Today’s guest post is from Annica Redmond, who writes about the experience of growing up and hearing Christian messages regarding purity and pre-marital sex, while also being the product of unmarried parents who did not follow those prohibitions. Annica is a recent graduate of George Fox University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Religion. Her post-grad plans include getting married in August, continuing to study writing, and figuring out where to go from there. Her thoughts can (occasionally) be found at takethezeppelin.wordpress.com.
Growing up in an evangelical Protestant church meant I got all the “right” messages about sex, family, and marriage. I learned sex was a beautiful, sacred expression of love that must happen only between a husband and wife, lest it be thrown away on someone who doesn’t really care about me (or, I suppose, someone I don’t really care about). I learned marriage is God’s perfect plan for a man and a woman, something to prepare for and aspire to as I went about putting together my life. I learned that dating was for marriage, and any time spent with someone who wasn’t The One was a waste of time. Overall, I learned sex and relationships were a Super Big Deal, and deviating from anything other than God’s Plan would almost certainly lead to hardship and heartbreak.
I also grew up with parents who, based on the church’s model and attitude towards these things, did everything wrong. And as it turns out, they were the best mentors and models I could’ve had.
My parents didn’t mean to get pregnant, and they didn’t get married when they found out they were. My dad moved from L.A. to San Diego to be nearby, but that was the extent of any formal creation of a family. My unique situation (at least, unique within my Christian schools and church) earned me a reasonable amount of attention. The earliest instance was in kindergarten, when a classmate insisted I couldn’t have been physically borne by my parents: I was either adopted or must’ve entered this world some other way, as only married people can have babies.
Less colorful but no less entertaining reactions continued as I grew up. Elementary school peers were fascinated by the fact that my parents didn’t share a last name. Families at church assumed my dad was out of the picture—until he’d show up for Christmas pageants. Lots of high school classmates were shocked to discover the parents of this straight-A, straight-edge, Christian student didn’t live together. Had never lived together, actually. Hadn’t meant to have a kid either. Apparently I didn’t fit the profile for bastard child.
But I was one, and knowing that became an interesting caveat to the talk of sex and marriage that surrounded me. It did validate the warnings that sex can bring about big consequences. But it muddied up the implication that “consequence” was synonymous with “mistake.” My family only came about due to the ultimate consequence of unprotected sex…and my family wasn’t that bad. In fact, my family was pretty good. My parents showed up to my tennis matches and Bible Quiz tournaments. They pestered me about how I was doing at school. They weren’t always each other’s favorite people, but they didn’t scheme or undermine or shout over each other. They were kind and they were honest, with each other and with me.
Their actions and reactions did two things for me. One, I never suffered any sort of stigma for having parents who weren’t hitched. If anything, I enjoyed the attention a little too much. I didn’t get upset so much as indignant when my kindergarten classmate challenged my parentage. What nonsense, I thought, Jesus didn’t have married parents and he was born just fine. My family wasn’t the norm or the “ideal,” but it was as real as the wonderfully kind Catholic family my classmate came from. It was real and it was mine, and so the notion that I might be embarrassed by my peers’ curiosity never crossed my mind.
Two, and more importantly, my parents served as examples of love, responsibility, and respect that I hope to emulate as I begin my own marriage this August. They didn’t demonstrate a formal marriage, but they did show me what love, mature, adult love, looks like. Neither of them meant to start a family, but they—and I—were by no means damned by their “recklessness.” They weren’t (and aren’t) soulmates, but they stuck with each other anyway. Their decision has been a compelling example of unconditional love. They extended love to each other—and to me—when they didn’t “feel it” or feel like it, in a way that I suspect goes beyond what people who are “in love” deal with. If my fiancé and I can bring half of that patience, kindness, and respect into our marriage, we will be fine.
My church laid out the ideal plan for marriage, but my family showed me the real “consequences” of deviating from that plan. Namely, that assuming a deviation is bound to lead hardship and heartbreak isn’t giving God or his people enough credit. My family wasn’t intentional, but it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t planned, but I am loved. Knowing that has been more influential than anything learned in a Sunday school class. I can’t thank my parents enough for their example. Because my imperfect family was my perfect example, and I hope I can share the same kind of love I’ve received with my husband and children in the days to come.