New research shows children raised in single-mother-by-choice families do just as well as those in two-parent families
Kids don’t necessarily suffer without a father in the picture.
In fact, a new study finds that children in single-mother-by-choice families do just as well as those in nuclear families.
Many women are choosing to go parenthood alone without waiting for the perfect partner. In the U.K., 4,675 women underwent artificial insemination in 2014, and there were 2,691 IVF cycles using donor sperm. U.S. Census data reports that 23% of kids live in single-mother homes, making it the second most common family arrangement in the country. Intrauterine insemination (IUI) can range between $275 to $2,457, depending on whether medications, blood work and sonograms are included. In vitro fertilization (IVF), where the egg is fertilized outside of the womb and is later implanted in the uterus, can run $12,000 to $20,000.
Rachna Shah, the managing director at fashion PR firm KCD, whose clients include Victoria Beckham and Victoria’s Secret, decided to have her daughter alone two years ago. “I was approaching 40, and I had not met the man that I was going to settle down with, and did not want to lose the opportunity to have a child,” she told Moneyish. “I was capable of doing it on my own from a financial standpoint. I have a lot of family support.”
And while she has to get creative with loading the car for the weekend with her kid single-handed, or working more efficiently to ensure she gets out of work by 6 p.m. instead of 8, she and her 2-year-old are doing great. “You end up spending so much more time together than maybe you would with a partner,” she said. “The time we have is me and her. I’m not also trying to make time for someone else.”
Deidre Woods, now 54, told Moneyish she made a “conscious choice” to raise her child alone when she became pregnant at 20. “I wanted to pour all of my love, my experience, my creativity and everything I knew into taking care of a child, and I knew I could do that on my own,” she said – even though many in her Tacoma, Washington community were judgmental about that decision in ‘80s.
“I had people trying to tell me what to do and how to do it, and I had to learn to trust in myself,” said Woods, who does social work helping other single moms, foster children and people in the welfare system transition into stable jobs and homes. “I knew that I had everything within me to be a good parent.”
But since there has been concern about how children develop without the financial and emotional support of a second parent figure, the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology decided to investigate whether there’s really anything to worry about.
Researchers at the University of Amsterdam surveyed 69 single moms who had chosen to raise their children alone, as well as 59 mothers from heterosexual two-parent families. They each had a child between the ages of 1 1/2 and 6. And the study found that there were no significant differences in the children’s development or the parent-child relationships from kids in the single-mother families compared to the two-parent families.
“The assumption that growing up in a family without a father is not good for the child is based mainly on research into children whose parents are divorced, and who thus have experienced parental conflict,” suggested researcher Mathilde Brewaeys from the VU University Medical Centre in Amsterdam. “However, it seems likely that any negative influence on child development depends more on a troubled parent-child relationship, and not on the absence of a father.”
Shah agreed. “No one left her. She wasn’t abandoned. The [father] just doesn’t exist,” she said. “And if she asks me about it when she’s older, I will tell her that, ‘I wanted you so badly, that I had you without a daddy.’”
Of course, many of the single moms surveyed, like Shah and Woods, were financially stable, had received a higher education and had meaningful partner relationships in the past. So they were prepared to budget for raising their little ones – which can cost half a million dollars over 18 years – and they also had the money for childcare, which can explain why they were also not significantly more stressed than their counterparts with husbands.
But that’s a different experience from many single moms in the U.S., who are statistically almost five times more likely to be poor than married-couple families. Single mothers typically earn less than married ones, and their work schedules are often unpredictable and inflexible, with no paid sick or family leave. Becoming a single parent unexpectedly can also saddle women with financial and emotional stress, which can negatively impact a child’s school performance.
But a Cornell study also found that 12- and 13-year-olds raised in positive single parent families showed no negative impact on their social and educational development. In fact, these kids were more responsible, because they often helped out more at home. And they formed closer bonds with their single parent and extended family members who raised them.
Woods, who now lives in Los Angeles, noted that her now 33-year-old daughter grew up to be a successful television producer, and will soon be going back to school to become a nurse, thanks to the work ethic she picked up from being in a single-parent family. “Helping out at home was something that was required, because as one adult, it’s difficult for you to do it all,” said Woods. ”She picked up a lot of her social skills and her organizational skills from our relationship as a mom and a daughter. I am very proud of her.”
The single mothers by choice in the new study also weren’t really alone. They actually had a greater social support network, including family, friends, neighbors and nannies, than the two-parent families.
“Community is so important,” agreed Woods. “I reached out to programs they had for women who were single parents, or programs on how to raise a child, and I surrounded myself with that. I had girlfriends who were also single parents, and we helped each other when we needed a babysitter or had a question, and I built the network I needed.”
Shah agreed that having her family and her nanny to help improves both her quality of life and her daughter’s. “You do need the support,” she said, noting that having a nanny come to the home saves time scrambling to get ready for daycare in the morning. “Definitely some friends of mine have said their husbands wouldn’t do that much.”
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