Several years ago, my fortieth birthday fast approaching, I forced myself to ask whether I wanted to have a kid even though I didn’t yet have a partner. I knew my fertility window was closing and Mr. Right was decidedly absent. But I worried about whether I would be happy as a single mom.
And so, I made the anguished choice of having a baby without a partner, via sperm donor. In making the decision, I felt I was giving up on half the dream. I beat myself up at failing at an aspect of life so prized by society–partnership.
Until recently, it’s been the norm for women to marry –remaining single, especially as a woman, has been seen as undesirable and to be avoided all costs. Kate Bolick, author of Spinster: The Making of One’s Life states “The single woman is nearly always considered an anomaly, an aberration from the social order.” On top of that, single moms are regularly blamed for many of society’s problems, seen as drains on society.
I was told by my parents over and over again that I needed to get married. I remember them breathing a sigh of relief when my sister got married. They explained that they felt she was now adequately taken care of. They could relax a little.
But despite the messages many of us received growing up, a recent Pew Research Center survey found that the public is less convinced that marriage and family are the highest priority for society. When Survey respondents were asked which of the following statements came closer to their own views: 46% of adults chose “Society is better off if people make marriage and having children a priority,” while 50% chose “society is just as well off if people have priorities other than marriage and children.” And, if you look at people aged 18 to 29 the number of people who believe society is better off when people have priorities other than marriage and kids that number skyrockets to (67%).
In fact, most of today’s Americans believe that educational and economic accomplishments are extremely important milestones of adulthood. In contrast, marriage and parenthood rank low: over half of Americans believe that marrying and having children are not very important in order to become an adult.
So, even though the negative commentary about single moms is still prevalent, in fact, my choice to pursue a career as a lawyer, put off partnership and eventually have a baby alone is not so strange or detrimental. In fact, it might just be the smarter choice.
Single Moms Are Getting Older
As the rate of single motherhood has fallen in recent years, the only demographic that has had an increased rate of single motherhood is that of older women.
The birth rate for unmarried mothers peaked in 2008 and then began to decline leading to a 14 percent drop by 2013. In general, Nonmarital birth rates have fallen in all age groups under 35 since 2007, while at the same time non marital rates increased for women aged 35 and over. In fact since 2002, there’s been a 48% jump in births to unmarried women aged 35-39 (2007-12) and a 29% jump in births to unmarried moms aged 40-44.
It’s presumed that many of these older women having babies are doing so by choice. “I don’t think people realize that there are a lot of older women now who are having babies deliberately, single mothers by choice,” said Isabel Sawhill, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and author of “Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage.”
There’s a case for having children older. Many studies support the benefits of older motherhood. One such study showed the children of older mothers also had fewer behavioral, social and emotional problems than kids of younger mothers. Other studies showed that older mothers lived longer and had taller, smarter kids.
Kids Need A Stable Loving Parent More Than Any Particular Family Structure
A study comparing the well-being of children growing up in single-mother-by-choice and heterosexual two-parent families found no differences in terms of parent-child relationship or child development. The key difference between a child who struggled with behavioral issues as a teenager and those who did not was the presence of one-stable loving parent.
Professor Golombok, a Cambridge University Professor who has pioneered research on single moms by choice has said: “Whether children have one parent or two, whether their parents are male or female, whether their parents are of the same sex or the opposite sex, whether they have a genetic or gestational link to their parents, and whether they have been conceived naturally or through assisted reproduction, seem to matter less for children than does the quality of family relationships, the support of their community and the prevailing attitudes of the society in which they live.”
Marriage Doesn’t Increase Self-Esteem, Sex Life or Health
And, although many tout relationships as the key to happiness, research shows that being in a relationship doesn’t create higher self-esteem. A recent study found that people who married enjoyed no better self-esteem than those who stayed in romantic relationships without tying the knot.
It’s even true that single people have more sex than married adults. And, despite the long-standing belief that those who marry are healthier, new studies show single adults to be healthier. Women who married gained more weight and drank more than those who stayed single.
Many women decide to parent on their own, as a last resort–a Plan B. Yet, not only is it a growing trend — 2017 Census data, a record number of adults in the U.S. remained unmarried –that’s more than 45% of all people 18 years and older, but there’s much to support it being a happier, healthier choice.
While, I love having science to back me up, I can also say that having a baby without a partner is the single greatest decision I ever made. It felt devastating to give up the white picket fence and the dreamy husband, now I wouldn’t do it any other way. I never have to debate child-rearing techniques or suffer through a painful custody battle. And even though it’s really exhausting to have all aspects of parenting fall to me, there’s a peace that comes from knowing I’m on deck.
My wish– that other women consider solo parenting as a legitimate choice to make–a first choice they can make with pride–not one that’s seen as second best. Science thinks it’s a great idea — so should you!
Here’s a graphic to boil it all down.