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Should you marry your baby’s father?

That’s a question that, a century ago, wouldn’t even have been a question. If you’re pregnant, of course you should get married! But today it’s possible for a woman to raise a child on her own and not starve. So this is a practical question that many pregnant women face. Every Monday I like to post a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and today’s is really tough. A reader writes:

I have been dating a guy for 4 years and we are expecting our second child in a month. We have been through a lot given that our first child was unexpected, but he has always provided for us and been faithful to me and our family. I was desperate for a second child and did not want my son to grow up an only child as I was, however we are still not married. Being a Christian, I see the flaws in my thinking having another child out of wedlock. We live together and our relationship resembles a marriage, however, we are still not married. We have talked about it and even ring shopped, so I am basically waiting on him to make a move. The only problem is that he does not follow Christ and has no relationship with Him whatsoever. He does not deny that there is a God and will accompany me to church on occasion. I am just so on the fence about seeking marriage with an unbeliever, yet, I feel like I am way past committed to this man and want to remain with him. Is this wrong from a Biblical standpoint? Would God consider this to be a marriage already even though we have not gone before Him and taken vows?

Great question! And before I answer it, I just want to point out one thing. She said, “Being a Christian, I see the flaws in my thinking having another child out of wedlock.” It is not a sin to have a child. Ever. That child should never be seen as lesser in any way. That child is a new creation, and is blessed and is in the image of God. The sin was in sex outside of marriage, not in getting pregnant. And it seemed like the couple was having sex anyway. I just think that’s important to clarify, because we shame a lot of kids who shouldn’t have shame. The child is not the sin.

That being said, let me throw out some things to consider.

To say you won’t marry someone, but you will live with them, really makes no sense

I want to talk about the broader question of whether or not you should marry the father of your baby in a minute, but I do want to look at something specific here.

What she’s saying is this:

I’m a Christian, and he is not. The Bible says that we’re not supposed to marry unbelievers, because that is a sin. So I likely shouldn’t marry him. So instead I’ll keep living with him and having sex with him and having his children…but we won’t be married?

This seems a little backwards to me. If you’re already living with him, then you’re not living as a Christian anyway. The question is, given our circumstances, how can I get right with Christ? And the answer would be to marry him. Continuing to live with him without being married isn’t going to get you right with Christ, but the Bible is clear that marriage between a believer and a non-believer is still a valid marriage. It’s not necessarily a wise one, but it is a valid marriage. Given that you have two children with him, personally, if that’s your only issue, I’d marry him in a heartbeat.

(And I’d also change your thinking on this one, because you seem to be thinking, “I’m better than him because I’m a Christian and I can’t marry him because he’s not”, but to be totally blunt, in this situation he’s acting more in line with his values. He’s sticking by you and your children; you’re the one not acting according to your values, because you’re living with him out of wedlock. So love him and accept him; that’s far more likely to win him to Christ than to act like you’re holier than he is.)

But what if his faith isn’t the only issue? Then how do you decide? Let’s look at some big picture issues.

If you find yourself pregnant, should you marry the baby's father? Some questions to ask.Click To Tweet

Should You Marry Your Baby's Father? Thoughts on whether or not to get married if you're pregnant--and how to choose well.

It is valid to consider the children’s well-being when you decide whether or not to marry the man who got you pregnant

Social science research shows us that children fare far better in households with two married, biological parents. And a child is twenty-five times more likely to be sexually abused living in a household with a step-father than with a  biological father, and even more likely to be abused living in a household where mom is dating. Any time you introduce adult males into the household who aren’t related to the child, there is a risk for that child.

But it’s not just that. When children grow up with stability, they fare better. The marriage status of the parents actually matters more than education or income when it comes to how well the children fare. Marriage seriously matters, so, since you’ve already conceived a child, that does merit some consideration.

Your child didn’t ask to be here. You did things backwards, and now it’s time to ask whether you can repair the situation and make this a good one for your baby.

That being said, sometimes marriage to the baby’s father isn’t in the best interests of anyone

I have had other questions from readers who started dating a guy, ended up pregnant, and drifted into living with him because of the baby. But he just wasn’t a good guy. But because they were living together, she ended up pregnant again. And life is just difficult.

It’s admirable to want to give your child a father. But I think it’s even more important at this emotional stage when you realize that you’re pregnant that you take a big step back and ask yourself, what is the wise thing to do here? The wise thing is not always to marry the child’s father.

If a man isn’t a good guy, then you may end up marrying him only to divorce him a few years down the road. And then things are even messier. You need to ask these questions:

  • Does he believe in working hard? Will he contribute financially to this family and strive to work hard and be responsible?
  • Does he believe in faithfulness? Has he shown that he can be committed to just me, and that I won’t have to worry about him chasing after other women?
  • Is he free of addictions, especially the addiction to pornography, which will ruin a marriage if not dealt with?
  • Does he encourage me to speak my mind, or does he try to control what I’m thinking and doing? (Marrying someone who is abusive is the worst thing you can do for you or your child. Natalie at Emotional Abuse Survivor has a great post detailing how you can tell if he’s an abuser).
  • Does he support you around the household, or does he expect you to completely take care of him? Someone who is lazy or entitled will not make a good marriage partner for life.

If you answer no to any of those questions, then marrying him is likely not a good idea, even for the sake of your child. In fact, for the sake of your child, it’s likely best if you get out, get involved in a church community, and try to create a good life for your baby. It will be hard, yes. But you need to give your child the best start you can.

It is tempting to try to convince yourself that things will work with this guy. You’re afraid of raising this child alone. You tell yourself that he’ll change, that things will be all right. But in general, people don’t change. And marrying someone who will only bring you heartache isn’t necessarily the best thing for your child either.

Notice the question I didn’t ask, though.

I don’t think your husband has to be the love of your life

I didn’t ask if you think he’s “the one”, your soul mate, the person who causes you to lose sleep and makes your stomach flip over. Those are important questions, but once you’re pregnant, I think the child’s stability and happiness matters most (that’s why we should wait; so that we have the chance to ask that important question!).

A man can still make a great father even if he isn’t the perfect match for you. And you can decide that you will pour yourself into this marriage and into this family.

What you can’t do is make a marriage work with someone of poor character. You can live without heart-stopping love; you can’t live without good character.

Character trumps everything: Don't ever marry a guy with bad character--even the father of your baby.Click To Tweet

The Warning: Don’t Do Things Backwards

The big thing I want people to understand is that doing things backwards adds so much stress and heartache to your life. When you have sex with someone that you’re really not interested in marrying, you still run the risk of winding up pregnant. And that prolongs this relationship with this guy who isn’t very good indefinitely. He’s eligible for shared custody. He’s going to be in your life forever now, whether you marry him or not. And his family will be in your life, too.

You owe it to yourself, and to your future children, to go slowly and go wisely and listen to what God says. The reason He tells us to wait for marriage for sex isn’t because He’s mean or He wants to kill all our fun; it’s because it honestly is the best for us and for any future children. When we jump into bed with someone we don’t really love, we can cause a huge mess in our lives.

Those children will still be blessings, but life will be much more complicated than it needs to be.

What do you think? Should a woman marry the father of her baby? How should she decide? Let’s talk in the comments!

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