Telling a Broader Society

I am a Single Mother by Choice (SMC), living in the Boston area; my son will turn two this month.  He’s getting to the age when I can start communicating with him about family structures, and I’m reading him books about different types of families.

While I’ve read a few things about telling your child about the absence of a father, I haven’t seen as much about the issue of how you frame things to a broader society.  Certainly I explain about donor conception, the issue of my biological clock, sperm banks, and so forth, but that just addresses how things came about.  It would also sound like my family structure was a last resort, which in the moment it was.

The whole truth, however, is that I did not want to settle for a bad relationship.  I know that a bad relationship is harmful to the child, and in my case, it did not seem financially necessary.  I also know that many marriages are just bad relationships.

Once actually pregnant, I was thrilled to be experiencing a bond with my child that was not contingent on my feelings about someone else, i.e., another parent – – feelings that could turn negative.  While our society seems to acknowledge that a father may have hostile feelings towards a child because of his distaste for the mother, one hardly hears about the mother’s potential disconnection from her child due to her disappointment with the father.

While the significant benefits of the SMC route — the stability, the stronger bond with one’s child, the greater ability to make parenting decisions, the inability to shift responsibility, are specifically mentioned among the SMCs that I know, it’s still challenging to decide how much of that to present to those around us.

Rekha V. 

3 thoughts on “Telling a Broader Society”

  1. Choice Fathers: Involvement, Expectations, and Satisfaction

    Rekha V., I fully sympathize with your trepidation about how to frame your decision to become an SMC to society. In my experience is well justified. People react with suspicion to anything that defies convention, and SMC-hood is still post-conventional. But my angle is a little different, and I would greatly appreciate advice from people on this site.

    For every choice mother there is a choice father, and I am one, four times over. Every time I describe my situation, I receive a ration of criticism. Typical reactions are that I am doing something sneaky, doing something immoral, getting away with something, exploiting women, or acting against the interests of the children (“every child needs two parents”).

    My partners have all been girlfriends or long-time friends in other countries who actively wanted children. They knew that I would not stay in the country and that we would not get married. Generally they were in their mid to late 30s. In some cases we agreed in advance on a level of financial support. In all cases I managed expectations and exceeded them, and my partners and I are more or less satisfied (with occasional spats no worse than between other people). In all cases the kids consider me their father, though my involvement is more comparable to that of an uncle. Nearly everyone feels that this is wrong, whether or not they can articulate the reason. Whenever I mention any relationship problem, people immediately attribute it to the unconventional structure, and start blaming me. They often suggest that I marry one of the women.

    Please excuse me if I get a bit technical, but it’s my nature…. Let’s draw a chart. On the X axis put Paternal Involvement (biological, material, and emotional), ranging from 0 to whatever. On the Y axis put Expectations, ranging from Fail to Meet to Exceed. Now draw circles for various scenarios, e.g. Life-Long Marriage, Amicable Divorce, Bitter Divorce, Anonymous Donor, Avuncular Friend, and Distant Father. You could add more variations, e.g. Donor Who Turns Out To Have Genetic Defects, or Husband Who Takes Up Drinking. If you want to be really advanced, you could make the size of the circles represent Happiness. You can see that in between the extremes of Anonymous Donor and Life-Long Marriage there are a lot of other scenarios, and I can’t believe that the only acceptable levels of paternal involvement are minimal (just the DNA) or full marriage, all or nothing. I have divorced male friends whose level of paternal involvement is the same as mine, but who have significantly lower levels of meeting expectations.

    It is not uncommon for men to have children from two or more marriages; I wonder why the lack of marriage evoke so much hostility and suspicion. Is the mother’s choice not a sufficient condition? I have a theory that the opposition arises from an instinct to pressure men to stay with and support their families. Or perhaps some women consider the existence of such arrangements threatening?

  2. Rekha and Laura,
    Thank you both for the courage and openness in your blog/response. They are both just beautiful and authentic. I could hear myself literally saying both…both the worry of explaining to a child where he/she came from (I will TTC in January 2012) and then, with the less anxious side of me…I could hear myself telling a friend things similar to what Laura responded. That’s the beauty of relationships…we just need to be ourselves..and the words will come out. I am not a mother (yet) so I can’t give any “advice,” per se, but as someone who has worked in mental health for 10+years (as a therapist) I can say that being yourself and being “present” with someone will bring you the answers/words you’re striving for.
    So, just as Laura encourages you to meet your son with where he’s’re being “present” with him and literally answering just the questions he has at the moment (and nothing more).

    I’m still struggling with some of these questions myself! (i.e. how to tell folks that I plan on conceiving through a donor and/or telling folks when/how I get pregnant) but this article reminds me that I just need to be myself. Others will always have their opinion/reaction–but I certainly don’t need to worry about one more thing in my life. I just need to be comfortable with myself.

    Thank you for sharing!

  3. Hi there. Your story reminds of the story about a little child asking her parents where she came from. After much blushing, red-faces, stuttering & an introduction to words such as “sperm” and “egg,” the parents are left with a blinking, confused child. She responds to all this new information with “I just wanted to know which hospital!”

    I am 43 years old, mother to two. My first child is 23 years old, my second is 2 years old. I think, Rekha, if I were to give you advice, I would tell you that you might be overthinking this a little bit. That seems ridiculous to say, I know. But I’m just coming from my own experience of 23 years as a mother.

    You see, as new mothers, we fret over everything. Will my child be teased at school? Will he fit in? How will his self esteem be without a father? How do I explain this to him?

    My son’s father was never in his life & so I worried so much about all this. I wish I could go back and give advice to my then younger self. And so now, with what I’ve learned, I am taking a different approach to my own daughter, who is also without a father.

    So here it is: Why don’t you let your son take the lead? Instead of trying to read all these stories about families and explaining to him things such donor conception and your biological clock, why not just take a natural approach and wait until he asks you? Love him, support him, *show* him what your little family is like (which I’m sure you already do!). Trust me, he doesn’t need to read about single families in a book…you’ve already shown him. So, when he gets older and starts to comprehend other types of families & how they differ from his, he’ll come to you with questions. There will be no hypersensitivity to it, as there seems to be now, and it will come across more natural.

    My daughter is also biracial. When I was pregnant, I fretted not only over her not having a father, but also about how she would come to her own sense of identity, being raised by a white mother. It finally occured to me after she was born, that I would take the same approach with her skin color that I will with everything else from “where did I come from” questions. Children will definitely let you know what they need to hear from us, our job is to be ready to answer their questions. With my own daughter, I am careful to not make race (or other families, other daddies, etc.) a “special” issue with her. I don’t want her to think that her race – or the fact that she has no father – is a big deal in the big scheme of things.

    That I love her unconditionally is what I want the message to be. She’ll come to me when she is ready with the specific questions she may have. In the meantime, my daughter will pick up on my general attitude. Actions do tend to leave a more profound effect in our children’s lives, anyway.

    I totally admire your dedication and your sense of awareness. Such thoughtfull parenting is commendable!

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