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Helping Unwed Parents

Latter-Day Saints Perspective

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 parents. Ensign, 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 parents. Ensign, 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).

What Can I Do?

When parent or friends discover a loved one is facing unwed pregnancy, most feel a range of emotions. They may feel angry, hurt, or guilty for not perceiving a problem sooner. They may wonder what they should do to help. Whatever feelings come up,Jesus Christ provides a perfect model for how to minister to those who have sinned. We should treat loved ones in this situation just as the Savior treated the adulterous woman -- with love, respect, and a positive attitude (see John 8:3-11).

The first step is to realize that unwed mothers and fathers, like you, are experiencing a whirl of painful emotions - but they're even more intense. They're likely feeling fear, guilt, anger, sorrow, loneliness, and unworthiness. The unwed mother may see her life as suddenly vastly different from her friends. She's developing a close attachment to the baby growing inside her and wondering what's best for that new life.11

It's important for family and friends to remember how hard this is for unwed parents and try to understand what they're experiencing from their perspective. As we empathize with those in this difficult situation rather than judge or give advice, we empower them to see their options more clearly and thus make better choices.

Don't Make Final Judgments

All of us assess and evaluate many things every day. These judgments are a healthy part of living a good life. But there's another kind of judging that can be hurtful to ourselves and to the person we're judging. Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles calls this type of judging "final judgment" - when we think we know someone else's standing in the life to come.7 This is unrighteous judgment. We must never pass this kind of judgment on someone else -- or lose hope that someone we love can be exalted.7 Elder Oaks quoted the Prophet Joseph Smith as saying:

While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. . . . He holds the reins of judgment in His hands; He is a wise Lawgiver and will judge all men. . . . "not according to what they have not, but according to what they have," those who have lived without law, will be judged without law, and those who have a law, will be judged by that law.7

Help Weigh Decisions

When the shock of this situation has worn off, decisions need to be made. Young couples need the guidance of parents as they weigh consequences and make choices. Yet, as Joy Evans, formerly of the Relief Society General Presidency, said,"Parents [of the unwed parents] and leaders must not make the decision themselves or exert undue pressure. Ultimately, the couple will be accountable for their own decision".2

Lead Toward Divine Guidance

God loves, guides, and directs His children even when they have seriously sinned. Unwed mothers and fathers can enjoy the blessings that come through sincere prayer, fasting, and priesthood blessings. As Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:

"It is the certainty that your Father in Heaven loves you no matter what your circumstance, no matter what winds of trial, turmoil, or tribulation whirl about you. That certainly will never change. Your ability to access that support depends on the strength of your faith in Him and in His certain willingness to bless you".9

Loved ones of the unwed parents can also be a tremendous help as they, too, seek the Lord in prayer, fasting, and temple attendance.1

Find Support Groups and Professionals

Along with family help, families and unwed parents can seek the help of LDS FamilyServices or other competent professionals. Counseling can be done individually,with family members, or in groups to help unmarried women regain hope and make plans for her future. Professionals can assist birth mothers in finding good medical care, temporary housing if needed, and an adoptive couple if appropriate. For more information about LDS Family Services, visit or call (24 hours a day) 1-800-537-2229 to speak with a volunteer.4

Provide Support After the Baby Comes

It is vital that loved ones give unwed parents support after the birth of the baby, but especially the mother. Whether she's decided to keep the baby or to place him or her for adoption, she's likely to feel a mixture of extreme love, joy, and sadness. She might question if she's making the right choice. If she's keeping the baby, she'll need support as she adjusts to the new demands on her. If she's placing the baby for adoption, she'll need support as she handles feelings of heartache and memories of her nine months of pregnancy. Many young women come to feel a greater understanding of the Atonement and of their Heavenly Father's love for them as they make this sacrifice for the welfare of their child.12 By being supportive and truly listening, parents and friends can reassure the mother and help her stay emotionally stable.

A Special Trial for Grandparents

In this situation, grandparents of the expected or new baby may feel sorrow, guilt, fear, and embarrassment. When these feelings are intense, participating in Church can become challenging for some. They might wonder how they can serve others in a Church setting if their own child is facing this serious situation.

Although it may be difficult, family members need to get beyond worrying about what other people think. They need instead to focus completely on the well-being of their child and grandchild. Parents of unwed mothers and fathers must recognize the power they have to lovingly lead and guide their children through this difficult time.2 As they trust in the Savior's Atonement, they can find lasting peace and strength.3

Hope in Jesus Christ

It's essential that parents guide their unwed-parent children toward the eternal blessings and earthly happiness of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Unwed parents may be realizing for the first time that the commandments are safeguards against pain and natural consequences. This may be a hard lesson, but it can lead to increased faith in the Lord. Young mothers and fathers can repent, obtain forgiveness, and feel the unconditional love of the Savior.3 The prophet Alma in the Book of Mormon taught that Christ "sendeth an invitation to all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you" (Alma 5:33).

The parable of the prodigal son can help parents see that Jesus understood what they suffer when their children stray. Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy said, "In that parable the Lord made it clear that we can eventually triumph over almost all obstacles by exercising patience and developing greater wisdom and understanding".13 Elder Carmack also quoted Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Twelve Apostles with words of encouragement to parents of straying children:

You parents of the willful and the wayward! Don't give them up. Don't cast them off. They are not utterly lost. The Shepherd will find his sheep. They were his before they were yours-long before he entrusted them to your care, and you cannot begin to love them as he loves them. They have but strayed in ignorance from the Path of Right, and God is merciful to ignorance. Only the fullness of knowledge brings the fullness of accountability. Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable, than even the best of his servants, and the Everlasting Gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.13

To learn more about possible decisions 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.

Recommended Readings

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


  1. Brough, M. J. (1994, September). Guidance for unwed parents. Ensign, 19-23.
  2. Evans, J. F. (1985, September). From tragedy to hope: Helping unwed parents. Ensign, 41-43.
  3. Faust , J. E. (2001, November). The atonement: Our greatest hope. Ensign, 18-20.
  4. LDS Family Services. (2002, February). Adoption and the unwed mother. Ensign, 63.
  5. Nelson, R. M. (2003, May). Sweet power of prayer. Ensign, 7-9.
  6. News of the Church. (1973, March). News of the church: Abortion is considered a "revolting sin" by Church. Ensign, 64.
  7. Oaks, Dallin H. (1998, March). "Judge Not" and Judging. BYU Speeches.
  8. Scott, R. G. (2002, November). To be free of heavy burdens. Ensign, 86-88.
  9. Scott, R. G. (2003, May). The sustaining power of faith in times of uncertainty and testing. Ensign, 75-78.
  10. The Abortion Access Project. (2003). Fact sheet: The impact of illegal abortion.
  11. What's best for my baby? (2001, November). New Era, 41-43.
  12. Could I let my Baby Go? (2002, February). Ensign, pg 61-62.
  13. Carmack, John k. (1997, February). When Our Children Go Astray. Ensign.