrage discusses the changing dynamics of parenthood and how we have to make legal adjustments for it.
While I don’t believe that having children out of wedlock is, in general, a wise decision (and have the backing of all of social science on that one), it’s still going to happen frequently. Given that, what should we do as a society to support these parents who lack the legal structure that society accords to married couples?
“When people become parents, they might not be able to anticipate all the ways in which their interests could be interfered with or undermined. Particularly after a break-up, parents often use tactics that they might admit are unfair, and would be incensed if used against them. But when access to their kids and involvement in their lives is at stake, moral consideration for the other parent is not a priority, even for otherwise decent people. Among my friends, and friends of friends, I have seen one parent use a partner’s lack of US citizenship as a bargaining chip to gain access to the children. Another took advantage of the circumstance that her same-gender co-parent had not obtained legal parent status. Yet another elected to move residence far away from the other parent, which made shared arrangements impractical. Many of us know similar stories.”
Make smart choices in love, minimize divorce and out-of-wedlock-children, and only procreate with sane, rational, responsible partners. You may not be able to predict your future, but you can certainly minimize your own risk.
Schrage makes an important point. We always hear about deadbeat dads. No doubt there are many of them and they should be prosecuted according to the law. But let’s not ignore the legal loopholes that women often exploit to hurt the biological father. I may be a coach for women, but my heart bleeds for any father who has his parental rights taken away due to an irreconcilable relationship with his ex.
Continues Shrage: “Because marriage generally does not cover the terms of shared childrearing, public co-parenting contracts would offer a social insurance scheme for both ‘traditional’ and non-traditional families. An official contract would help to safeguard parents’ basic entitlements, such as the right to be involved in the lives of one’s children and to appropriate forms of child support from each co-parent. If and when cooperation among the co-parents breaks down, the existence of an agreement can guide courts or mediators in negotiating new agreements for shared parental responsibility.”
Hey, if half of Americans want to separate parenthood from marriage, it’s their right. But for the good of society, we need to be a little more far-sighted because there are repercussions to both parents and children when alimony/custody battles rage on.
“In short, one’s rights as a parent, and the relationship with one’s children, shouldn’t be contingent on the ups and downs of one’s love life.”
All the more reason to make smart choices in love, minimize divorce and out-of-wedlock-children, and only procreate with sane, rational, responsible partners. You may not be able to predict your future, but you can certainly minimize your own risk.
Your thoughts, below, are greatly appreciated.