Straight or gay, responsible parenting is needed

Over the weekend there were articles in both the Guardian and Sunday Times about the Court of Appeal case I highlighted last week regarding the lesbian couple who are in dispute with their ‘donor’ over access to a child created between them (No Legislating for Feelings 7th February ).  Charlie Condou in the Family section of The Guardian uses his column to pour scorn on the apparent lack of thought that went into the agreement that was made between the women concerned and their donor, who according to the Sunday Times, was the gay ex-husband of one of the women.   Condou himself has two children with his gay partner Cameron and Catherine, a single, straight friend whom the men had about two years of discussion with before going ahead with trying to conceive.  As Condou says, “The mothers did not choose an anonymous sperm donor – presumably because they wanted their child to know who his father was – they chose a friend.  A friend who was present at his son’s birth and who has been active in his life.  He is a father, and they, as mothers, don’t have a right to put a limit on how he expresses that, whatever they think they agreed over a bottle of wine.  The child has a father who loves him and wants to be in his life, and the child has every right to that relationship.”  In fact it’s all to do with relationships and really nothing to do with sexuality.

Giles Hattersley in the Sunday Times talks to Alison Burt a solicitor with a family law firm that is seeing an increasing number of difficult and upsetting situations occurring with complicated and un-thought out parenting arrangements.  Sam Dick, head of policy at Stonewall advocates that gay and lesbian parents when seeking someone of the opposite sex to help them have a child, have a long ‘dating’ period where they get to know each other very well before deciding to go ahead.  Condou is adamant that everyone must understand to the letter what the term ‘involvement’ means.   All interviewees agree that  “Until you have a child you have no idea of the intensity of emotions that rise” and that everyone has to be as prepared as they possibly can be to reconsider arrangements and compromise in the interests of the child.  This being something the women in the current case seem very reluctant to do.

In the meantime the lovely Elizabeth Marquardt asks Do Mothers Matter? in this weekend’s edition of The Atlantic.  I hesitate to mention her as each time I criticise this woman armies of her supporters come out of the woodwork to post their strongly held views about what I have to say.  But I can’t let this pass.

In the article Marquardt starts by proposing that not having a mother was, until recently, widely regarded to be a tragedy.  She then goes on to list ways in which children have historically been separated from their mother and how painful this is for mother and child.  And of course no-one would disagree that any forced separation between parent and child where there has been a bond of love and attachment is something to be avoided at all possible cost.  The argument then moves from one where mother and child are separated to that of egg donation and surrogacy where the parents are gay men and two women, neither of them intending to be mothers, helped them to have a child.  This is a new form of family not in the conventional heterosexual mould – yet another way in which what we mean by family is evolving in the modern world – but lesbian couples have been having children together for a long time now and research shows that their children do very well.  No father present there, unless they have chosen to co-parent.

Is there something special about a woman that makes her more likely to be missed than a man in the family?  I don’t think so.  Men cannot breast feed but they can be equally nurturing and supportive of their children, providing warmth and comfort as well as boundaries and boisterous play.  I’m not dismissing the positive roles that both a father and a mother can play in children’s lives but same sex couples are likely to bring a range of qualities to their parenting that fulfil the needs their children have.  Heterosexual parents who are left on their own with children find that they develop the qualities that the other parent used to bring.  Not having a man or a woman in the house does not necessarily mean that children are missing anything.

Marquardt’s underlying position is always that anything other than a heterosexual couple family with children conceived with their own gametes, is inevitably damaging for children.  Donors are viewed as ‘parents’ who have given up their children to be raised by others and non-genetically connected parents are raising ‘other people’s children’.  In her methodologically flawed study My Daddy’s Name is Donor and quoted in the Atlantic article, she shockingly claims that “Compared to their peers raised by biological parents, sperm-donor conceived persons are more likely to struggle with delinquency, addiction and depression.”  Whilst she has every right to her views on the way in which families are changing, Marquardt has no right to make such statements about donor conceived people in general.

To return to the questions raised at the beginning of this post, it is vital that men and women, straight and gay, understand what they are doing when they bring children into the world.  Adult relationships may be evolving but children’s needs for love, nurture and security do not change.  I believe these needs can be met by same sex as well as heterosexual couples, those who are not genetically connected to a child as well as those who are.  Mums and dads (in same or different sex couples) are those people who are there for their children day in and day out.  Donors are important too but in a different way.  They are not parents who have abandoned their children but contributors of a vital ingredient of life.  They deserve thanks, recognition for their gift and (hopefully) their willingness to make a connection with a young person who needs to know more about them.  Mature responsible parents; mature, responsible donors.  Happy children.

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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8 Responses to Straight or gay, responsible parenting is needed

  1. My parent's donor is my father says:

    Yes, she IS turly lovely – and incredibly intelligent and compassionate. I highly respect everything Elizabeth Marquardt is trying to advocate/stand for which is primarily about the importance of (biological/genetic/social) mothers and fathers for the best interest of the children and society (among other benefits).

    And your remarks about the study, again that’s wrong, we’ve been through this before but you continue to spread this misinformation. I cannot help but suspect that again your bias is involved.

    I’m not sure what you are trying to say here Olivia but mother’s (of the bio/genetic kind) do matter. I mean it’s silly to even debate this honestly – just look at the adoption community – the lost generation of AU and blogs like “Birth Mother First Mother” (http://www.firstmotherforum.com/).

    This has absolutely nothing to do with perceived discriminations and everything to do with the importance of those bonds and promoting ppl to make responsible choices on behalf of their children (for greater society’s sake).

    • oliviasview says:

      “I cannot help but suspect that again your bias is involved.”

      Come on Karen, none of us come to this topic from a neutral place. What is supposed to be my particular bias here?

  2. Pingback: ‘Straight or gay, responsible parenting is needed’ « Family Scholars

  3. polly says:

    It seems to me that your particular bias here is to unfailingly protect the interests of adults who chose to participate in the donor conception;, trivialising the feelings of the child/adult who had no say whatsoever in his/her disadvantageous conception.

    It is true that no person has any choice in the manner of his/her coneption, but in a donor conception, there is the realisation for all adults involved, that they are denying a member of the human family his/her right to know (and have a lifelong relationship with) his/her genealogical parent and kinship network.

    In the instance of embryo donation, the child/adult is denied a relationship with his/her genealogical mother/father/siblings and all extended kin.

    • oliviasview says:

      Hi Polly
      I’m sorry you think that I trivialise the feelings of donor conceived people. It’s funny, in the UK I am known as a passionate advocate of DC people’s rights to have information about and contact with their donor if this is what they want. I agree that embryo donation is a particular issue. In the UK since 2005, all offspring from sperm, egg or embryo donation have the right to have contact with their donor(s) from age 18.
      I see a future where donors and recipient parents will be known to each other so that children are able to have access to donors as they grow up, but think this is unlikely to happen in my lifetime. Donor conception is still coming out of the closet and my job, as I see it at the moment, is to make sure that parents are confident and comfortable about the decisions they have made and that they tell their children about being donor conceived. We an move forward from there.

  4. Alana S. says:

    This blog post surprises me. I remember asking you directly when we met last Spring if single-dads-by-choice and gay male parenting troubled you because of the cavalier dismissal of the significance of the child’s mother. You told me it indeed did trouble you.

    I understand that thoughts and opinions develop over time and its easy to lose principles under pressure and over time.

    Just makes me really sad.

  5. oliviasview says:

    Hi Alana
    If indeed there is cavalier dismissal of the woman or women involved in gay dad parenting then I remain troubled by it. But this is not so in every case. I have now talked with men who are making sure that these women are acknowledged and will be available for the children they have helped to create in the future. I know it is hard to get one’s head round, and as a mother myself I can find it hard to accept, but men (possibly particularly gay men, although this is controversial) absolutely have the capacity to nurture in the way that women traditionally have done (although of course some women struggle with this expectation and/or do not feel the need to nurture). If two people who accept the role of parents are truly providing the range of qualities and skills that children need to grow up secure, healthy and happy then I don’t think it matters what sex they are. I do think it matters that their children have access to their donor/surrogate as they grow up, if this is something they want.

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