I always knew the fact that my parents weren't married was unusual, but it never took up too much space in my mind until recently. Growing up, most of my friends had photos of their parents' wedding day in their living rooms. The typical picture showcased outdated wedding dresses and hairstyles from decades past and usually sat next to quinceañera photos. In middle school, a friend of mine asked where my parents' wedding photos were. Why did it matter? I didn't understand.
My parents, at 54 and 66, finally married four years ago. I was 22 when they decided to tie the knot. It took place at the municipal court in Edinburg, TX — a no-frills event that I did not even attend. Their decision to seal the deal was based on practicality, not passion. Our petition for my mother to remain a US resident was denied, so she needed to make it official with my dad, who had already become a US citizen.
Prior to this, marriage was not a priority for them because they were both independent, hardworking, ambitious professionals, which set the stage for my own educational and professional aspirations. Both of my parents are first-generation college graduates. My mother, the oldest of 11 children, earned two master's degrees and worked as a teacher and counselor in the public school system in Tampico, a city in Tamaulipas, Mexico, until she retired at 52. My father, a lawyer with double master's degrees, met my mother when he was 32 and she was 20. He was impressed with her intelligence and drive and that marriage and babies weren't at the forefront of her mind. My dad had a son, my stepbrother, from a former relationship at the time and was not interested in settling down either.
Their first 10 years of dating were full of love and tumult — breakups and reunions — and ended in an ultimatum: my mother wanted to forge a real commitment to my dad by having a baby — me. When I was born, we moved to Tampico, where both of my parents are from. At various times, I lived with one or the other in McAllen, TX, so they could work. During those years, questions about my family structure were constantly being asked, with "Are your parents divorced?" being a common one.
The assumption underlying most questions about my parents' unwed status often irked me because these were questions that presupposed something was wrong with our family unit. The fact is that my parents' union — in all its different permutations — has taught me several important life lessons: that I need to cultivate a life independent of my future partner and resist the urge to merge; that I need to realize my dreams and goals before committing to marriage and babies; and that I need a partner who will tackle life's many challenges with me, as a team. In Latinx culture, women are often raised to make seeking a male partner a top life priority, while the importance of marriage and having a family is constantly encouraged. But being raised with parents that weren't married for so many years of my life offered me a different perspective.
Though I appreciate my parents' open-mindedness and the things I've gained from their unique union, I do find it a little jarring when they advise me not to get married for the legal quagmires it may cause if things don't work out. The truth is, I do sometimes long for a traditional wedding and marriage, but I know that no matter how I choose to configure my romantic relationships and family, my parents will love and support me, as I have them.