A person’s rights as a parent shouldn’t be contingent on the ups and downs of their love life.
When I was in graduate school in the United States in the early 1980s, a member of our women’s support group informed us that she was pregnant. Although she was single and not in a serious relationship, she told us she intended to have the baby and raise it herself. She decided not to tell the genetic father, as she feared that he would pressure her to get an abortion, or disappear and then later try to enter the child’s life. She preferred to parent alone.
My mother was in a similar position, even when she was married to my father. In the U.S, at the time, it was common for fathers not to be involved in raising the children. What we would now call a ‘traditional marriage’ never really spelled out any principles for shared parenting, except to assign all basic childcare to wives. A father might be called upon occasionally to back up a mother’s disciplinary rules, but I felt somewhat lucky that my mine was never enlisted for this role. When my parents separated, there was no question about who would get the kids: the wife, my mother. Once my parents divorced, my father was around even less, and never got to know my children (my eldest was 12 years old when he died).
The institution of marriage often fails to facilitate the complex and shifting nature of parenthood.
These scenarios — being a single parent by choice, and raising children in a marriage and after a break-up — point to the fact that the institution of marriage often fails to facilitate the complex and shifting nature of parenthood. The modern family is changing, and an increasing number of people are choosing to have children outside marriage in the first place. In 1970, 11% of all births in the U.S. were extramarital; by 2014, it had climbed to around 40%. In countries including Norway, Sweden, France, Mexico, and Iceland, more than half of all children are born outside of marriage.
This trend troubles some observers, who think that marriage is necessary for the stability of the family. But people…