Friday, January 19, 2007

Myths about Choice Moms

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, and She is hosting a series of workshops for Choice Moms in 2007 about strengths and weaknesses of this lifestyle choice.


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Marty said...

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,

Right -- It's okay to deprive a child of a father -- they won't know what they're missing.

Unless they're boys, who will someday become fathers themselves, but without ever having known what it's like to be the son of a father...

Sorry, but this looks like a mother's social problem, the cost of which is to be borne by the fatherless child, in very large part. But that's okay, because they'll never know what they're missing.

NYMOM said...

These feelings of resentment because these children don't know their 'fathers', if you could honestly call a sperm donor a father, are actively encouraged by Elizabeth Marquardt and company in order to keeop turning their own propaganda mill. As I guarantee you that no matter what the actual research reveals, they will still be claiming that single mother homes are not good for raising children...

Additionally I'm not so sure about your other point either to wit faciliating the 'necessary separtion of the older child from it's mother and/or her immediate family. This was true when most people spent most of their lives married. Then your spouse and the family you created with them was your primary family connection going forward. But with people marrying later today and a 50% divorce rate, I'm not entirely sure that the family you are born into is not going to be the only real family people have today.

So realistically your parents, sibling and cousins might wind up being your closest family connections.

Good blog...

Anonymous said...

What's far, far better for a child than having an "intense" relationship with one parent is witnessing an intense, loving relationship between his or her own married, biological parents.

That's their template for their own future marriages and families, and the lack of it is the reason these single-parent homes reproduce themselves over and over with negative socioeconomic consequences tending to follow over time.

That's a pretty big piece of the picture for a woman to "choose" to delete from her child's life.

Choice Mom said...

Note from the author:
I've interviewed kids about the lack of seeing a loving relationship...and most of them tell me they see relationships, good and bad, all over, and that the relationship they have with their mother is a good model of compromise, love and respect.

Of course, these are the kids who are talking to me in the first place, so they tend to be pretty well-balanced individuals. I'm still looking for ones who aren't, to get their input on why.

It's also another possible benefit to these children, in many women's minds (as well as many of the kids I've talked to), since they don't have to see their parents fight. Unfortunately, the picture of marriage today looks rather bleak for many people, with couples who don't respect each other and who hurt the kids who have to watch it.

Anonymous said...

With all due respect, a parent/child relationship, with the obvious power differential and the usual one-sidedness of the giving, can never be any kind of model for a marriage relationship between equals, which requires enormous give-and-take and often includes frustration and difficulty (and yes, fighting which is not a terrible thing in and of itself), but which is the source of life's greatest happiness for most people.

It's no wonder that people who have not seen a marriage successfully modeled by their parents tend to flounder as they instinctively reach for intimate relationships but simply do not know how to make them work.

Thus continuing the cycle of single parenting which tends to lead down, while their married counterparts and their offspring tend to move up.

Choice Moms can raise their families successfully, certainly, but the ultimate consequences go far beyond any individual family.

Interesting blog, though.

NYMOM said...

Where did I say a child should just nurture an "intense loving relationship with one parent" I mentioned aunts, siblings, cousins and clearly by inference other extended family members...

This idea that people get married to one person and build their family going foward on that one relationship, with their parents, siblings, and other family members wedged in as time permits, is no longer valid.

People are marrying later today and many divorcing between 5 and 7 years afterwards. Actually 10 years is now the defintion of long term marriage and that's not really very long. A lot of us are going to spend most of our lives alone. Following the advice given by some of you, we not only wouldn't have a partner but we wouldn't have children either.

I know many would like to return to the bygone era where people generally married for life, raised their children together and lived happily ever after.

Unfortunatly many of us don't achieve that's just not the way we live anymore.


Anonymous said...

NYMOM, I was responding to the author of the post who spoke of the "intense" relationships between choice moms and their children, not to anything you said.

But I disagree about the idea of the nuclear family being no longer valid. It's still the norm, and the majority of children are still born and raised this way.

According to the Census Bureau, a solid majority of people of both sexes have been married by their early thirties. If you take out the black underclass, which has its own peculiar problems which are largely irrelevant to what we're discussing here, the numbers are probably even higher.

People are marrying later but that tends to make divorce less likely. Higher education, faith, and having married parents are also marriage-protective factors.

And that old business about women over 35 (or was it 30?) having little chance of marriage, that caused so much panic back in the 80s, has been thoroughly debunked.

The picture is not nearly as bleak for marriage as many portray it.

NYMOM said...

I know most women are still getting married but due to the high divorce rate, it's for a few years only not the long-term marriages of previous generations. I too was married in my 30s, had 2 kids but then divorced a few years later and never remarried. I'm in my 50s now, so could safely placing me in the box called 'married' because I was married for a few years really accurately describe my life. When most of it I functioned as a single woman, then a single mother.

Many people appear to get some comfort from the idea that we all marry eventually...but it's a false comfort as that statement masks the fact that with such a high divorce rate, marriage has almost become like college or going into the military for a few years. Just a brief stopover not a long-term way of organizing our lives.

Women need to know that there are millions of us that need to plan a solid career for supporting ourselves, buying our own homes if we ever wish to own one, saving for our own retirement, and planning our families if we wish to have them. Too many women don't realize this and wait too long believing in myths.

Frankly I'm glad that choice moms are finally speaking up....

Anonymous said...

"Women need to know that there are millions of us that need to plan a solid career for supporting ourselves, buying our own homes if we ever wish to own one, saving for our own retirement"

I agree strongly with this.

Because overall this will lead to more education, later marriage, wiser choices of mates, and more mature handling of the marriage relationship itself.

All of which will, and already does, dramatically reduce the divorce rate.

Which is the best thing of all for children.

NYMOM said...

Saying marrying later will reduce the divorce rate is not really true. Sure if you don't marry at 16 versus any other age, you can say marrying later reduces the divorce rate. But most of us don't marry at 16 anyway. However, there is no appreciable difference in the divorce rate of a 24 year old vs. a 34 year old. It just sounds good so people say it.

Really unless you're talking about not marrying at 16 which is pretty obvious anyway and most of us don't marry at 16, older age of marriage has no advantage in reducing the divorce rate. Many of those in the marriage movement have finally had to admit this.

Anonymous said...

The raw statistics on age, marriage and divorce do not all take into account all the relevant variables, such as previous marriages and/or previous long-term relationships, and most of all children from prior relationships.

These are serious marriage stressors which are more common in older marrying couples but which your plan for more attention to higher education and careful career planning would probably reduce a great deal.

The evidence seems to suggest that among couples who are both college-educated, marry no earlier than the late 20s, have no previous marriages or children, are of religious faith, and come from intact homes, the rate of divorce is really very, very small.

In a nutshell, these are the marriage patterns of the upper middle class. It's also a big reason why they remain the upper middle class.

There's a very interesting new book, Marriage and Caste in America, that deals with this very subject.

NYMOM said...

Well tell me this how many of the rest of us fit into the defintion of 'upper middle class'. How much does this finding really impact the lives of ordinary women who wish to live their lives as fully as possible whether or not they meet their soul mate?

My own feeling is that it's the loss of the power differential in marriage (which used to automatically defer to men) that is the death knell of the institution. Also there was a Forbes article based upon a number of studies that showed the divorce rates were highest for career women (not working women but college educated career women)...

So I think much of your formula is just wishful thinking like if only we were planful enough everything will be fine. It would be nice if it really happened that way. Sadly many times it just doesn't...

Anonymous said...

Well, it was you who first stated that young women must be much more planful...and they should.

One doesn't have to BE part of the upper middle class to take a lesson from behavior patterns, choices and attitudes that obviously work for them. That keep them and their children on top and elevate other people into their ranks.

All I'm saying is that wise planning and choices you're talking about tend to bring much better things than just sustainable single motherhood.

NYMOM said...

I mean planful about realistic goals women can obtain in today's world, not planful in the sense you're talking about that women can impact someone's else behavior if they are planful enough. Women can do all of those things you outlined and still wind up either single or divorced with no families of their own as no matter how good and planful you are, you cannot say how another person will react to your plans. Not to mention that part of your plan leaves out a vast majority of people as we cannot pick our parents and chose to come from 'intact families' as you call it...

So judging by the statistics that we see right now even if they are somewhat exagerrated to one side or the other, millions of women are spending a large portion of their lives alone. So women need to know about this reality and tha the option of being a choice single mother exists for them if they should wind up being one of those millions. Which while surely not the perfect way to have the family they envisioned growing up, it is a good enough one.

We're arguing the perfect vs. the good here in spite of the attempts by many to disparage single moms' families.

Anonymous said...

Very well.

You advocate education and careful life planning for young women in order to prepare them for single motherhood.

I advocate it as a recipe for later and better first marriages and families.

Either way, young women need to do a great deal more thinking, learning and preparing.

LorMar said...

Hello Mikki,

You may not remember me, but I am lemondrop (used to subscribe to the yahoo group). Just wanted to say this is a great blog and keep up the fight for women to choose motherhood--even though some of us are single. As far as I am concerned, it is every woman's/family's civil right.