Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Single Pregnancy Support

Posted By on August 19, 2010

Dear Ari:

If you are single, and you haven’t got a partner to support you through pregnancy, how easy is it to cope? How much support do you need from other people, e.g. family, neighbors, etc.?
— R. Jones

Dear R. Jones:

It is unclear from your query whether you are a single parent by choice or circumstance. It does sometimes happen that we didn’t intend on becoming pregnant, had a one-night stand, or possibly even a forced sexual situation, and find ourselves unexpectedly “with child.” Sometimes we intend on being pregnant, but don’t intend on being single, and suddenly a relationship ends six-months into a pregnancy. The truth is, any parent can become a single parent due to the untimely death of a spouse, a divorce, or abandonment. I often tell potential parents, that they should be clear that they can do it alone before they get started, because you never know what the future will bring. However, if you haven’t chosen to be a single parent, it can be quite a shock to realize and accept the situation. In addition to the daily needs of a child that requires tending, there is the grief and loss of coping with single parenting when it was not the plan.

However, more and more women are choosing to become single parents and actively pursuing pregnancy through donor insemination. Many men are also beginning to adopt as single parents. Those who plan to become single parents are, by and large, well-educated, somewhat financially-secure, independent people who are not waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right. Perhaps they would prefer to be in a successful, long-term relationship in which to begin their family, but they have clearly made the decision that they are not willing to wait for a partner to be a parent. Becoming a single parent by choice can give you plenty of opportunity to make arrangements for the care of your child, although as all parents find out, it doesn’t take much to upset the applecart. It is not a decision for the faint of heart, and many chose to forgo parenting entirely, because the thought of single parenting is simply too frightening.

Single parenting is no longer an unusual or aberrant lifestyle. Since 1970, the number of children living in a single parent family has doubled. In fact, statistics indicate that single parent families represent 30% of U.S. households.  Based on current trends, there are predictions that upwards of 70% of children born since 1980 will spend some time living in a single parent home before their eighteenth birthday. If you choose to become a single parent, you will not be alone. If you wind up becoming a single parent, there are others who have gone before you.

The one difference between single parents and those that have children in a committed couple relationship is that single people absolutely know that they need support in order to thrive as parents. Their support system might include their parents or siblings, close friends, or a tightly-woven network of day care providers, babysitters, and nannies. Sometimes single parents help support one another, sharing childcare and even eating together one night a week.  Since friends may or may not show up as they offered, it is crucial to make careful preparations if you plan to single parent. You will need back up plans, sitters you trust, and as many friends and family members as are offering to help. Single parents struggle with numerous issues including being the sole financial support of the family, having very little time for one’s self, and still needing to meet their own needs for intimacy and sexuality. Sometimes those who become the biggest helpers are not the people who you would’ve thought would be there for you. You may find your social circles dramatically shifting.

Ultimately, being a single parent means knowing in your bones that you are enough. Donald Winnicott spoke about the “good-enough” mother, meaning that although no parent is perfect, children do not actually need perfect parents. What they need are parents who are “good-enough,” who take care of them with love and tenderness, and respond to their basic needs for shelter, food, warmth, in addition to being present for their emotional needs. Not 100% of the time, and not always with four stars, but consistently as best as they can. Being a single parent means knowing that you can be enough for you child. And you can be, but paradoxically, you can’t do it by yourself.