At an age when most couples are tentatively stepping out on a life together, Beth and Ritch Goddard are like the proverbial old slippers.
They are a comfortable, perfectly-matching pair, and so in tune they can finish each other’s sentences.
Yet theirs is a relationship everyone thought was doomed from the word go.
They discovered they were to become parents after dating for just three months – when Beth fell pregnant at the age of 18.
Everyone said the same thing; they were too young to become parents and that young love never lasted. The warnings rang in their ears; the pressures of parenthood would prove too much...
The odds seemed stacked against them.
But 12 years on, their relationship is stronger than ever and their children, Leah, 11, and Corin, five, are confident, polite and outgoing.
A combination of youthful optimism and what Ritch, now 32, describes as “pig-headedness and determination,” are what got them to now.
“Everyone thought we were doomed; that we would never cope with the stress and the responsibility of having a baby when we were so young,” he says from the family home in Mapplewell, Barnsley. “But knowing that people were expecting us to break up made us stick at it.”
Beth, now 30, will never forget every detail of the day their lives changed forever:
“Sitting in my bathroom I stared at the blue line on the pregnancy test and felt my world fall apart.
“I just couldn’t believe it. I was 18 and pregnant. What was I going to do?
“Me and Ritch had only been dating officially for three months; we’d only had sex twice.
“And although we loved each other, we weren’t serious. I was in the middle of A levels. I was supposed to be going to university.”
Beth ran past her parents and headed off to see Ritch. He was two years older, but far from mature; the loveable Jack the Lad who didn’t take anything in life seriously. His accountant parents had wanted him to train for a profession, but he was happy with his night watchman’s job at the local supermarket.
How was he going to take the news?
Beth sobbed all the way there.
She recalls: “Ritch bounded out to see me. I was still clutching the test. I held it out and said, ‘I’m pregnant. Do you still love me?’”
She watched the colour drain from his face, but all he said was: “Of course! You’re carrying my baby’.”
But in truth, both were in shock. “There was complete and utter disbelief it had happened. We’d used contraception,” says Beth.
They told no-one while they considered their options.
Both decided terminating the pregnancy was not one of them. They discussed adoption. Then they decided the only thing they wanted to do was keep the baby and try to be a family.
Next they had to tell their parents.
Beth’s mum was devastated and “cried pretty constantly for nine months,” Beth recalls. “I was supposed to be the goody-two shoes of the family, the sensible one who was destined for university.”
She chickened out of telling her father face to face. Instead she left him a picture of her baby scan in an envelope with the words ‘Hello Grandad’ on the front.
Ritch didn’t tell his parents until Beth was five months gone.
“They were equally horrified. But we were both solid that we could do it. We would make it work,” says Ritch.
There were massive changes all round, though. The pair had to save every penny they could. When Beth finished her A levels, they worked as many hours as they could at their supermarket jobs. She deferred her place at Leeds University, doing theatre production,
“Watching everyone go off to study was hard – it felt like I was being left behind. Friends drifted off... It felt like I’d thrown away my future,” she admits.
“But when I gave birth to Leah, Ritch and I knew we’d made the right decision. We looked at this tiny person and fell in love with her.
“At first we lived with my parents, but we wanted to be independent, and I hadn’t given up on my dream of going to university.”
After a year of Rob working double shifts and them saving up, they moved to Barnsley so that Beth could study performance management at Bretton Hall.
She remembers walking into university for the first time and realising she was the only mother in the room. Everyone else was young, free and single and up for having a good time.
“I cried when I got home,” she remembers. “I thought I would never fit in, that it just wasn’t going to work,” she remembers. “Our lives were so different from other students’ - while they were getting hammered at the student union, I was heading home to look after Leah.”
The three managed on a meagre income. They had Beth’s student loan of £900 a term and Ritch working part-time around being a full-time dad to Leah,
“There were a lot of arguments about money, or the fact that he was working so hard so I could study, “ she says. “Because everyone had told me I wouldn’t be able to manage, I was completely focused on getting a good degree and was studying all hours, which put a lot of pressure on Ritch.”
It paid off – she got a first- class degree and landed a job as a theatre manager in Huddersfield.
After that, it was Ritch’s turn to head for university to study set design and writing - and Beth’s turn to do the childcare.
The couple coped with their reversed roles and matured together. They married in August 2004 and had their second child, Corin, four years ago.
Together they set up a company, More! Productions, which runs creative projects in schools, communities and businesses, and they have just launched a second, organising murder-mystery events for dinner parties, hotels and corporate evenings.
“Twelve years on, we look back and realise what a huge decision we made at such a young age,” says Beth.
“We have a successful relationship; we have two happy, healthy children. We succeeded when no-one thought we could.
“There is such pressure on young parents. Society seems to be setting you up to fail. There are so many prejudices. People assume you’re irresponsible.
“The age for having children seems to be getting older and older but that shouldn’t mean that young parents are not going to be any good at it, or their children are going to miss out in some way.
“We have given our kids everything we can.”
She is keen to stress, though, that even with the unswerving support of their parents – all of them fell instantly in love with their tiny grand-daughter – the sacrifices have been many.
“We’ve been out of sync with our own generation for the last decade. Some friendships dwindled away because our lives were at such different stages.”
And it may well happen all over again. Just as their friends are starting to think about having babies, Leah is about to start high school.
And the relationship hasn’t all been plain-sailing. Last year, Beth and Ritch hit a rocky patch.
“We worked as parents, but did we as people? We felt we were ruled by the responsibilities of parenthood and had forgotten how to respond to each other,” says Ritch.
Rather than opt for a trial separation, though, they took a different path.
“For us, splitting up was not an option, just as ending the pregnancy had not been all those years ago. We decided we needed to find out if we still loved each other,” explains Beth.
“What helped them to realise the importance of what they had was three family bereavements in quick succession.
“It made us realise how tenuous life is and how very important it was to be together,” says Ritch.
The dad has started writing a blog called The Father’s Voice (www.thefathersvoice.com) to help other young fathers find support – something he wishes had been around when he was struggling with the responsibilities of childcare.
“And we’re sure we will go travelling one day; have our teen adventures. Though probably it will be with the kids.
“Just because things don’t happen the way you expect, it doesn’t mean you have to give up on them.
“You can do them in a different order.”