Parenting Without a Partner: Is It OK for Men, Too?

Photo credit: Jessica Ashley

Just when the world has settled down a bit about the rebellious notion of a woman actively choosing to be a single mother (insert collective gasps here), it seems that some men are opting to have families on their own too (what the — ?). I’m not just basing this TREND WATCH on what I’ve observed in the pews of my own church (liberals who believe in Jesus!) or heard some guy in the grocery store line talking about (who am I kidding, I don’t go to the grocery store). A real, live NPR piece recently aired statistics on “choice fathers,” and why men might want to procreate without a partner.

In 2010, the NPR piece reports, there were more than a million men who were never married and parenting children in this country, according to a census conducted by UCLA’s Williams Institute, a think tank on same-sex issues. While the institute can’t nail down how many of those men were living with or raising kids with an unmarried partner, they do know that the respondents were both heterosexual and homosexual. They also know that this tally is three times more than the number of never-married single dads in 1990.

Is this number great? Positive? Hopeful? Sure. Of course, it is. And, of course, there are people out there, some parents included, who will be outraged at the idea that some men reach a point when a partner or marriage doesn’t have to be a part of the parenting formula. The seek surrogates, employ reproductive technologies, adopt, call in a favor from a friend with a womb. Gay or straight, they’ve got the love and the tolerance for cheap Ikea plastic-wares and the resources and so they find a way to make a family. It’s not 1 man + 1 woman + 1 child = a family, but it certainly all still adds up.

But is it new? Of course not. People have been making families without partners, I would guess simply by calling on my anthropology and sociology courses from a zillion years ago, since people have been able to make the babies. Perhaps there wasn’t the fancy terminology (like “choice parent”) or technology (like in vitro), but there were wars and orphanages and parents who were ill-equipped and children caught in crises and surrogates at many other points in history.

I’m thrilled men want to parent. There are too many men who step away from the responsibilities and joys and heartache and hustle of parenthood as it is. I am also thrilled we live in a time when that is more possible for more men. I feel the same way about women. You want to be someone’s mommy? There are many ways to make that happen.

While there is some ridiculousness in segmenting parents and pointing out, “HEY! Look at that dad changing diapers and hoisting a toddler into a Baby Bjorn WITH NO LADY AROUND!,” and while this has been going on in some form or another since the way-way-back times (even before blogging and NPR), I think it is pretty important to hear the stories, see the faces and tally the statistics on the people who are parenting in all different ways.

Every time we do, every time we connect (with our hearts or experiences or good wishes), we get closer to some really big and important things — kids getting out of the system and into loving homes, reproductive technology being more accessible and researched and affordable, and (the biggest deal to me) less stigma and discrimination for LGBT families.

Still can’t relate to a gay dad who hires a surrogate to bear his two children? Or a straight man who adopts six kids from South America? Or a lesbian couple who ask a friend to help them bring a baby into the world? Or a woman who walks into a fertility clinic to pick out a donor?

That’s OK. We can start here: No matter how you have a baby, being a parent is always a choice. Being any kind of parent is a choice. We have that in common. And that is a very good place to begin.



Read more of Jessica’s adventures as a single mom in the city at Sassafrass.

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Article Posted 4 years Ago

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