Photo courtesy of Rhionna Sims
Story by Carley Olejniczak / Contributing Writer
In the days of Gen X, Baby Boomers and other generations before them, having a child out of wedlock was considered such a scandalous affair that many young, pregnant girls were shunned from their communities. It was sinful, reckless and shameful in the eyes of society.
But today, the millennial generation is changing the scope of how we see single mothers. In fact, they appear to be redefining the definition of the family unit. According to a study conducted by Child Trends in 2014, nearly half of all births are outside of marriage for women under 30, and even after having kids, the parents don’t always end up getting married.
There are many factors that play into why this statistic is on the rise for millennials more than any generation before. For many young parents, putting the stroller before the wedding bells is due to the fear of divorce, the want for stability before settling down, just not wanting to get married or a combination of the three.
“Honestly, (marriage is) the least of my worries,” said Rhionna Sims, the 20-year-old mother to her daughter, Charlotte.
When Sims’ baby was born two years ago, she realized that her life was going to have to be put on temporary hold. She had just graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and decided to take a semester off before jumping into college life.
After completing summer courses in order to get back on track to graduate on time, Sims is now a junior at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and is employed at Unum, a fortune 500 insurance company.
Charlotte’s biological father and Sims are no longer together. The relationship was “toxic,” according to Sims, and she broke it off with him when she was four months pregnant. The father has never seen Charlotte.
“I haven’t gotten married yet because I simply do not want to right now,” she said. “I want to have a stable life for Charlotte before I bring a man into the picture.”
Millennial moms who are unmarried face many of the same challenges as single mothers of previous generations, but the stigma of single parenting isn’t as harsh today as it was then.
“I personally think single mothers are amazing — heroic at that,” Jennifer Smith said. “They are the strongest women I know.”
Smith, 27, is the mother of bright-eyed, bushy-haired Lolan.
Lolan is 3-years-old and is the center of his mom’s life.
“I always felt as if something was missing in my life before Lolan,” Smith said. “I can truly say after having him I feel complete and whole.”
Smith is a waitress at a family-owned hibachi restaurant in Soddy Daisy, Tennessee, and is about to go back to school at Chattanooga State to become a dental assistant. With her plate full, marriage is not currently in the picture.
Smith says she only met her son’s father a few times before Lolan was conceived. He has contributed, financially and otherwise, to raising the little boy, and the two have decided to see where things go between them. Even though they’re together, marriage isn’t on the table yet.
“We want to make sure our relationship is something to last before plunging into marriage and separating a few years later to only mentally and emotionally damage our child,” Smith said.
She and the father do not live together and are taking baby steps in their relationship to ensure that Lolan wouldn’t be emotionally harmed if they were to split up now.
Smith isn’t the only one who fears divorce will compromise the happiness of her child.
Jon Barkmeier, a 27-year-old college student and bar manager in Nashville, wishes to have kids someday but isn’t convinced on the idea of marriage.
“With the divorce rates being so high … it’s harder to keep a spouse than a child,” Barkmeier said.
According to the American Psychology Association, 40 to 50 percent of marriages end in divorce.
“I want kids,” he said. “But the taint of marriage and divorce is (too) risky.”
For many millennial parents, while they’re unmarried now, the thought of marriage in the future isn’t a far-fetched idea.
Alyssa Stanaszak and Jacob Sincock are a young couple raising their 2-year-old girl together in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Stanaszak was 20 and Sincock was 26 when Stanaszak discovered she was pregnant with their daughter, Norah. Now, almost three years later, marriage is on their mind but not in their immediate future.
“I love my daughter’s dad, and we do plan to get married someday,” Stanaszak said.
But, the couple feels the need to develop their relationship and financial status further before diving into married life together.
“(Jacob and I) are not ready, and we both refuse to put that pressure on our relationship right now just because we have a child together,” Stanaszak said.
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