What Happens When You Raise a Kid Outside of Marriage

Raising a child is a very rewarding — albeit expensive — experience. And while traditionally having children was something that was done after marriage, statistically, that’s no longer the case. In fact, less than half of children under 18 (46%) are currently living with two married heterosexual parents in their first marriage. In 1960, 73% of children fit this description.

The new normal?

Couple in car after marriage

Marriage is definitely not as big of a priority as it used to be. | LUIS ACOSTA/AFP/Getty Images

There has definitely been a noticeable shift since the days when an unplanned pregnancy meant a trip to the altar. These days, it’s millennials that are of childbearing age, with many of them consciously choosing to wait for marriage until after the baby arrives … or to forego it entirely. There are many reasons for this, but it does appear that millennials are in no rush to get married, children or not.

So what is it like for the child in this situation? That depends.

Sometimes the parents stay together …

Family in bed

Sometimes the parents stay together, they just aren’t married. | Thinkstock

Just because a child’s parents aren’t legally married doesn’t mean they aren’t together. Raising children as a couple without marriage is becoming more and more common, and in those cases, their lives aren’t much different than those with married parents. Of course, eventually those children will realize their parents aren’t married, as they will meet all types of families in grade school. They may have questions, but as long as they feel loved and secure, it shouldn’t be an issue.

… and sometimes they don’t

Father and son laughing on beach

There are also instances where the parent’s don’t stay together. | iStock.com

Single parents are certainly nothing new. But since fewer people are getting legally married these days, technically, parting ways is easier. Being a single parents isn’t easy — it involves hitting milestones alone, worrying and celebrating alone, and a lot of compromising (if the other parent is still in the picture) — but it’s possible.

Are children in one-parent households worse off?

Cheerful School Children

The statistics widely vary when it comes to how children fare in single parent households. | iStock.com/Rawpixel

Statistics on children raised by single parents vary, especially since the situations vary so much. They might have an active relationship with both parents and split their time evenly between households, or one parent might be absent entirely. And in many cases, stepparents are eventually present.

Children growing up in single-parent families typically do not have the same economic or human resources available as those who grow up with both parents. And statistics do show that children raised in single-parent households are more likely to drop out of school, to have or cause a teen pregnancy, and to experience a divorce in adulthood.

But sometimes children of married parents aren’t better off

Family watching television

A stable family still doesn’t mean your kids will turn out great. | vadim guzhva/Getty Images

Of course, even if a couple gets married and raises children together, that doesn’t mean they’ll have a happy home. It’s easy to assume that married couples are all committed and invested in raising their children well, a marriage license certainly doesn’t determine this. Children raised in violent or consistently argumentative homes are obviously much better off being raised by single parents.

The bottom line

Parents Giving Children Piggyback Ride

It’s most important that the family is dedicated to the kids. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

While the single parenthood statistics might be startling, they are not necessarily cause for alarm. What all studies ultimately reveal is that children need to be raised by people who are dedicated to their health, happiness and general well-being. While marriage was once the qualifier for being dedicated to a family, times have changed, and society is now recognizing all types of families as being healthy.

The times are changing

portrait of a group of children running on the beach

Nothing is more important than loving your children. | Stockbyte/Getty Images

Since we are now living in a time where many adults were raised in single parent households, it’s easier to get statistics on how they turn out. And the news, it seems, is positive: Statistically, children raised by single parents are just successful as their peers when they reach adulthood. While children raised by educated parents do seem to be better off overall, that doesn’t mean that children raised by less educated people won’t be successful. In the end, loving and your children is what matters most.

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