Brad Pitt, 48, and Angelina Jolie, 36, are officially engaged after seven years together (in case you missed it).
And apparently pressure from their six kids played a role. Last fall Pitt said, "The kids are putting on the heat." Early this year he said, "It seems to mean more and more to our kids." And days later he said, "[The kids] go, 'That's a great idea! Get mommy a ring!'"
Should unwed parents get married at least in part to make their children happy? "You shouldn't just be, 'Since we have kids, we'll get married,'" says my 12-year-old. But she thinks the kids could be a legitimate factor for a couple on the fence.
Married mothers and fathers tend to make kids feel more "secure," says my 15-year-old. "Their parents have promised to stay together." She thinks it's also easier for kids when their mom and dad are officially Mr. and Mrs., partially because they don't need to explain to their peers why their parents are not married.
In general, kids don't want to be "different," says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure.
How children feel about unwed parents depends on cultural mores, which continue to change. As long as being married remains the norm, some kids whose moms and dads never tie the knot may worry, "Why are my parents not married?" says Hindy. "What's wrong with my parents? What's wrong with me?"
Of course, age plays a role. "In general, little children are simplistic and concrete in their thinking," says child psychiatrist Elizabeth Berger, author of Raising Kids with Character. "Small children are simplistic and concrete in their moral thinking, and therefore quite conservative and traditional in their views about marriage. Only with the broader experience of all the wide variations that grown-up life can involve do children gain more insight into exceptions to the rules, and more tolerance of human situations that don't follow simple rules."
How kids grow up makes a difference in how they view unwed moms and dads, too. "Children whose early life experiences familiarize them with diversity in families are usually comfortable with it —their own experience seems natural and only slowly do they come to see that many people have far more narrow ideas about what is natural, traditional, and conventional in the institution of marriage," says Berger. "Unmarried parents are quite commonplace today, of course, but the idea that parents are married is still the conventional ideal with considerable emotional force behind it — even among individuals who are free-thinking in their lifestyles and choices."
"The virginal bride in the white dress, the couple vowing devotion 'until death do us part' — these are powerful images in our culture," says Berger. "So we can understand how the offspring of parents who are not married may sometimes yearn for these powerful symbols of selfless love. The symbol, even as we have outgrown it as a society, still carries a promise of purity and commitment that we deeply crave."
A new report from Bowling Green State University's National Center for Family and Marriage Research shows that one in three single baby boomers has never been married. And of the single baby boomers, one in five is living in poverty compared to one in 20 married midlifers.
Of course, Pitt and Jolie are obviously not living in poverty and are tie-the-knot vets. (Pitt divorced Jennifer Aniston, and Jolie divorced Jonny Lee Miller and Billy Bob Thornton.)
Will the two actually make it to the altar? After all, they haven't set a wedding date. (As People magazine noted in its cover story, Pitt's manager simply said, "It is a promise for their future."
If Pitt and Jolie stay engaged but don't marry, they'll have company – including actor Matthew McConaughey and Camila Alves, his girlfriend for the past six years and the mother of his kids. They, too, got engaged recently and also have not set a date.
But recently some couples with long engagements have tied the knot. One prominent example: "Sex and the City" and "The Good Wife" actor Christopher Noth, 57, and Tara Wilson, parents of a son, Orion, 4, got engaged in 2009 and finally wed on April 6, 2012.
If Pitt and Jolie do head to the altar, will they join the list of longest celebrity marriages – or shortest ones? And if they don't, will they enter the pantheon of famous breakups –Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, Lance Armstrong and Sheryl Crow, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss, and Alanis Morissette and Ryan Reynolds? Stay tuned.
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