Parents But Not Partners?

Here’s recent story from the Telegraph (UK) about people opting to be coparents without being romantic partners.   I’ve written about this before quite a while ago but it’s probably time to revisit the topic and the piece leaves me with several things to think about.   (There’s also the more recent NYT story–one I blogged about earlier this year– that doesn’t quite fit the category but comes to mind.  I’ll come back to that.)

The general idea here is that two people who are friends but not lovers would agree to raise a child together.    I find myself thinking this seems fine in the abstract, but there is much in the Telegraph article itself that gives me pause.

To me, coparenting is extremely serious business.   Certainly the law sets it up that way–once a person is a legal parent, they are in for the long haul and it isn’t all that easy to get them out.   It isn’t just law, though.   Children need people who coparent to work together.

My experience of friendship is that it can be enduring, stable and richly rewarding.  Thus, the idea (in theory) of two friends raising a child seems fine to me.   I don’t particularly see why the  parents need to be in love or to be lovers.   Indeed, it seems to me that often friendships can be more stable and less volatile than romantic relationships, which if anything could put them on a sounder footing.   That earlier discussion of the New York Times article features the sort of relationship I envision, although remember that the man there is not defining himself as a parent of the child involved.

That said, I look at the particulars of the Telegraph article and I blanche.   For the most part the people described here aren’t friends–they are at best acquaintances.   They don’t know each other nearly well enough to commitment to a life together as coparents–because the thing about being coparents is that it is a life-long commitment.  (You know, people get divorced all the time and they keep on being coparents.)

I cannot help but think that most of the players involved here no clue what it is they are getting into.  The people in the lead anecdote may be an exception to this–if it took Sabrina Morton six years to conceive she might have gotten to know Kam Wong pretty well.  But the connections between the other people discussed seem so very tenuous.

The idea that you’d meet someone once or even a couple of times and decide to coparent with them seems to me no more reasonable if you are working off a platonic relationship than a romantic one   Maybe you get lucky and it all works out.  Far more likely, you learn later that you aren’t all that compatible and this massive joint project you’ve undertaken becomes that much more complicated and difficult.

So here’s where I’m left–the idea of parents who are not romantic partners seems just fine to me and there are instances where it works nicely.   But what I see in the story is people who are undertaking parenthood far too casually.    It’s exactly the same worry I have about people who meet each other, feel some immediate sexual attraction, have sex and end up with the woman pregnant.   That’s not a basis for raising a child together.    This doesn’t seem any better.

For those of you who are particularly attached to the genetic link, I’d note that the practice discussed here does give the child two parents and both parents are the genetically linked individuals.   Is that all you need?   Is there any requirement that the two people have any specified relationship?  What do you say?


11 responses to “Parents But Not Partners?

  1. I agree, Julie, that it’s dangerous for people who are acquaintances to co-parent. And yet I’ve met men who do just that 1) to avoid the costs of surrogacy; 2) out of fear that being a single parent will be overwhelming; and 3) out of a belief that a child needs two parents, possibly even one male and one female. I wonder how different societies’ legal frameworks and social safety nets foster decisions that favor friends’ co-parenting. For example, I’ve met Swedish lesbians who had a male friend pose as a partner for one of the women (and then the couple has a fertility problem) to get the state to pay for the IVF when otherwise the state wouldn’t pay because lesbians aren’t infertile, they just “choose” to procreate on their own.

  2. How does the prefix “co” alter the original meaning of the noun “parent’? Would one say “I hate how my co-parents snoop through my stuff while I’m at school?” or “She has to ask her co-parents first”? or “I’m the co-parent of a 5th grader”? I’ve definitely heard it used to describe married parents as well as single parents, gay, straight, makes no difference. It is like people in my generation want a cookie for cooperating with their child’s other parent. Do they stop being co-parents if they can’t agree on certain aspects of child rearing? Do they cease to be co-parents? Is co-parental supervision advised?

    Language is the vehicle of thought so changing the meaning of words is a bit like changing lanes and I’m interested to know where it is that this is all headed.

    • I would think that ‘co’ only comes up when one parent is describing the other parent in the third person. A couple might say ‘my husband/wife’ or ‘my partner’. You could also say ‘my daughter’s dad’ or whatever, but why not my ‘co-parent’?

      Of course to the kid, they’re both just parents, regardless of their relationship with each other.

  3. Even If they have only general idea of the person’s basic personality, values and lifestyle, they know a heck of a lot more than an anonymous sperm donor.

    • Possibly–because with the donor you might have medical history and with the just met person you might not. But even if this is so, you are not going to have to cooperate in raising the child with the anonymous donor–that’s sort of the whole point. You don’t need to know if you have compatible ideas about discipline, say, because he won’t be in the picture to be doing discipline. Actually coparenting with someone is a whole different thing–you need to be able to work out disputes (because disputes are inevitable) and you need to have effective communications. None of that is necessary with a person who will not be a parent.

      • well once your a parent why call yourself a coparent? that is my point. how exactly is coparent different from parent?

        • parent is gender neutral and says noting oneway or the other about being married to the child’s other parent so what is the point? Saying that parents cooperate is

        • Perhaps the terminology is confusing but I think there’s some useful information that is conveyed. Each coparent is a parent, but identifying people as coparents tells you they are sharing the obligations for a particular child or children and hence must work together. A single or sole parent has no coparents and so has much broader autonomy in making decisions. Any time a child has more than one legal parent, those parents are coparents to each other. They may also be spouses or partners or friends, but it is important to me to observe that they have this link to each other that is almost unseverable. .

  4. “For example, I’ve met Swedish lesbians who had a male friend pose as a partner for one of the women ”

    I don’t get it, if he came for fertility treatment, woudn’t he have to do more than pose, ie provide sperm?

  5. “to get the state to pay for the IVF when otherwise the state wouldn’t pay because lesbians aren’t infertile, they just “choose” to procreate on their own.”

    There is no reason why a perfectly fertile woman needs to use IVF. Anonymous sperm can be easily inserted in barely a minute in a routine gynecology appointment- or even at home.
    The only reason why 2 healthy fertile lesbians would be using IVF, which is far more medically complicated than a natural pregnancy, is because they have decided that one should carry the other’s eggs so that they will both be equally related. That is not a medical condition. Not only isn’t it the taxpayers burden, I should think it medically irresponsible for a doctor to do it at all.

    • K I think its done all the time my friends here in SF did it. It almost caused a problem when they broke up they ended up with their own kid not the one they gave birth to but the one they are related to which of course makes total sense the kid is not really a member of the x’s family but I just saw them the other day they are back together. The kids have they each supposedly got pregnant by the same guy who knows its through a clinic. They carried eachother’s babys to term. That has to be sketch if you catch your girlfriend smoking or whatever. They look perfectly happy, kids seem fine. I sure wish they would stop telling the kids they don’t have a dad though. They are no different than any other normal little kid with a mom and dad, their dad is just not around, like a lot of other dads that are mia. Who knows who paid for it – our company partially I;m sure.

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