For Black Parents, Maybe Co-Habitation Deserves a Second Look
By NICK CHILES
For most of us, we don’t have to look far to find evidence of the growing attraction of co-habitation over marriage for more and more couples, even those who have children together. From the celebrity culture with which this nation seems obsessed to our friends and family, we see more people choosing to forgo the ring and the marriage certificate. This is especially evident in the black community, where plenty of black folk (and black celebs) are choosing the roommate option over the ring. Nia Long was just on the cover of Essence magazine, talking about the strength of her relationship and not feeling like she needed a ring.
An article on Parenting.com chronicles the growing trend of cohabitation and asks whether this is good for the children. The article seems to come down on the side of….uh, maybe, maybe not. Stats reveal how much more common it is: The percentage of first births to women living with a male partner jumped from 12 percent in 2002 to 22 percent in 2010, according to the CDC. And the National Marriage Project, based at the University of Virginia, found that kids today are twice as likely to have unmarried parents living together than divorced ones.
The writer, Margaret Hargrove, quotes statistics that we’ve all heard before, showing that co-habitating couples are more likely to get divorced: The National Marriage Project report found two-thirds of kids will see their co-habitating parents break up by age 12, while only one-quarter of married-before-children parents will divorce.
“Cohabiting parents tend to be more ambivalent, which can lead to instability in the relationship,” says Margaret Owen, Ph.D., director of the Center for Children and Families at the University of Texas, Dallas. “Perhaps this ambivalence is a factor in their decision to live together rather than get married in the first place.”
But when it comes to the kids, perhaps the focus needs to be less on whether the parents have a marriage certificate and more on whether both parents are stable, loving, supportive presences in their children’s lives. I just wrote a book called Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge with NBA vet Etan Thomasin in which we go on for pages urging fathers to remain a daily, constant presence in their children’s lives. While conventional wisdom tells us this is more likely to occur in a relationship where the two parties are married, it’s NOT a necessity. If a man and a woman (or some other configuration of parentage) can commit to each other and also to the raising of strong, healthy, confident, loved children, then perhaps we as a society and a community should back off from the marriage insistence and focus more on the state of our children.
After all, in a community where more than two-thirds of our children are being raised by single parents ANYWAY, clearly the marriage focus isn’t working for black people. So if we confront the reality of our situation, we can start talking about other ways to insure that our children get what they need, about new parenting arrangements, a renewed focus on the mental health of black children. As part of such a discussion, maybe co-habitation becomes more acceptable and acknowledged as a viable means of co-parenting strong black kids.