Helping Unwed Parents

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Unwed parents who are very young face a daunting crisis. They have many urgent decisions to make, and they must prepare for continuing struggles in all areas of their lives.7,10 They need the help and support of others more than at any other time of their lives. Family members, close friends, professionals, and agencies can provide this support best if they're able to resist becoming overbearing or taking control.2

Parents' Initial Feelings

When parents first find out their unwed son or daughter is expecting a child, a variety of emotions can surface: surprise, anger, discouragement, or anxiety about the future. Sometimes parents think they could have done more to prevent the situation and have to deal with feelings of guilt. These emotions are common and natural. As you sort out your own feelings and deal with them, you will be better able to help your unwed child.5

Making Decisions

Many decisions have to be made during an unplanned pregnancy, and each one must be based on what's best for the baby and the mother. Although it may be tempting for parents to pressure their child into one decision or another (such as placing the baby for adoption or keeping the baby), the decision is ultimately the unwed parents'. A parent can help by listening, discussing options, and helping a child anticipate consequences. These important decisions cannot be made quickly, so parents need to be patient and supportive in the extended struggle of their loved one.4

Support Groups and Professionals

Competent professionals can help tremendously. Counseling can be done individually, with family members, or in groups to help unmarried men and women feel hope for the future and make plans that nourish that hope. Doctors, social workers, and clergy can also assist birth mothers in obtaining proper medical care, schooling, temporary housing if the mother has been "kicked out" of her home, and/or finding a couple to adopt the baby.12

Many hospitals and universities have created programs to give unwed mothers and their children better prospects for a successful life. One program, for example, helps mothers overcome factors that led to their unwed pregnancy, teaches them how to care for their infant, and runs support groups for mothers in this situation. These programs generally have shown much success and are highly recommended.6,10

Help is also available to unwed fathers. Although not married to the mothers, unwed fathers can contribute much to the lives of their children and in turn feel fulfilled as individuals. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best way to feel good about being a father is " to become as actively involved in fathering as possible".1 This is often more difficult in cases where the unwed fathers are teenagers and young adults, but with added support, these dads can embrace fatherhood and deal with the emotions they will inevitably face in their new role as "dad".8

Accepting Your Loved One's Decision

As a parent,you may disagree with the decisions the unwed parents make. Although you can try to influence their decisions, you need to remember that your unwed child's decisions are his or her own. Whatever they decide, you can help make the outcome as good as possible if you provide the best support you can. If you emotionally cut yourself off from them because you disagree with them or feel angry or upset, you deprive them of the parental influence they need, and you deprive yourself of a continuing relationship with people you love.3

For more information about decision-making for unwed parents and sources of help, see the Forever Families article, Young, Pregnant, and Unmarried.

Written by Sarah A. Smith, edited by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.


  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (2000). Becoming a father. 
  2. Brough, M. J. (1994, September). Guidance for unwed parentsEnsign, 19-23. 
  3. Day, R. (2003). Introduction to family processes . Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
  4. Evans, J. F. (1985, September). From tragedy to hope: Helping unwed parentsEnsign, 41-43. 
  5. KidsHealth: The Nemours Foundation. (2002). When your teen is having a baby
  6. Rothenberg,A. & Weissman, A. (2002). The development of programs for pregnant and parenting teens. Social Work and Health Care, 35, 65-83.
  7. Sawhill, I. V. (2002). The perils of early motherhood. Public Interest, 146, 74-84.
  8. Schwartz, W. (1999). Young fathers: New support strategies. 
  9. Shih, C. (2002). It's better to wait, teen moms say: Young mothers caution students about pregnancy. Mountain View Voice Online Edition. 
  10. Smith, C.A., Cudaback, D., Goddard, H. W., & Myers-Walls, J. (1994). National extension parent education model . Manhattan, Kansas: Kansas Cooperative Extension Service. 
  11. Smith, J.(2003). Primary care intervention for the sexually active adolescent. Clinical Excellence for Nurse Practitioners, 7, 24-26.
  12. Unplanned parenting (2002).