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!

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