While a lot of co-parenting situations are the result of unprotected nights of passion that turn into unexpected lifelong bonds, a growing number of women and men are making the informed and strategic decision to have children without the benefit of marriage.
Back in 2014, Chris Brown, whose want for a child ruined his already rocky romance with longtime girlfriend Karrueche Tran, said that he was “scared of marriage.” However, he has seemingly embraced his role as father to daughter Royalty. Similarly, Sean Combs, father of six, has said that he would consider a “love contract,” but is less inclined to entertain the idea of holy matrimony.
Showrunner Shonda Rhimes, of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder fame, is a mother of three children—two adopted and one the product of a surrogate arrangement—but as for marriage, she’s not interested.
“I have never wanted to get married. I never played bride. I was never interested. I don't know what it is; I never wanted to get married,” she recently told Oprah Winfrey. (She later admitted that she might wed as a senior citizen.)
Parenthood is as daunting and demanding as marriage, if not more so. As a parent, you’re responsible for a life, for instilling morals, building character, securing safety, feeding, clothing, educating, etc. As a spouse, you still have a huge degree of responsibility, but the actual raising and rearing should ideally already be done. Your husband or wife should be able to play a significant role in providing for his or her own needs.
So why are men and women making the decision to commit to children and all the responsibility that entails while giving marriage the side eye? Matchmaker Gee Sanders, vice president of the Paul C. Brunson Agency, says that money has something to do with it.
That’s one thing Brown, Combs and Rhimes all have in common. When the resources are available, that makes a difference, says Sanders, who suggests that status influences how people make parenting decisions. For many, six kids is nearly an unimaginable financial responsibility, but for Combs, it’s seemingly not a concern.
“He’s in a different category of how you process children and how you process your obligation to them because he doesn’t have to be [as] concerned about finances,” says Sanders.
It’s not just a trend among the rich and famous, however. Sanders says that many middle-class adults are considering parenting alone or with a partner, while either avoiding or postponing matrimony. Even if shy of being wealthy, educated, attractive, financially stable singles generally have a larger dating pool than their struggling counterparts.
“Certain people who feel like they have more options than another would feel more comfortable to be committed to a child than [to] a woman. … That has been a trend that I’ve been noticing,” says Sanders, who acknowledges that biology plays its part, too.
Most men can father children into their 50s and 60s, while most women begin to experience fertility challenges in their 30s or 40s. So although the fellas can choose fatherhood while they’re still young enough to run around the baseball field with Junior, they can also wait until they’re much older and more established to start a family or find a wife.
For women, biology also plays a role, but in a different way. Wanting to conceive and give birth without the help of fertility treatments may mean that a woman goes at it alone while in her 30s. Though she may want love and marriage before the baby carriage, the hands of time may be working against her.
Monet Bell, 34, who stars on FYI’s reality show #BlackLove, recently admitted that she’s not yet ready to consider single motherhood, but also acknowledged that her thoughts on the subject might change in a year or two. She wants love and a family, but maybe one of them is better than none.
“Women are starting to make the decision to say, ‘I’m not able to find an ideal match, but I want the experience of having a connection to a child and having that role,’” says Sanders. “So there is this ultimate opportunity for people of a certain socioeconomic status to say, ‘I want this experience of being a mother or a father, but I don’t want the obligation to be a husband or a wife.’”
Often, however, that leaves more responsibility with mothers than with fathers, who are more likely to live outside the home and maybe see their children only on weekends. That’s not to suggest that fathers are not carrying their weight, but generally speaking, moms end up doing more of the heavy, day-to-day lifting.
“It’s a very demanding role to orchestrate another human’s life. It is unfair when one of the parents seems to be able to get out of that daily responsibility,” says Sanders.
That “problem” could also be solved by co-parenting cohabitation. Think of Jennifer Hudson and fiance David Otunga. They’ve been a happy couple, living and parenting together for seven years, but no wedding date has been announced.
Sanders says that parents sometimes choose to remain single because it offers an easier way out.
“Biology forces you to be connected,” she says. “In a romantic relationship, there’s always a choice. Your status with [a significant other] is not permanent.”
That’s why Sanders advises would-be moms to consider exactly what it means when men find them suitable for baby-mama status but refuse the ring.
“It does speak to the character of a person if they can give that love to another human being, but not in a romantic relationship,” says Sanders, who believes that men do consider character when selecting a mother for their children.
While a man may not be sure he wants to commit to a lifelong romance with a woman, he may decide that she has the morals and values he’d want his children to have. Ne-Yo, who ended his relationship with Monyetta Shaw after a long engagement, has always spoken well of his ex.
“She’s my partner, she’s my friend and we’re raising two beautiful children together,” he said after their breakup.
According to Sanders, that’s the most important factor when deciding to become a mom or dad: agreeing on how to raise the children and doing what’s best for them.
“Even if you’re not a romantic match, you need to be a co-parenting match, and you should have shared values [about] basic things: how we arrange visits, how we share holidays, how we acknowledge milestones for our child,” says Sanders, who believes that this leads to a healthier environment for children.
Once these matters are figured out, things may only get better for the children as stepparents and siblings enter their worlds. After years of offering unconditional love to their miniature selves, parents may be better-equipped to offer romantic love to another adult.
“Loving a child is the most natural thing in the world, but loving another [adult] requires you to make that decision every day,” say Sanders, who makes sure she tells her clients that marriage is work. “That’s what makes romantic love almost the most challenging love. The work doesn’t end after you [find] them. The work begins once you are in the relationship.”