When Jenica Anderson and Stephan DuVal clicked on one another’s online profile neither was looking for romance. They were both in their late 30s, and their short bios indicated that they shared similar views on health and education, had solid incomes and were searching for the same thing: a non-romantic partner to have – and raise – a child with. A co-parent.
Anderson, 38, a geologist from Montana, US, had matched with and spoken to 10 different men, mostly via so-called mating sites – matchmaking sites for people who want a baby without a romantic relationship – when she had her first phone call with DuVal, from Vancouver, Canada, in spring 2019. Their conversations quickly started to run into the night and, that June, she flew out to spend the weekend with him. They talked, went hiking and jumped into a lake together. “It felt like a date,” says DuVal, 37, a camera operator. “Except we could be totally honest about wanting to have a kid soon, without the goofiness and flirting of a first date. You’re looking to achieve a common goal.”
In a world where biological science and equal rights have diversified ways to start a family, platonic co-parenting – the decision to have a child with someone you are not romantically involved with and, in most cases, choose not to live with – remains a relatively new phenomenon.
Well established in gay communities, along with egg and sperm donation, it is on the rise among heterosexual singles. Tens of thousands have signed up to matchmaking sites, such as www.prideangel.com.
Prof Susan Golombok, director of the University of Cambridge’s Centre for Family Research and author of We Are Family, a new book examining the wellbeing of children in structures beyond the nuclear unit, has researched new family forms since the 1980s. She has studied families created via IVF, sperm and egg donation, and surrogacy, as well as lesbian mother families, gay father families and single mothers by choice.
Golombok’s team turned their attention to elective co-parenting as an emerging trend in 2015. They are now following 50 families in what they believe to be the world’s first study considering the impact of the arrangement on children.
She says: “It was a gradual realisation that this was a new phenomenon picking up speed. The main question for us is how does this relationship between parents, where there is no romantic relationship, develop, with each other and the child? Is the relationship breakdown rate higher or lower? Very early findings suggest that how well the parents communicate with each other and collaborate over childcare seems to make a big difference.”
The quality of parents’ relationships with one another, and their level of intimacy, has a large bearing on children’s welfare, she says. “It is possible, though, that taking away romantic baggage could even make for a more stable environment.”
Anderson already had a young son – she split from his father when he was one. She signed up to two websites in early 2019. She wanted the opportunities that having two parents in a child’s life could bring. However, she lived in a small community where there was no one willing to enter into a co-parenting arrangement, and had already considered and dismissed men she had dated before.
“I really didn’t want a romantic connection; I thought it would convolute things,” she says. “I’d seen the traditional recipe not work out. [Stephan and I] had a shared sense of direction – raising a happy child who makes it through life OK. My ex and I are very amicable co-parents, and that showed me there were real strengths to doing it this way. I wanted to tap into the stuff that’s good for the kid – a functional dynamic and a stable life. Stephan and I asked ourselves, ‘Can we be allies and ensure that any future kid gets the best?’ If it was just about parenting, we could remain pragmatic. I wanted to grow my family with somebody who wanted to be a doting father and wasn’t just having a baby for me.”
Her parents weren’t so convinced. “I’m pretty sure [they] lost a lot of sleep over what I was doing. My father worried about finances. On some level, they probably worried about the morality.”
More than 800 miles away, DuVal, frustrated by his efforts to meet someone who shared his desire for children, had also subscribed to Modamily. “I wanted a child to give life more meaning; a lot of people I know are married to their jobs,” he says. “I hoped that, maybe, I’d find romance eventually, but [for me] it was time to start a family.”
He met three other possible matches before connecting with Anderson. He admired her bravery, parenting style and family ties. “The big fear was that I’d match with someone who turns out to be a terrible human. But my fear quickly disappeared. We spoke a lot about child-raising scenarios. We were often on the same page. We talked about our own lives, what shaped us, past relationships.”
Anderson was drawn to his sense of adventure and flexibility. She says: “If unpredictable things came our way, [I felt] he could adapt. He had great dad qualities. I quickly felt confident in this really unknown and unconventional partnership.”
Article source: www.the guardian.co.uk 31st October