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Unmarried With Children

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In the article entitled “Unmarried with Children” the authors present the findings of a study which they spent years interviewing 162 low-income mothers in eight poor neighborhoods in Philadelphia and its suburb, Camden, New Jersey. (Edin and Kefalas, 34). “We spent five years chatting over kitchen tables and on front steps, giving mothers like Jen the opportunity to speak to the question so many affluent Americans ask about them: Why do they have children while still young and unmarried when they will face such an uphill struggle to support them” (Edin at al, 33). Their goal was to paint a portrait of these women’s lives from the early days of their intimate relationships, through pregnancy, birth and beyond to tell us why they frequently put motherhood before marriage. The primary point they make is that these women do not devalue marriage, but rather value it highly and do not enter into it lightly.

“Unmarried with Children” brings us into a life of young Jen Burke who dropped out of high school after she got pregnant by her 20-year-old boyfriend, Rick. “I didn’t want to get pregnant; he wanted me to get pregnant. As soon as he met me, he wanted to have a kid with me” (Edin et al 33). Jen believed that her boyfriend wanted to have a baby with her so that she wouldn’t leave him, because of all the other girls he has been with as it had happened to him in the past. According to Jen she began pushing Rick to get a real job and stop messing around and shed that “kiddie mentality” because he had growing financial obligations at home (Jen in Edin et al, 34). Edin and Kefalas stated in the article that Rick wasn’t like other to-be fathers at that age.

He didn’t mistreat her, abandon her, abuse her, or anything of that nature. Rick’s problem was that his record was catching up to him because he won’t let go of his old ways. “Rick, who had been in and out of juvenile detention since he was 8 years old for everything from stealing cars to selling drugs, proved unable to stay away from his unsavory friends” (Edin et al, 34). It is understandable that Jen, like any young mother, would want to make her relationship with Rick work. At that age she is still a child and she as well has desires to be wanted and needed even if it is for the wrong reasons. “New parents typically make amends and revolve to stay together for the sake of their child” (Edin et al, 34). The authors make a good point that single mothers already believe in marriage, they just want it to feel right and be the right time. They believe that these young women will eventually wed someone, sooner or later. According to Jen, she wants to get a job, finish school, and get her son out of Kensington before she gets married. (Jen in Edin et al, 35).

Jen makes it very clear in the article that the baby changed her life for the better. She believes that her son “saved” her from her bad future if she didn’t have him. “I was just real bad. I hung with the real bad crowd. I was doing pills. I was really depressed…I was drinking. That before I was pregnant” (Jen in Edin et al, 35). Jen eventually got back together with Rick and they had a second child together, which we later find out that she losses the child to a miscarriage. He never did propose marriage and she was a little glad that never happened. Rick was never going to get his act together and Jen does dream of a perfect wedding her Aunt Nancy and her Uncle Pat had. She realizes that you need a lot of money for that kind of wedding and also that she doesn’t want to marry Rick. She hopes that one day she will be financially ready for anything that might go wrong, including her child getting sick and being responsible for herself.

Jen also has major trust issues with Rick because after they got back together he started cheating on her with numerous girls. Rick eventually got arrested and sent to jail again for getting into a fight at a bar with some guy. Apparently they were drunk and on drugs; they got out of control. He ended up getting sentenced to fourteen to thirty years in prison. Jen only kept in touch with him for a couple of years after that once she found out her name on the visitors list was replaced by some other girl; she was finally done with him (Edin et al 36, 37). “There is this kid Donny that works at my job. He works on the C Shift. He’s a supervisor! He’s funny, there years older, and he’s not a geek or anything, but he’s not a preppy good boy either. But he’s not a player like Rick” (Jen in Edin et al 38). Jen finally realized how her life dramatically changed as Rick disappeared from her life.

All she had to focus on was taking care of her son, working, and going to school and living her life on her terms even though she really has no life with those responsibilities. She named her son Colin and she believes that he is the best thing that ever happened to her. She might have gotten pregnant at age 15, but that is nothing compared to where she would have ended up if Colin wasn’t there to stop her. “The lesson one draws from stories’ like Jen’s is quite simple: Until poor young women have access to jobs that lead to financial independence-until there is reason to hope for the rewarding life pathways that their privileged peers pursue-the poor will continue to have children far sooner than most Americans think they should, while still differing marriage” (Edin et al, 39).

“Unmarried with Children” primarily focuses on teenage pregnancy and single-parent families. According to Shepard, single-parent families now account for more than one of four American families. Sure enough, a good percentage of those families are single mothers that had a child as teenagers. In Jen’s case this is very true. “Although courts today are more sensitive to fathers’ claims, women in all social classes are still more likely to win custody of their children in cases of separation and divorce. Frequently, though, there are factors unique to poor single-parent women (346). Some factors unique to poor single-families are that children are more likely to develop problems with depression, emotional stress, difficulties at school, and criminal activity (Ketteringham 2).

These instances could possibly apply to Jen’s case. The authors state that Jen lives with her stepmother with no mention of a father or biological mother. Jen could have developed drug and alcohol problems due to having an absent father and biological mother. Jen could also have absent knowledge about safe sex and contraception because, possibly, she doesn’t have a good relationship with her stepmother. In “Unmarried with Children” it would be obvious that Jen would get custody of her son even if she is a struggling poor single-parent. Rick was not responsible, had no job, and couldn’t even care for himself. Though they were not married he still does have a legal right to his son. Although because of unfortunate circumstance of Rick’s side, and of course because he was careless and had a bad habit, Jen will always have full custody.

Though Jen has done a good job supporting herself and her son, there are some effects of being a single-parent. (Edin et al, 37). “Females heading single-parent households face considerable time and economic constraints. Single working parents can seldom provide the time, attention, and guidance that two parents can give, although research has been inconsistent on the effects of this situation. One study concluded that children in female-headed families are socially, intellectually and psychologically well adjusted as children from two-parent families” (Shepard 346).

In contrast to the article, it is very true that Jen will be able to give Colin everything that a two-parent family can. Though if Rick was in the picture, Colin would be more likely to develop the same habits Rick had due to the fact that Rick was from the start a danger to himself. It is said that in a single-parent family, a child without a father figure is more likely to go into drugs, violence, and end up in jail. “Researchers now generally agree that growing up in a fatherless house places children at risk. Adolescents that live with one parent or a step parent have much higher rates of deviant behavior then adolescents living with both parents “(Shepard 346).

Having read “Unmarried with Children” it became very clear that Jen was in a situation that she couldn’t get out of. Maybe when she was a child, her parents didn’t talk to her about safe sex and waiting to be ready. Jen was overpowered by a love she thought she had for an immature 20 years old that had absolutely no intention of changing his ways. Jen was blinded and thought that he would change when the baby came, but he didn’t, he just got worse. The authors tell a story of a girl that was saved by teenage pregnancy. The article shows a hard, challenging life that followed her pregnancy, but most important of all it shows how she rose above it all and made it as a single parent. Her life changed drastically. At first, getting pregnant was the worst that could happen, at the end it was the best “choice” because it got her out of drugs and alcohol. This article is a brilliant story that every young reader should be exposed to and possible learn from Jen’s mistakes, because not everyone will end up being saved by their child.

Young people today have a tendency to rush in to commitments before fully understanding what they are getting into. Our Catholic teachings instruct us to wait until one is in a loving marriage to have sex. Not only is the church preaching abstinence, but now public schools are also teaching students on the advantages of abstinence. Premarital sex can be a great emotional factor on teenagers’ lives and many teens feel deep, emotional regret with their involvement in early intercourse. Some teens may not feel the emotional regret now, but when time goes by and long-term effects start to be recognized, either by their unplanned children, or by diseases, the regret can hit with depression or low self esteem. In fact, a great number of teens, active in sexual relationships, actually regret their earlier choice to have sex. In Jen’s case it save her life.

Works Cited

Edin, Kathryn, Kefalas, Maria. “Unmarried with Children.” (2005): 33-40. Print.

Ketteringham, Kristin, . “Single Parent Households – How Does it Affect the Children? .” 6 July 2007: 5. Web. 28 Sep 2009. .

Shepard, Jon M., Sociology. 9th. Wadsworth Publishing, 2006. Print.

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