Are you over 35, single, and childless? Did you always think that you would get married and have children? More and more women are finding themselves in this position. Taking the leap to single parenthood by choice is daring but doable. Below is an interview with a woman who journeyed into motherhood alone. Following that, I offer advice on navigating this colossal decision.
Sarah* writes: “The month before I turned 36, I had my first IUI done with donor sperm, the start for me of becoming a “single mom by choice”. But the process had started years prior. At 33 I knew I wanted to have a baby and resolved to do it on my own, but it took me 3 years to get the gumption to actually DO it. But even before all of that was the process of getting to the point of knowing that I wanted a child and was willing to do it on my own if I had to. This was ultimately a gut-level decision. The only question I had to answer for myself was whether I would regret not trying to have a child. The answer was a resounding yes. I pictured myself at 60 without a child and found myself so sad for that version of me. Not having a child because I wasn’t physically able to would be something I could deal with, even if heartbreaking. Not having a child because I hadn’t tried, would make me profoundly disappointed in myself. So that was my answer.”
Thinking of yourself ten minutes, ten days, and ten years out from your decision is one ambivalence resolving technique often touted by experts. Although this topic involves more than that, it is certainly something to consider. What will your life look like in the immediate and far future with or without a child?
Parenthood in general and especially single parenthood is not for the faint of heart. There are major psychological, financial, and practical considerations to resolve before diving in. At this point you may be rolling your eyes as chances are the average parent didn’t wax philosophically over these issues. Obviously, a lot of children are “woops” or the result of societal pressures and norms. But considering that until recently there was compelling research indicating parents were less happy than their childless peers; don’t you think we should be asking ourselves some basic questions about why we want to become parents before picking out the sperm?
What is your primary reason for having a child? Some want the experience of parenting. Many have the desire to nurture a new soul with their love, wisdom, and life experience. Others perceive their life enriched by the creation of their own little family. This is not off base. Emerging research which included people who actively chose to become parents (not simply people who ended up with biological children through whatever circumstance) demonstrated that there may not be a sustained happiness gap between parents and non patents. In fact, due to the isolative nature of 21st century America, parents may actually be happier than their childless peers. The Pew Research Center further explores this complicated topic. The bottom line is that happiness and fulfillment are individual perceptions and no amount of research can answer this for you but considering the above question is a helpful guide. Sometimes, the answers are indeed in your “gut” feeling.
How will you become a parent? Sperm donation, fostering, or adoption? The key is to do your research, not make assumptions. The end result of parenting is the same for all options. Maintain flexibility. You may start off with IUIs and sperm donation. If it’s not working, how much time and money are you willing to commit before switching gears?
Does your professional situation allow for a child? Many of us remember Diane Keaton portraying a harried J.C. Wiatt in Baby Boom. In this 1980’s comedy, Wiatt, a top executive who inherits a baby, quickly learns that single parenting in her cooperate role is near impossible. Ultimately, she adapts her career to “have it all”. How flexible is your career? More importantly, how willing are you to make changes if needed?
Does your financial situation allow for a child? There is great variation in the cost of parenting and although estimates exist, it really is an individual experience. As the term “dependent” implies, babies suck financial resources. However, unless if having a child would put you in severe risk of meeting basic needs of food, shelter, and safety, then I believe it should be the least of your decision criteria. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think it through clearly, though.
What do you consider an acceptable living and day care situation? What can you cut from your budget? Will you realistically be able to follow your cost saving plan? For example, cloth diapers are touted to be cheaper than disposable diapers but as a single parent will you be able to keep up with the laundry? Consulting with a financial counselor is a great idea. He or she can guide you on how having a child will affect your overall financial picture. If appropriate, you may also want to approach your family for help. Many grandparents plan on contributing to their grandchildren’s college fund, is there any way they could help with daycare instead?
What kind of social support do you have? It’s a parent’s job to provide emotional support to her baby, not the other way around. So who supports you? If you cannot easily answer this then you may want to work on building friendships and improving family relationships before bringing a baby onto the scene. If you have plenty of support but are looking for other single women pursuing parenthood then there some good on-line communities here and here to join. Neighborhood list-servers offer IRL connections as does word-of-mouth.
Becoming a single parent may be wrought with uncertainty and insecurity. However, there’s no way of knowing at the start just how magnificent and perfect the destination will be.
*Name changed to protect her identity
**This post was adapted from an original post entitled “Going It Alone” on Psychology Today.