As an unmarried military spouse with a new baby, I’m questioning if having children changes how marriage is viewed, or perhaps if marriage become a necessity? I want to explore how having children shifts dynamics.
I’ve talked before about being an unmarried military spouse but here’s a quick recap (or read the full intro here) We’ve been together for over 5 years, I am step-parent to his teen girls (13 & 15) and we’ve not tied the knot.
For a military couple, some people find this odd, but for us, it just hasn’t been an issue. We own our own home and my not-husband is stationed nearby. He has been married before and was scarred for life by the experience – okay that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you catch my drift. I, on the other hand have never been married, engaged, or even considered the idea.
My views on marriage aren’t complicated really, I think it’s a wonderful thing and if it suits you, do it. I grew up with unmarried parents which gave me my double-barreled surname (read more about names and marriage here). My parents did eventually marry after 34 years but it was sadly forced by the ill health of my dad who passed away just six months later (read more about that here). For them, they reached that point wondering why they hadn’t done it sooner?
Since having a baby,
I get asked a lot by the older generations, “Have you set a date now the baby is here?”, (despite not even being engaged) because ‘back in their day’ if you were ‘with child’ you’d get married…simple!
My not-husband’s late grandpa – who was in his 90s – would tell us; “When your grandmother got in the family way, I did the honourable thing“. Which of course meant marry her, so they wouldn’t have a child out of wedlock. It might be the honourable thing, but is that always the right thing?
Does doing the honourable thing mean marrying out of duty, rather than love? Do those marriages last? Do mum and dad NEED to be married? Does it create a more solid foundation? What benefits does it bring to the children or the family?
So what do I think?
I don’t think it creates a more solid foundation, no. I believe you can have an incredibly strong relationship without being married. Sometimes, getting married can actually put pressures on a relationship that wouldn’t otherwise be there! Perhaps parents or grandparents force or influence a union. And if there’s pressures, perhaps they lead to disagreements or create atmospheres, and could that ultimately lead to an unhappy home for children?
What about names?
I’ve written about those many times before (here). Prior to having our baby, I had mentioned that I was the only one in our household with my surname. My not-husband and his girls have his, and I have mine. Well, nothing has changed. I am still the odd one out!
I took real pleasure in our little boy having my name for three weeks, before registering him. Seeing his name on documents brought me great joy! It was me and my little boy, blended beautifully with his daddy and big sisters. Then came the name change and bizarrely it hit me harder than I had expected!
In the registry office, the chap asked us lots of questions, including what our baby’s surname would be. The plan was always to give him his dad’s surname but having it written and finalised made me feel really odd! We joked a lot about him having my name as it’s a big thing to me (read more here), but it was never a serious option. Despite this, the reality of it made my heart sink! Seeing it in print, all official and final really felt like he was no longer MY baby. Crazy, right?! But it really did get to me. I shared these feelings with my not-husband and he understood, which made me feel a little better about it.
I adjusted to the name change pretty quickly, and the bad feeling left me until a medical letter arrived in his new name. Seeing that gave me a pang of sadness, but it soon passed.
We then visited the doctor for his 6-week check (at 9 weeks due to Covid) and that got me once again! The doctor took our red book (baby record) and crossed out my surname and wrote his dad’s. It just felt so… I don’t know, like I was being removed somehow! Like he was erasing all trace that he was MY little boy! Again, it’s crazy I know, but that’s how it felt at the time.
So yes, the concept of marriage and name changes did cross my mind at this point. Perhaps if I had the same name as all our children, I would somehow feel more complete? But, I then ask myself, would I change my name even if we got married now? No, probably not actually. I am still proud of my name and would probably still keep it, despite being the odd one out. How I will feel when our little boy reaches school age and we have different surnames, I don’t know. But for now, I’m sticking with it!
So what about the children?
How will my little boy feel growing up knowing his mummy has a different name to him? Will he even notice or care? Do his sisters feel more connected to their new little brother because they share a name? Probably.
For me, I didn’t experience the name difference as my surname is both my parents names, so neither was left out.
Did I experience any issues with my parents not being married? No, I don’t think so? I don’t recall any problems but perhaps if I asked my mum, she might have a few. I do remember something about signing forms being difficult for dad, but I could be wrong there. It was a long time ago!
I’m not sure I ever noticed that my parents were not married and others were. I don’t think it meant anything to me as a child. But, being an adult, I definitely saw a different view. I guess I just turned into a hopeless romantic as I saw marriage for the joining of companions and the solidifying of love.
But it was a beautiful thing, being able to witness my parents get married after three decades together. The pride I felt and the sense of togetherness was overwhelming. It was a real family affair with my older brother giving away mum, my younger brother as best man, our girls and myself as bridesmaids, and my not-husband and sister-in-law as witnesses. It was a truly magical day and one I will cherish forever.
So for me, my parents not being married previously enabled me to share in (and help plan) the most beautiful and important day of their lives. Perhaps us not being married now, might mean that one day our children may be able to experience the same? Who knows!
But what does it mean practically?
Sure, legally it brings financial security (unless you’ve got a pre-nup) but does that only matter if you split? Or if devastatingly, one of you passes away far too early, as with my dad.
I guess if we went our separate ways then things would not be as clear cut as if we were married, but we have always said we would leave with what we came with – we’re both reasonable people. Of course situations change, like having a baby and as I’ve mentioned before, I’m an incredibly independent person. So this year, I have found it so difficult to adjust to not working or having my own income. It’s taken me nearly six years to accept ‘his money’ as ‘our money’, despite the fact we share everything. Even now, after having a baby together, I still feel uneasy using our joint card to pay for things because I didn’t earn it!
This leads me to think that if you are organised enough and have things covered, such as; life insurance policies or a will, as well as a reasonable view of your financial situation, then being married or not is irrelevant? I could be wrong! Maybe it would all go t*ts up if we decided to split. Luckily we won’t be finding out!
Since becoming a mum,
I have found my focus homed in on my own mortality far more. I worry about our little boy if anything were to happen to me! Even more so, as I’m breastfeeding, so he’s 100% reliant on me for the time being. And yes, it scares me! I get nervous about driving, not because I’m an anxious driver – I love driving – but because of the idiots on the road that I have no control over! They could rob my little boy of his mummy and there would be nothing I could do about it. These are things that never bothered me before!
Just the other day, my not-husband and I were talking about life insurance and our financial situation, should anything happen to either one of us. Granted, it isn’t the nicest of conversations to have, but it needs to be done. Being in the military comes with its owns risks for the person serving and as a family, I think it’s vital you prepare for that…whilst praying it never happens!
So yes, when viewed in that light, I do feel being married would be far more beneficial and the safer option for our little boy, but I’m still not sure it’s a necessity. We have the relevant pieces of the puzzle in place without it…I think.
But we are a military family after all, so a spanner in the works would come with an overseas posting. We’d have to be married to live overseas…or go unaccompanied again. And in that instance, we’d be marrying as a formality. And is that the right thing to do?!
So for now,
here’s where I stand. I still don’t think marriage is a necessity, even though we now have a child together. For me, it’s still just a romantic, lovely thing to do to signify your solidarity and commitment to one another.
Whilst in Scotland on our 2019 road trip, we stopped at Gretna Green (famous since 1754 for eloping couples) and added an engraved padlock to their Love Lock sign. The engraving said ‘Forever Not Husband and Not Wife‘, with our names on the back. That was our own way of signifying our love and commitment. The key to the padlock is in Loch Leven, never to be found!
Over and Out,
The Not Wife