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You’re not married, and you just found out your girlfriend is pregnant ⏤ what’s the “right” thing to do? That’s exactly the question I was confronted with a few years back. I had been dating a wonderful young lady from a traditional family for about nine months. Her mother was a Methodist pastor, and her father worked in agriculture ⏤ a real salt-of-the-earth type guy. I’m sure they never suspected that their daughter would get pregnant out of wedlock, and there’s an expectation when you’re expecting… to get married fast.
We had expressed to her parents that we were deeply in love and committed to raising our expected baby together, but we didn’t want to get married until the time was right. We wanted to be able to explain to our son (when he got old enough to realize the discrepancy between our anniversary and his birthday) that we married for love, not because we felt compelled to because of him.
Her father wanted the wedding immediately. He felt that I had done wrong and had to “step up to the plate.” As a respectful gesture, I asked for his blessing and his daughter’s hand in marriage when she’s ready. “Of course,” he said, “but please get married before the baby comes. If you’re not married, you know what that makes the boy?” I was stunned. That bastard… I couldn’t believe he had said that, and I talked to my girlfriend about this incident. She talked to her mom, and let’s just say, Dad got a-talkin’ to. Shotgun wedding? I don’t think so.
Her mother surprised me: She was adamant that we do what makes us happy. Sure, she had her preference, but she wanted us to marry for love. Her mother obviously had very strong convictions as to what she understood as the “right” thing, but it wasn’t her decision to make. We received support from her regardless of what we chose to do.
Of course our friends (being younger, and a bit more “progressive”) just wanted us to be happy regardless of marital status. Their main concern was the potential of the friendship fading after our baby boy arrived. Whew… bullet dodged there.
My girlfriend and I had prided ourselves on how slowly we took our relationship. We didn’t go “Facebook official” until about seven months into our dating, though exclusivity was understood. The organic growth of our relationship was a refreshing change of pace from our previous relationships. We both knew it was going to end in marriage, but that wasn’t important at the time. Thankfully, the organic growth of our relationship didn’t stop after we learned about the organic growth in her belly. We continued to go on adventures and experience new things together, to fall more deeply in love. We knew that we wanted to marry for love, and that’s just what we did. Two months before she was to give birth to our son, my beautiful pregnant bride walked down the aisle to me and said, “I do.”
The pressure to get married after “knocking someone up” is unfair to the parents and to the child. Social stigma has caused many a dysfunctional marriage and often results in children growing up without a model of what true love and a healthy marriage looks like. I’ve always been in the camp of “it’s better to be happily divorced that unhappily married,” and strongly believe that affects the child’s development.
Every situation is unique, obviously, but having lived through the decision, my advice is simple: Be open, discuss, and decide what is best for you, your partner (or at least partner in crime), and the baby. And don’t let anybody call your new baby a bastard.
Chris Strickland is a Birmingham, Alabama native and first-time father. He works in digital marketing ⏤ mostly to pay the bills and get home to his family.