I remember the first time a friend said she would consider having a child on her own via IVF. It was roughly 12 years ago and we were sitting on her balcony in mid-town Toronto having a coffee. She was at least a nominal Catholic and dating wasn’t “working” (meaning neither of us was in a relationship, forget about married). We worked out together, dined together, hung out, and made weekend trips. We were friends, though she was five years older than I. Therefore, her confession surprised me—almost as much as if I had been the one making it.
I had not yet felt any pangs of longing for children of my own. Those would come. And while they never led me into the domain of single motherhood by choice, it became clear to me that it is via a sincere longing for children where dating doesn’t “work” that people end up toying with what are undeniably negative means of family formation.
The latest bad family formation idea, recently highlighted by the CBC, is that of living apart but raising a child together. A website will bring people together for the sole purpose of having children. The couple that has the child won’t be married, or even in relationship, but they will “co-parent.”
Why is this a bad idea?
For one, the website is profiting off the modern malaise that many women and men face. People—not just women—want families. They want children. They want a life partner, and very often they want marriage. These natural human desires have not really changed in spite of modern mores, but they have become difficult to attain. The reasons are many, but for the purpose of this short column, it will suffice to say the business model encouraging “co-parenting” does not care. It is about making money off our hopelessness, our loneliness, our longing.
Secondly, it’s negative because it encourages the idea that children will endure any family situation happily. Fortunately, children are somewhat malleable. There are, however, better ways to start a child off in life and, difficult though it may be to hear this, in the realm of social science research nothing has replaced the gold standard of a mom and dad raising their own children.
The renowned sociologist Paul Amato says, “On average, children in all other family types fare worse on a wide range of outcomes than those raised by both of their biological parents.” We take for granted the existential security provided even by the most average of biological parents. There is a growing army of children finding ways to cope with the reality of not knowing this most basic information.
Finally, it’s negative because it encourages notions of children as a consumer good. Those who can’t have children naturally, can simply go out and get one. Somehow. Anyhow. IVF. A website providing partners as co-parents. A sperm bank. A surrogate. Children are now in their sanctity being held up too high on a pedestal. They will be had at any cost. And there is a deep cost associated with all these unique arrangements.
“The more adults who love a child, the better,” is Hollywood's psychology. This idea is not borne out by any research.
I understand the world to be cruel particularly to women, who are told repeatedly to not get pregnant until such time as it is too late. I think men and women have been sold a lie - that in controlling our fertility with a tight fist we’ll find ourselves fulfilled.
It can only be a form of hopelessness that would push us to use a website to find a clinical co-parent instead of seeking out and waiting for loving relationship. It is only without hope that anyone could seek to skip marriage altogether and fast-forward to what is essentially the arrangement of divorced couples everywhere.
I understand why my friend considered single motherhood by choice. I understand why some would choose to use an online application that promises the co-parent rather than a mom or dad in lifelong, loving partnership. I understand it, but I don’t accept it as a positive development and I won’t herald it as anything other than a dangerous development that capitalizes on adult pain and deliberately starts children off with less than the best in life.
Andrea Mrozek is program director for Cardus Family.