How are the children and parents in alternative/non-traditional families doing? Families through IVF and donor conception, as well as single moms by choice and same sex families are increasing, but how are they doing, and how are the children developing? Are these new family forms harmful to children?

Host Dawn Davenport, Executive Director of Creating a Family, the national infertility & adoption education and support organization, interviews world renowned expert on new family structures, Dr. Susan Golombok, Director of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, in Cambridge, England.

Hit the Highlights

Solo Moms/ Single Mothers by Choice

      • Women can become single moms through any # of ways, the most common being divorce. There is a significant rise in much younger women choosing to get pregnant outside of marriage, but with a partner who they intend to be a father—it might be an unplanned pregnancy, but many of these are very planned. And then we have what we have come to call single mothers by choice, choice moms, solo mothers. Anyone who can read the headlines or listen to the news has heard about the problems of children raised by single moms—school problems, behavioral problems, higher drop out rate, etc. Are these negative outcomes equal amongst the three major types of single mom groups?
      • How relevant is it that children in divorced families and single moms through pregnancy with a partner have a father that they may not see much, or who is not actively involved in their lives?
      • What does research say about how families created by single moms by choice are doing?
      • How would Dr. Golombok respond to the following statement: I hear all about women choosing to have kids on their own without a dad, but I simply don’t understand how these families can be as strong and good for kids as are families with both a mom and a dad. I happen to believe that kids need fathers.
      • Does the research support the common belief that two parents are better than one because you have someone to bounce ideas off of or someone to balance out your eccentricities?
      • In most single mother by choice families the identity of the father may not be known and even if known the intent was not for him to be a father figure. How does this absence of knowledge affect the children in these families?
      • How important is intentionality in families created by mothers who intend from the beginning to raise their children on their own?
      • Economic disadvantage is a real problem for many single moms. How does low income affect children and families?
      • Studies have shown that the majority of single moms by choice or solo moms are well-educated professional women in their late 30s or early 40s who want to become a mother, but are without a suitable partner and feel that time is running out.
      • It’s interesting to note that no studies have been done on single mothers by choice families once the children are past elementary age—so not in the tween and teen years.

Children of IVF

      • Do parents who have conceived through IVF parent differently than parents who conceived naturally?
      • Are parents who conceived through IVF more over-protective?
      • Impact of multiple births on child development?
      • What areas of the children’s development are most impacted by being part of a twin or triplet unit?
      • Has research found a difference between naturally conceived twins vs. IVF conceived twins?
      • Is the slower cognitive development of twins and triplets associated with prematurity? Parent/child relationships?

Donor Conception (sperm, egg, embryo)

      • Research on the impact of donor conception has tended to focus on two areas: the impact of secrecy (not disclosing donor conception to the child) and a lack of a genetic connection to one or both parent.
      • Is there a difference in how families function and in the psychological health of children between families that disclose to the child that they were conceived via gamete or embryo donation and those that do not disclose?
      • What is the importance of donor siblings for donor conceived children? At what age should parents tell their children about half siblings?
      • How to balance the role as a mom (who wants my child to be proud of her origins and free to decide how and to whom to tell her own story) with my role as a wife, who wants her husband’s health privacy (and feelings) to be protected. Do you have any advice about how couples who want to keep details about their infertility private can balance this with their equal desire to not saddle their donor-conceived child with a burden of secrecy or shame?
      • In some of the research you report on in your book, parents via sperm or embryo donation had greater emotional over-involvement with their children. What does this mean and has it held up in other research?
      • The most striking comparison of research to me was the comparison of how children handled news of their donor conception when they were told young and more or less always knew vs. those who were told or accidentally discovered this information at an older age— an age where they remember being told.

Lesbian Moms and Gay Dads

      • Several ways same sex couple can become parents: adoption, sperm or egg donation, or sexual intercourse.
      • One of the concerns that have been raised is that children raised by same sex couples will have a harder time developing their sexual identity- especially if the child is not of the gender of both parents.
      • How does having same sex parents affect a child’s gender role behavior?
      • Another concern of some is that being raised by gays or lesbians makes it more likely that the child will be gay or lesbian.
      • In cases where donor gametes were used and one parent has a genetic connection to the child, do children favor or are closer to their biological parent than to non-biological parent?
      • Are children victimized because of their parent’s sexual orientation?


    • “Contrary to expectations, the new family forms of solo mother, same sex, and assisted reproduction families generally reflect a higher, rather than lower quality, of parenting than traditional families.” Why is this?

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Image Credit: Ashleigh W