Should More Unmarried Parents Choose Cohabitation?

by Britni Danielle

We’ve all heard the statistics. According to some numbers, 70 percent of black children are born to single mothers. While many have used that number to ring the alarm about the state of black parenting and relationships, that 70 percent number only tells part of the story.

Lost in that statistic is the number of couples who share all of the parenting and household duties without exchanging rings. And with more American couples choosing to wait longer to jump the broom, the definition of what being a “single parent” really means has become somewhat blurred.

This morning I came across an interesting article by Nick Chiles, writer and husband to one of my sheroes, Denene Millner. In his article, Chiles argues that for unmarried black parents, cohabitation (or “shaking up” as many of us like to call it) may just be a good thing.

He explains:

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 Thomas 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 ensure 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.

Chiles presents an interesting idea. While most agree that having two parents in a household is best for children, do those parents have to be bonded by a piece of paper or can their commitment to their family and each other speak for itself?

Some will see suggesting cohabitation as a cop out. They’ll argue that if parents really wanted to be committed, they’d go all the way to the courthouse or the church and make it official. But if our goal is to raise strong, healthy kids and model what loving families look like, perhaps, as Chiles suggests, we need to investigate all of the ways we can encourage this instead of just promoting the “traditional” way, which seems to be less important for more and more Americans, not just black folks.

What do you think? Can promoting marriage AND cohabitation for couples with kids help foster more committed unions?

Speak on it!

  • Jess Ica

    I agree 100%. I am a cohabitating parent, but that is because I was foolish and had children before I was married. My children have the benefit of having their father and mother in the home together raising them, however, I would never EVER encourage anyone to have children before they are married. It irks me all the time when I hear people talking about having children, but they don’t even mention marriage. The right way is to become stable, find a person that shares your love and purpose in life, marry them, and then plan for the right time to have kids. I don’t agree with people getting pregnant and rushing to go get their papers either, because if they weren’t good enough to marry before there was a baby in the picture, then those feelings don’t change with a baby, in fact they worsen. Marriage isn’t about the papers its about the relationship.

  • Jess Ica

    No they should not CHOOSE cohabitation. That is a situation that people “fall” into. A family should be planned. I think its ridiculous that Chiles is considering actually suggesting cohabitation.

  • Ms. Information

    That was a very honest assessment…

  • Apple

    How about you just sign the papers and get married? If you gone bother living with someone over 12hrs a day evryday , just go to the court house sign the papers

  • K. Michel

    “Should More Unmarried Parents Choose Cohabitation?”

    With the context of this article being about African-American parents, I say this. More unmarried parents should, at the very least, like each other. Nothing else matters without this.

  • Pseudonym

    Thank you, Jess Ica! Thank you!

    I support all of the above.

  • Brendan Munnelly

    There is no ‘commitment’ in legal or civil marriage anyone – at least not between the couple. In legal reality a civil marriage binds a couple only to the government’s marriage-and-divorce system.

    When couples are asked in surveys and polls why they aren’t buying what the government civil marriage system is selling, their response is this: we don’t fear commitment in personal relationships – but we do dread the legal, financial and emotional upheaval of divorce.

    It’s what happens to people when they exit a civil marriage that discourages others from entering one. And a sure way of avoiding divorce is shunning divorce’s number one cause: civil marriage.

    But the four-decade long and terminal decline of civil marriage does not mean that couple commitment is dead or even dying. It’s just being reborn with a new name.

    In search of a more secure legal foundation to their romantic bond today’s couples are turning increasingly to contract law – the law of making, exchanging and keeping promises. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers reveals there has been a 39 per cent increase in requests for cohabitation agreements or ‘cohabs’ from couples over the past five years.

    Cohabs can reproduce important legal elements of civil marriage such as rights of inheritance and powers of attorney – while at the same time empowering individual couples to design their own mutual commitments that reflect their shared values, life goals and circumstances. A cohab doesn’t force a couple to stick together forever – but because it’s a contract it does oblige the couple to forever stick to whatever legally-enforceable promises they make to each other.

  • K

    I am a single black women with no kids and just from observing my friends who are now single mothers I have found that the end result was to NEVER have a baby without the ring. Many of my girlfriends just simply “got knocked up” and had to deal with the issue but at the end of the day still yearn for a marriage. Statistically speaking by the time a child is 10 years old the cohabitating parents will ultimately split. CLEARLY the whole cohabitating issue is not working for anyone.

  • Chiming In

    I completely agree with your comment. At some point, people need to make a choice, especially when they make unwise decisions that might result in pregnancy. They should ask themselves is this someone I would be okay sharing the responsibilities of a child with? Do I like this person? Do I respect this person?

    The answers to these questions can change to the negative over time, but too often people have children with individuals that they would answer no to all these questions before and during the pregnancy stage. That is the problem. People are consciously making bad choices, and marriage won’t change this for people who make bad decisions. They would have just included the government in their bad decision.

  • myblackfriendsays

    It’s better than not living together. But I think people should be married before they have children. It’s like the song: love, marriage, baby carriage.

  • my_reply

    Ugh! Black people cannot admit that we have gotten ourselves into a dysfunctional mess and need to stop. What the heck happens after five years where the parents are seeing other people and daddy decides to move out? There is no commitment so he can. The kids are confused and turn out screwed up just like other kids. This seems just as bad to me. I understand the idea. You want both parents in the house, but it just seems to me that two people who aren’t committed to each other living together to raise kids is not going to work out in the end.

    If a man gets along with you enough to put his love life on hold to live with you for 18 years then you should get married, but an open relationship where mommy and daddy date other people and are not committed and unlikely to stay cohabitating for long enough to raise a child is bad.

    People need to start connecting the dots between kids raised in nontraditional households and the dysfunction in our communities. Black people need to just be honest about what has happened and tell black women that they have the power to do better with the next generation by not having babies with uncommitted men who won’t stick around.

    The black community needs to call out all these “I don’t need a man” baby mommas and show them their success rate. The black community needs to stop trying to come up with alternatives like cohabitating. Get back to basics. Dropping virginity and engaging in premarital sex requires you to be smart and responsible enough to decide who is worthy to have sex with and protect yourself from STDs and unwanted pregnancies. This is why man made religions have rules about virginity, premarital sex, and marriage. They know that when men and women don’t engage in pair bonding and produce children inside marriages to be raised by these two people it creates a crappy situation. The African American community proves them right. So what black women and girls need to be properly educated and told that having a baby with no man in the house is probably not a good idea. Black women control their bodies. They have the ability to stop this madness. I could care less about the men. They’ve been abandoning their children for decades which is why cohabitating won’t work. But black women need to get some better birth control. Condoms are not enough. Get something other than pills if you forget to take them. I just don’t believe the majority of these women are using good birth control and popping up pregnant. I just don’t get it.

    I get why religion pushed virginity and marriage and told you there was a holy smiter to smite you. Most people don’t see the bigger picture. Leaders have to create rules that make communities and civilizations thrive. Black people need to get some religion or use more effective birth control.

  • Stanley

    Here we go!

  • motrenaissance

    No! & Fathers should get full custody if there is conflict between mother & father

  • Me

    I think more fathers should fight for custody and quit letting the system bulldoze them. I know of too many men who sat by and *let a decision get made in favor of unfit mothers without fighting for their kids who then turn around and bemoan bias and inequitable courts. Stand up for your right to parent!

  • Alisha M.Gray (@ZenMamaPolitic)

    I love the idea of co-inhabiting for Black single mothers. I am a college educated single mom,with 2 kids. One is adopted, & think that we are being misrepresented by false associations with our income. It’s time to work together. I recently came across a site called:; which places single moms together in housing and childcare. Excellent! This is a game changer. If we start getting the same income levels as Patriarchal married folk; then they will begin to respect us as equals. It should not take capitalism to do this, but at least they could not attempt to lie; when they see that our children are just as happy, healthy , and successful as theirs. There is no excuse for the current amount of discrimination that we endure. And it’s not only the income, it’s the support from others who are similar,and living the same lifestyle; which would create a larger support network. I am so tired of two stupid married people, getting reprieve for their behavior; while we get continually vilified for just being ‘unattached’ in a relationship. It’s time for that caveman mentality to stop. We need to form our own networks, make them legal, legit., and permanent portions of our families and foundations.

Latest Stories

Hashtivism: See How Twitter Took Over #myNYPD to Highlight Police Brutality


V.O.T.D: “Thugs, The Musical!”


Open Thread: Did You Watch “The Boondocks” Season Premiere?


Paul Ryan to Meet With CBC to Clear Up Racially Insensitive Comments

More in Family
How to Survive a Family Fallout (Just in Time for the Summer Reunion)
Why Are We Still Calling Kids ‘Illegitimate?’