Single parenting by choice

By Denise O'Connell on March 22, 2007
No one feels sorry for Stacey. She won't live in inner city poverty. She is not young and nave. There will be no accidental pregnancy and there will be no breakup. Stacey is part of a new generation of Canadian single parents the single parent by choice.

"I have wanted to be a mother since I was a child," says Stacey. "I used to pretend my younger sister was my child at times!"

At 32, Stacey recently found out that she has endometriosis, a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the uterus and attaches itself to other organs. Stacey's days to conceive are numbered, since her condition often can cause scarring that can interfere with ovulation. Without a significant other in her life, Stacey decided that motherhood would have to come before marriage.

Stacey has decided to undergo donor insemination, and has picked a donor. She chose someone who fits the description of a man that would be her type. I want to go through the whole experience of being pregnant and delivering a baby, says Stacey, at her Oakville, Ontario home. If her health problems make this impossible, she will consider adoption.

Parents without partners

In 2001, Statistics Canada revealed that more than a million Canadian children live with one parent. It isn't clear how many of these children were born or adopted into a family by a single parent who chose to parent on their own. Families change, especially over this past generation (people marry, live together, split up), and the definition of family is changing (blended families, same-sex couples). It's hard to determine the reasons why a child is in a single parent home.Jane Mattes is the founder of Single Mothers By Choice (SMC), an American based international organization dedicated to women who have chosen to become parents without a partner. She says that her organization has seen a steady increase in membership since its inception in the early 80s. Today, membership is 3,000 strong.

She says that the average single mother by choice is 35, but she is seeing an increase in women in their early 30s and early 40s interested in becoming single parents.

"It is no longer taboo to have a child without a partner, so more women are separating motherhood from marriage and at an increasingly younger age," Mattes says. "Also, reproductive technology has become more commonplace so women don't necessarily feel the biological clock ticking away until well into their 40s."

Most SMC's choose to either undergo donor insemination, or adopt. Within her organization, Mattes estimates that 30 percent of SMC's adopt, five percent get pregnant with a sperm donor that is known to them, and 65 percent conceive by anonymous donor insemination.

Financial security

Stacey, a human resources analyst, lives in an upscale neighbourhood in a large townhouse with a backyard and lots of parks nearby. She is typical of the single mother by choice; SMC's are usually financially secure and have larger salaries than the average male. They also have support systems in place for when the going gets tough. Stacey admits that she doesn't have the details all hammered out, but her parents live nearby and can help out if the need arises.

I have a couple of close friends who have children and they are very supportive. Many of them believe that you don't need a husband to raise the children! Some believe it will be easier without a husband, says Stacey. I know deep down that true friends and family will support me as best they can.

Lynn is a Toronto teacher with a graduate degree who pulls in $80,000 per year. Like most single mothers by choice, she had a burning desire to become a mother but her biological clock and Mr. Right just weren't in synch.

The clock was definitely ticking, recalls Lynn. I can get married any time, but having children requires an energetic mother who is young enough to be able to parent with vim and vigour.

At 40, Lynn decided to adopt. She chose to adopt internationally because young babies tend to be placed with traditional families. Being a single female was not an obstacle to an international adoption.

My social worker was 100 percent in favour of my adopting,discloses Lynn. An incredibly strong plan was needed for daycare arrangements, financial plans and support requirements.

During her home study, Lynn had to prove that she had a complete backup system in place. She has no family nearby so Lynn recruited supportive friends, and a topnotch baby sitter. Having good solid people in your life and people you can trust helps a single parent be a great single parent, says Lynn.

Not your parents parenting

Anne-Marie Ambert, a sociology professor at York University says that single parenting by choice still isn't very usual, but believes that the increase in the number of men and women who decide to parent on their own is due to a change in social norms. This option didn't exist 20 years ago, Ambert says. Today, people have a choice to become a parent even when they aren't in a relationship or they are in a relationship with someone who doesn't want a child.

Ambert says that people are now realizing that a two-parent family doesn't necessarily equal a happy family. Children don't need two parents to thrive, says Ambert. There are outdated theories that suggest that a child needs a same-sex parent involved from birth for role modeling. Studies have shown that this is not true.

For example, The American Journal of Orthopsychiatry recently published a study of children being raised by lesbian same-sex parents. It found that there was no gender confusion among these children because of the lack of a male role model.

Single fathers

Being a single male didn't stop Ed Renaud, a teacher from Windsor, Ontario, from becoming a parent of two boys. At 30, Ed wasn't married and wanted to be a young father. Since he, himself, was adopted and raised by a single mother, he looked to the Children's Aid Society for direction.

I knew single parenthood was difficult but I also knew it could be rewarding and if I could give my child even a quarter of what I had growing up then he would be very lucky, Ed discloses.

The public assumes that adoptions by a single male may be more scrutinized, but Ed, who brings in a healthy $73,000 per year, says that the system didn't bat an eye when he began the process to adopt his oldest son. He claims he didn't have any obstacles, although the Children's Aid Society wanted to know about past relationships, and the kind of home he grew up in. The social worker asked many times why Ed wanted to adopt. They wanted to make sure he was consistent with his answer.

Public Children's Aid agencies are slowly starting to change their views about single parent adoptions, especially single males, says Ed. There are still some prejudices out there, but as time goes along, and more people can hear stories like mine, the views of some individuals can be changed.

Public opinion about single males who want to become fathers was evident in 2003, when British opera singer Susan Chilcott died of breast cancer. Chilcott left guardianship of her four year-old son to her best friend and pianist, a single gay male. Media reports focused not on her death, but on the singers unconventional arrangement for her son.

Although single parents by choice are becoming more widely accepted, they still face negativity. Family and friends had mixed reactions, divulges Ed. It was more of an image thing. Why would you give up your freedom and independence to parent a child when you don't have to?

Against all odds

Concerns over single parenting are well founded. Ambert warns that single people need to have their ducks in a row before endeavoring to care for a child. For a child of a single parent to thrive, there needs to be resources and support in place, she says.

Ambert feels that society is still prejudiced against children of single parents. We don't expect the best from these children, she says. Theres also a risk that others will raise children of single parents, since a single parent usually means a working parent. Single parents often fall into the trap of working too hard to put food on the table, and having too little time to spend with their children. A recent Swedish study published in the Lancet cited that children with single parents are more likely to develop depression, become addicted to drugs, alcohol, or to commit suicide. They are also at an increased risk of death from violence and automobile accidents.

Ambert says that children of single parents by choice, are at an advantage over those who fell into single parenting. Since their parents go into parenthood with their eyes wide open, they are well prepared financially and emotionally for the challenges of single parenthood. She says, Children of single parents by choice haven't seen divorce and fighting as other children of single parents have.

Stacey Shorney continues to undergo donor insemination, hoping she will have some good news soon, although she admits she does lie awake some nights. Its a scary thing to be going through alone, she reports. But the possibility of becoming a mother keeps me going.

By Denise O'Connell| March 22, 2007

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