Co-parenting Part 1: finding your perfect partners
Many lesbians and gay men are attracted to the idea of co-parenting where, for example, a gay couple has a child with a single lesbian and they share the parenting between them.
There are several benefits to this arrangement. Aside from solving the problem of the missing sperm or eggs/uterus, the children can enjoy the experience of having both fathers and mothers in their lives. There is also the advantage of the parents having more support by sharing childcare, the decision-making and responsibilities of bringing up a child. You get time for yourself and/or your relationship whilst the kids are with their other parent(s) and the kids will benefit from having up to four loving parents and the grandparents and extended families that come with them. It’s a bit like families who have divorced and remarried, only without the trauma of unhappy relationships and messy split-ups. When it works, co-parenting is a great way to build a family.
How do you decide who you want to co-parent with?
You have three main options: friends, acquaintances or strangers met through advertising or matching services.
First and foremost you need to establish what your expectations are. What kind of a parenting split do you want to have? Will the child live with you full-time, live full-time with the other co-parent, or split their time between the two of you? Do you want to make all the parenting decisions or will it be a shared discussion? Who is going on the birth certificate as legal parents? If you are a lesbian couple in a civil partnership when you conceive (by artificial insemination) you are legally entitled to both go on the birth certificate, but if the father wishes to be recognised you need to discuss this between you and make a decision everyone is happy with.
All of this may change when you start discussing the arrangement with your potential co-parents but this information is invaluable when deciding who you choose to approach. If you have a friend already lined up you may find that they expect something different to what you have in mind.
Most co-parenting arrangements tend to be between friends. A strong relationship has already been established, you’ve seen each other through hard times, you know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, you like and trust each other. It’s a strong basis to build a family on, with more going for it than some heterosexual couples when they become parents.
Co-parenting with a friend or friends can be ideal, but there are drawbacks that need to be considered before you jump in.
Parenting is emotive; it will bring out strong opinions and expectations that can be quite unexpected. You may see a side to your friend you didn’t know existed. Or you may find your own needs and how you express them shocking; more than likely there will be disagreements, and you might even argue. The most harmonious of couples can end up at loggerheads when children come on the scene – imagine that with a mate.
Most friendships are based on the things you have in common. They rarely, if ever, stray into territory that causes disagreements. Parenting is very different and it’s for life. It will be like having a partner, but you won’t be able to walk away, and there will be times when you won’t be able to take a step back to cool off. Parenting with a friend or friends will totally change your relationship: hopefully it will evolve into something stronger, but sometimes this change can be an unexpected.
Parenting is intimate. You’ll be making decisions on the hoof and you’ll get to know each other right down to your personal habits. If your friendship works fine as it is, do you want to get this close? If you’re already in a relationship do you want another person in your life at this level?
Too many cooks?
If you’re in a relationship and you’re considering co-parenting together with a single friend or another couple, meeting the expectations of three or four people can be challenging. Something like deciding on your kid’s first haircut could be a nightmare…
You’ve heard that a friend of a friend is interested in co-parenting. You’ve met a few times, you like him (or her) and you’ve heard good things about them…
There are many pros to this set up. Firstly there is an element of trust: you may not know them that well personally but you know through your friend that he or she is ‘alright’. You also don’t have a relationship with it’s own dynamics that may muddy things – you’re starting from scratch, so you can clearly define your relationship based on parenting together. You don’t know that much about each other, which can be freeing; some friendships can hold you back because they’re based on your life in the past.
However, co-parenting with someone you hardly know should not be embarked upon without a lot of consideration and time together getting to know each other and discussing expectations and views first.
You’ve found someone by advertising locally, through your own networks or online through a matching, forum or social networking website. You’ve emailed and swapped photos, chatted at length on the phone and decided it’s time to meet…
Before we even start going into the pros and cons of this arrangement remember this is still a stranger – take all the necessary precautions when meeting them (ie take a friend or make sure someone close to you knows where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and arrange to meet in a public place.)
Co-parenting with a total stranger is a long shot that you need to treat with even more caution than with an acquaintance. Again you have the benefit of a totally clean slate but you also have to deal with the pitfalls of not knowing each other at all.
Before co-parenting you need to build a relationship, and we’re not talking about over a few months. You need to spend a year or two getting to know each other and discussing your histories and expectations. Meeting twice a month could feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface. If you’re able to, stay in each others’ houses, go on holidays together, meet each others’ friends and families and get to know each others’ work lives. Going on a team-building survival challenge could show how you might get on under pressure. Looking after a friend’s child together may also be helpful. Do anything you can to build a strong understanding of each other. The more experiences you share, the more of a measure you can get of each other and whether it’ll work.
Finding a co-parent can be a bit like finding a partner: you could meet someone, get on really well and get a strong feeling that you’re meant to do this together. But just like romantic relationships you can be swept away with emotions that later you may find don’t last or are not a strong basis for a relationship. It is equally heartbreaking if things don’t work out. However far better to realise things weren’t going to work before a baby is involved! Listen to all your instincts and feelings, not just the ones that sweep you away with excitement. Decisions need to be made with a considerable dose of caution - talk it through with loved ones who can be measured. Trust, honesty, open communication, the ability to argue, and common or complimentary values around parenting are all essential in building a strong co-parenting relationship.
Once you have found someone you want to co-parent with you need to discuss practical and financial logistics, who will be the legal parents and how to get pregnant. The websites and forums referred to in this article have helpful information on co-parenting, as do many legal firms specialising in alternative families.
These connect sperm and egg donors with recipients and people looking to co-parent. They work like dating websites – you join, post a profile, list your information and what you’re looking for. On some sites you can state whether you prefer artificial insemination (using a syringe) or natural insemination (sex) but for the lesbian and gay community artificial insemination is a given (we’ll cover more on the ‘how’ you get pregnant in future issues). Once you have joined the site you can browse its members. When you’ve found someone you like you message them through a secure system. Most sites are free to join, then charge a fee for messaging so you can see if there’s anyone suitable before you spend money.
Set up in the UK by two lesbian scientists, predominantly for the lesbian and gay community. They do not allow any members offering natural insemination or asking for money and you can report abusers. You buy credits – starting at £20 – to message others. These don’t run out so you are not limited to a specific time period. Over 18,000 members worldwide, numbers wishing to co-parent in the UK: 840 women, 529 men.
The first site of its kind set up in the UK. Free to join, list a profile and search for a match, then £6.60/month to message. All active members pay a fee to eradicate time wasters. You can block members you don’t wish to communicate with and report abuse. Over 15,000 UK members, 30% going into co-parenting arrangements.
Free to join, then £30 for 3 months to message other members. Around 16,000 members in UK.
Forums & social networks
You may find potential co-parents on online forums and free social networking websites. They may not be as detailed (there tends not to be an option to post pictures for a start) as website profiles and they will not be regulated so you need to be wary of time-wasters and people with other agendas. Check local and national LGBT forums for parenting threads.
1st of a two part article on co-parenting
Part 2 appears in issue 2, and covers logistics, legalities and contracts.
Written by Hannah latham
This article was printed in We Are Family magazine issue 1, Spring 2013. Details may have changed - please do not rely on this information solely when making decisions - do your own research, make your own checks and get legal or health advice as appropriate.