Co-parenting, or entering into a relationship for the purpose of having children, is not necessarily a new concept; some cultures simply call it marriage. But today, Spedale sees new options for LGBT intended parents to create families while sharing the emotional and financial support of a non-romantic partner. However, as with any relationship, the key to success is taking time to get know each other.
An author and researcher focusing on non-traditional families, Darren Spedale is currently writing Family By Design: The Complete Guide to Successfully Finding a Parenting Partner and Navigating the Co-Parenting Process. He is also the founder of the FamilyByDesign.com website.
I have to say, Family by Design came from a marriage of the personal and the professional. So if the professional had been this experience with writing about issues for same sex couples, the personal came to a point where I hit my mid-30s, and found that I was still single, but wanted to be a parent. And I knew I didn’t want to be a single parent. So I began to explore opportunities for people who wanted to be parents, but not single parents, and then recognizing that—how this is traditionally happened in the LGBT community, and in other communities, for that matter, has been just someone knowing someone, where you had a lesbian or a lesbian couple knowing a gay man and saying, “Hey, we’re thinking about becoming parents. We’d like you to be the known donor, or the co-parent.” And that sort of ad hoc communication has worked for some. But I wanted to actually make it an opportunity for many more people to be able to connect with people who are in the same place in their lives, who also wanted to be parents.
The funny thing is, people say, oh, the idea of, you know, parenting partnerships, or co-parenting is so new, and so untested, and that’s just absolutely not true. In some ways, I joke about the fact that people have been going into non-romantic relationships for the purpose of having children, for hundreds of years. It’s called marriage, for some people. But that’s been really more about people coming together into a traditional union around parenting. But in modern times, the LGBT community has really been on the forefront of creating co-parenting as an option, or solution for LGBT family building.
More and more people, certainly in their 30s, and certainly in their 20s, just see parenting as a natural part of their family building. Not to say that that wasn’t true of earlier generations, but it’s even becoming more of the norm now. And as people think about that opportunity, obviously, they think through the various options. You know, surrogacy is a great option for some. A lot of people can’t afford surrogacy, and a lot of people are not wanting to be single parents if they’re not in a relationship. So what co-parenting is about, and why I think it really is a wave of the future for, among others, LGBT families, is that it allows people to fulfill that dream, that desire of being a wonderful parent, but also being able to share the scheduling pressures of parenting, share the financial pressures of parenting, share the need for emotional support in raising a child, with someone or someones else—that it really makes the parenting experiencing much stronger for those families.
I’ve researched many dozens of couples who are in these types of relationships, which can range anything from the single man/single woman; it can be single man with a lesbian couple. It can be a gay male couple with a single woman. It can be a gay male couple with a lesbian couple. There’s lots of iterations of how people are building these parenting partnerships. What’s interesting to me, by the way, is the fact that when you look at the millennial generation, kids who were born in the 80s, when they’ve been asked by the Pew Foundation in a poll not too long ago, “What are going to be some of the most important things in your life?” Now, the number of them that say being in a good marriage is going to be important in their life, is actually only somewhere around 35% or so. But when you ask that same question about being a good parent, that number jumps to 50%-plus. And there’s an enormous, you know, differentiator now, among this generation about how they think about parenting, as compared to how they think about marriage. And it will be interesting to see how that equates into how they go about building their own families as they come of the age to parent.
But there’s a lot of issues that people need to think about before going into a parenting partnership. And one of the things that I really encourage people to think about is first of all, what do they need from their co-parent, and what kind of relationship do they want to have, because one of the biggest mistakes I see people making is they get caught up in the euphoria of the idea of, “Oh, I’m going to be a parent. This is so exciting,” that they rush into it with the other person, much more quickly than they should. And then, of course, you’re obviously setting yourself up for a lifelong relationship with that person, as you have a child together. And so it really is critical to take however long it takes—six months, a year, or longer, to get to know the other person. Spend time with them. You know, meet their family, meet their friends. See how they’re like around other children. There’s just lots of things you can do to really build that relationships, and feel comfortable that you all have a bond with each other, and that this is the right person to move forward with, before you take that step.
In some ways, it is like dating, right, because you’re spending the time getting to know that other person. And you know, do you have compatible personalities? Do you operate on the same level? Do you—would you work well with each other? And so it is very much, I suppose, like dating, even if in a non-romantic way.
I think for a lot of people who’ve been thinking about parenting, and they’ve just said, “Oh, I can never be a parent. It’ll never happen for me, because I haven’t found Mr. Right, or Mrs. Right, and you know, I can’t deal with all the stresses of single parenting, because I don’t think it would be good for me or my child,” and they’ve just given up. And they’ve just said, “I’ll never be a parent.” And the sad thing is so many of those people have such wonderful personal resources. They have a lot of love to give, a lot of care. They would be such great parents. And the fact that now they have a new way of thinking about their options for parenting, I think is so helpful, and really, I get a lot of positive feedback from people who just say, “Thank you so much for helping me think about another option I have for parenting that I never knew I had.”