A recent Today Show segment (January 16) spent more than 8 minutes discussing the prevalence of Choice Motherhood, which refers to women who proactively choose single motherhood.
I know about 500 of these women, and about 100 of their kids. I am the Choice Mom of two, now married, and author of Choosing Single Motherhood. I know that the majority of us are in our 30s when we become mothers. Most of us are college educated, earn a good income, and many of us already own our home. Most of us have been searching for the right partner and have to decide whether to postpone that search so that we can raise children while our parents, and the kids of our family and friends, can be part of their lives.
Although I was interviewed, as were three other Choice Mom friends, about the strengths of Choice Motherhood, those points were not included in the Today Show segment. Psychologist Brenda Wade did a good job pointing out why this is not a decision that we make lightly, and in fact had more air time than Elizabeth Marquardt and David Blankenhorn of the Institute for Family Values, who talked about why single parenting is detrimental for children. But there was no discussion of why Choice Motherhood is good for children.
So I feel compelled to raise those points.
Namely, Choice Moms are extremely dedicated, attentive parents and their children know they are a priority in their life. They tend to participate fully in their child's life, and vice versa. This is a good thing for children.
The Choice Moms I know tend to have (or find) a strong community network. They tend to be strong, resourceful, engaged women who enjoy their friends, their work, their family. This is a good thing for children.
I've interviewed teens and young adults who nearly all talk about the intense relationship they have with their mother, compared to many of their friends. One teenager I talked to recently has traveled with her mother everywhere from Bolivia to Israel, learned from her how to use power tools to build tables, and feels comfortable talking with her about nearly every subject. This teen is an obviously secure young woman who knows her own mind. It is a good thing for a child to feel the vitality of life alongside a nurturing adult.
Single fathers, and married couples, are fully capable of these relationships with their children as well, of course. But since some like to focus on how single parenthood does not fulfill a child's needs, let's also notice how it does.
Someday, in fact, I expect that the public conversation on Choice Motherhood will turn from how bad this is for the kids to how this might be too good for the children. There are concerns that Choice Moms do need to guard against over time: being able to facilitate the necessary separation between parent and child, mediating the isolation that can happen for those who are raised as only children, ensuring the authority required for discipline and balance in a child's life.
Elizabeth Marquardt has made some good points about children's needs, which is why I recommended her to the Today Show as a commentator on the "con" side. She has been paying attention to the fact that some children conceived by anonymous donor sperm, like their counterparts placed for adoption, feel a crisis of identity when they do not fully know their biological roots. This is a focus, in fact, of my new Voices of Donor Conception book series.
However, there are a few leaps that Marquardt and others sometimes make. Some donor-conceived teens and adults resent the fact that they do not know who their donor father is; others do not. Some consider the donor to be their father because of biology; others do not because they have no parent-child relationship with him. Some of these children grow up without a father because they were conceived by a single woman, but historically most of these children were raised by a mother and a father who happened to be infertile.
Again, I have interviewed many teens and young adults in these "non-traditional" families. Very few of them express a "longing for father" that Marquardt talked about on The Today Show, because they don't know what that is, not having gone through a divorce (as I believe is Marquardt's experience). What more of them long for is a sibling, or the opportunity to ask questions of the anonymous man who donated his sperm.
And the questions some of these individuals have about their unknown origins has much more to do with understanding their own identity--"did I inherit my big feet from him?" "was he as interested in music as I am?"--than in wanting to fill a longing for father.
Of course, the100 or so Choice Kids and donor-conceived young people I know are a small sample of the overall population. I am actively looking for more Choice Kids to talk to, who were raised by a single parent not because of divorce, but because of choice, to get their perspective on the pros and cons of the lifestyle. Because theirs is the opinion that actually matters most.
Mikki Morrissette manages two websites, ChoosingSingleMotherhood.com and VoicesOfDonorConception.com. She is hosting a series of workshops for Choice Moms in 2007 about strengths and weaknesses of this lifestyle choice.