Nothing official about it: What is parenthood like minus marriage?

As breaking ‘good news’ goes, this one is a modern classic. Kalki Koechlin sharing an image of herself cradling her baby bump on Instagram, with the caption, “Relieved I can let that bump hang free after months of stuffing it into costumes which fit me at the beginning of shoot schedules in July but were not so easy to zip up by mid September!”

And just like that, by talking baby bumps and costumes, the actress delivered another blow to the ‘sin’ that is unwed motherhood.

Koechlin, who evidently has no plans yet to marry boyfriend and father of her child, Guy Hershberg, has company in the likes of Arjun Rampal and girlfriend, Gabriella Demetriades, who had their lovechild recently and marriage isn’t on the cards for them either.

The list is longer... Not long ago, Mithun Purandare and his Canadian-Belgian lover Anami had their child out of wedlock, as did Purab Kohli and then-fiance Lucy Payton, a UK-based yoga teacher. Mahie Gil who revealed she had a three-year-old daughter, shot back,

“What is the need for marriage? Families and children can be made without marriage. Everyone has their own life, everyone has their own principles. Marriage is a beautiful thing, but getting married or not is a personal choice.”

It does appear that the 2010 Pew Research survey is increasingly valid for India as well. The analysis of attitudinal surveys had showed that today’s 18- to 29-year-olds value parenthood far more than marriage.

In fact, 52% of millennials said that being a good parent is “one of the most important things” in life, while just 30% said the same about having a successful marriage.

The survey also found that millennials are less likely than adults ages 30 and older to say that a child needs a home with both a father and mother to grow up happily and that single parenthood and unmarried couple parenthood were bad for society.

A privilege?

However, given the stigma and discrimination that largely marks unwed motherhood in India, would it be safe to say that this eye-watering change is limited only to the privileged? Avers Dr Kersi Chavda, practising Psychiatrist and Consultant at Hinduja National Hospital, “Celebrities are often at the front of changing notions of what ‘family’ should be.

They seem to get divorced or adopt or do things that may not fit into the picture of a conventional family. We realise that nothing bad happens when they have children while unmarried...so it’s kind of okay!” He adds, “However, we must remember that celebrities are subject to the same societal trends as the rest of us... and when norms evolve to regard their lives as acceptable, everyone can benefit! Currently, in India, having kids out of wedlock seems to be limited to the rich and privileged... there do not seem to be too many ‘regular people’ who would have a child, though they may live together.”

Dr Chinmay Kulkarni, Psychiatrist, sees it as a trend. “A few years back surrogate pregnancy was becoming a trend in celebrity circles before it was banned by the government. We can call something 'a change in societal thinking' if a sufficiently large number of the population changes its opinion about something.

Change in societal thinking is happening in the case of premarital sex. The next step will be live-in relationships and children out of wedlock will come after it. At present, the majority of people still want to have children after they are married and would find this idea unacceptable,” he points out.

Practicality plays a big part in this decision. “Currently having children out of wedlock is only limited to the privileged as it is difficult to provide good education, good nutrition, good future for the child for a middle class or lower-middle-class single parent,” reminds Dr Chinmay.

In India’s fairly conservative society, it is very likely that the child will be subject to taunts and comments by the other children or their parents. “While it helps them ‘toughen up;, it certainly is known to leave a mark on the child’s psyche,” declares Dr Chavda.

There is also the possibility of the parents choosing to go their separate ways. “Having a child outside wedlock can put undue pressure on one partner if the other partner chooses to break up. If both the partners decide to not take responsibility for the child then the child can go through a traumatic childhood. This may happen as there is no legal framework as well as governmental support for such children,” avers Dr Chinmay.

Avoiding pitfalls

Yet there is no reason to prophesy doom and many pitfalls can be avoided. Dr Chinmay advices couples to decide who will take responsibility for the child if any of the partners decide to separate in the future.

“Financial independence of both partners is advisable as a legal framework for such an arrangement is not present. It will be better if families of both the partners accept such an arrangement as, if families sever ties with the partners as they find such a child unacceptable and if the partners separate, then the partner who has a child may go through a lot of stress.”

Dr Kersi believes if one or both of the parents have a more sentimental view of marriage, the lack of it may signify a lesser commitment, and they may be more likely to separate.

“Financial obligations may become an issue ... disputes over this can cause schisms in relationships. Custody issues, both legal and physical, often arise if the relationship does not work out or if there is no agreement on the arrangements.

Disputes over a parents lifestyle and how this may affect the child, the ability of a parent to care for the child or grandparent visitation occur. One must remember that if parents are choosing to have children out of wedlock to avoid financial or legal entanglements, they are mistaken.”

Actress Neena Gupta, who chose to have her child out of wedlock back in 1989, feels it is still hard to do so in today's times. “Nothing much has changed... The majority is the same. It is very tough and it is not fair on the child.”

Yet, as more and more couples seem to embrace and thrive under this structure, the bottom-line is non-negotiable. As Dr Chavda tells it, “In the end, creating a loving environment for the new child is of utmost importance.”