Bastard (definition): A person born of parents not married to each other.
After you get married, it seems like the first question people ask you is, “When are you having kids?”
If you’ve had a baby, but haven’t gotten married, people ask you, “Well, when’s the wedding?”
I have a 5-month-old son named Alexander. His father and I have been together for three years. We are not married. At least once a week, someone makes it their business to let me know that they think “I ain’t livin’ right.”
For me, some of those people are:
- My therapist, who politely says that marriage is a social construct with legal and insurance benefits
- My 80-year-old sorority sister/friend/client who dramatically gasped when she asked if I had a large or small wedding ceremony, I told her there was no ceremony
- My recently married dad, who unashamedly asks and reassures
mehimself that a marriage is going to happen (He and my mom were together for 18 years, but never wed.)
- My mom, who has never been married, yet tells me that married couples are more blessed (I was married for 4 years; that was not my experience.)
One of my married friends graciously gave me a pass, saying “Technically, you did get married first and then had a baby.” We laughed, and then remembered all of the worst things about my marriage – how I didn’t have sex for the last two years of it, how my bad my partner made me feel at times, how I missed my family that lived in Connecticut while I was with him in Los Angeles, etc…
Recently, I contacted my church to find out how have a baby dedication ceremony for Alexander. They were a little less gracious than my friend.
A baby dedication ceremony takes place in a church, and the pastor presents the baby to the congregation and prays over him. The parents also promise to raise the baby as a Christian. I wanted to have a baby dedication ceremony for Alexander because I felt like that extra pastoral blessing would add an extra layer of protection around my son. I also wanted my church family/village to officially know that I had a baby.
A deacon from the church responded to my request. She told me that the church would be unable to perform this ceremony for Alexander because I was living with his father, and we were not married. However, if we got married, the church would gladly perform the ceremony. If we decided not to get married, another feasible option would be for me to stop living with Alexander’s dad, but he would not be able to participate in the ceremony, she said. [Update: The deacon contacted me after reading this post and said the following. “If you and the baby’s father are both Christians and not living together, as a member of [the church], you can most definitely dedicate your baby.” This doesn’t change anything for us though since we live together.]
I was very disappointed by the deacon’s answer, but I wasn’t surprised. I knew the church did not support the idea of “shacking up,” or unmarried couples living together. As a result, I stopped going to church when I pregnant and started showing. I haven’t been back since then, nor have I participated in the ministry in which I was once active.
The irony is that if I asked Jesus to pray over my child, based on what I know about him, he would. He blessed “heathens” all of the time. Thankfully, I have direct access to God via Jesus and have the power to pray over my own child.
The deacon’s response has caused me to think about marriage more in terms of what it means to our society, and how our society views “bastard children.” Alexander’s father and I are both the products of unwed parents. I’ve thought about how they may have shaped our lives and our views on marriage. I still don’t have all of the answers, but I know that we are both committed to the idea of family, and I currently have no intentions of living in a separate household.
I am not against marriage, I may even end up married again one day. However, after spending four years in a bad one, which ultimately led to a divorce, my happiness became more of a priority over marriage. In my relationship with my ex-husband, I sacrificed my happiness, peace, and joy for the sake of “doing the good Christian thing.” I promised myself that in my next relationship, I would honor my mental well-being and make it a priority. I believe that I have done that successfully. I am in a loving relationship that has resulted in the creation of a beautiful little human being, who has made so many people smile.
Is there a difference between “shacking up” and getting married? My initial thought was “no.” Alexander’s father and I had verbally committed to being with one other and through our actions each day. If you visited our home, you would see that we operate much like a typical married couple. However, as I’ve thought about it more, there are some differences.
Most obviously, I don’t call Alexander’s dad my “husband,” I call him my “boyfriend.” As I get older ‘boyfriend” sounds a little juvenile to me, so I’ve been trying to think of something different to call him.
Another difference is that my child and I have different last names, which I really dislike, but I agreed to because I had more pull with Alexander’s first and middle names.
Also, legally, it would be easier for me to leave this relationship. When I got divorced in 2013, there was lots of paperwork, a substantial fee, and multiple court dates. If I decided to end my current relationship, I would not have to involve the city or lawyers, unless of course we decided to have a custody battle or I wanted to sue Alexander’s father for child support.
Finally, now that I am fully aware of my church’s position on my familial status, I’m not sure how to move forward as a member, and whether or not I should find a new church home.
This post is not an argument for or against marriage. It’s not even a plea nor mild suggestion to get my church to change its rules for me or anyone else. I’m just sharing my experience as a Christian, who is in a non-traditional family. While my family has its own challenges, like any other family, in many ways it’s working out for us.