When Harry Didn’t Meet Sally, She Came In for Counseling

Will your child suffer if you choose to be a single mother? And is it socially acceptable? Questions that many women have to grapple with their biological clocks wind down.

Meet Sally: In her mid-30s, well-educated, financially stable and single, or as she put it “Single with a capitol S.”  Sally had been in a few longterm relationships in the past but found herself still waiting for Mr Right.

She confided in me that while on the look out for her ideal mate, she noticed that she was becoming increasing distracted by the ticking of “Big Ben.” She was of course referring to her biological clock. Apparently, it ticked extremely loudly at weddings, baby showers and other social events. 

It was that distraction that led her to my office.

“OK, I’m single and want a child. I know this sort of defies the conventional idea of what a family should look like, but what can I do? I can’t wait for Mr. Right forever. I know I don’t want casual sex to have a baby and so, I am looking into donor sperm. I’m really worried about that, though. I mean, how will others look at me?  And will the child suffer in any way because of my decision?”

Sally is not alone in her fears. Many women who decide to travel this path (which is the one less travelled) have to face these questions.

Sally and I really focused on was the social stigma of what it means to be a single mother, particularly a single mother by choice

Does social stigma exist? Yes, absolutely it does. Maybe not from your friends or family, but in society at large — yes, both covertly and overtly.

Although we know that the traditional family need not consist of 2.5 children with a mother and father at the head of the helm (think Modern Family or 2-1/2 Men), society in general still has the picture that a family constellation usually consists of opposite sex, married parents with child/ children (plus dog).

As Sally allowed that reality to sink in, courage replaced doubt and she was able to ask herself two important questions:

  • Will I deny myself the opportunity to experience motherhood because of it? 
  • How much will I allow others to dictate how I should feel and what I should do?

The fact is, as daunting as single parenting is, many women contemplate this path making this choice more and more viable, with more and more resources for single mothers, including sites such as Single Mothers by Choice., Single Mothers and Choosing Single Motherhood.

As for Sally’s next question: If her child would be damaged or suffer by only having one parent and was her decision a selfish one?

Fortunately we could rely on some research to help her; studies have shown that there is no significant difference between women who are single mothers by choice- using donor sperm and married mothers using donor sperm with respect to depression and anxiety effects on the child.

In fact, the children of single mothers by choice were shown to have fewer emotional and behavioral problems than their counterparts [1]. In other words, because having a baby this way is a conscious decision, the attachment and bonding between mother and child is strong and healthy.

Sally breathed a visible sigh of relief when she heard this.

I encourage single women who are contemplating becoming mothers to gather their ‘band of merry women’ for support, join an online forum, talk through why they want to do this and get their questions answered. Most of the answers are out there.


[1] Murray, C., & Golombok, S. (2005). Solo mothers and their donor insemination infants: follow-up at age 2. Human Reproduction 20: 1655-1660.

Fenella Das Gupta is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist ( #47275) working in Northern California, specializing in fertility counseling. She works with individuals and couples as they make their way through the fertility maze.

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Joe Manthey July 11, 2012 at 09:30 PM
http://www.familyfacts.org/briefs/6/benefits-of-family-for-children-and-adults BENEFITS OF FAMILY FOR CHILDREN AND ADULTS ◦Intact families are more likely to provide a safe home for children. Compared to peers in intact families, children in other family structures experienced significantly higher rates of exposure to domestic violence. While 9.9 percent of adolescents not living with both biological parents reported witnessing violence in their homes, only 4.4 percent of those living with both biological parents reported the same. In addition, 6.9 percent of adolescents not living with both biological parents reported that they had been the direct victims of domestic violence, compared to 3.5 percent of those living with both biological parents. Finally, 11.5 percent of adolescents who did not live with both parents reported that they had both witnessed and been the victims of violence in their homes—twice the percentage (5.8 percent) of peers living with both biological parents.7 7.Melinda Yexley, Iris Borowsky and Marjorie Ireland, “Correlation Between Different Experiences of Intrafamilial Physical Violence and Violent Adolescent Behavior,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 17 (2002): 707-720. (Cont.)
Joe Manthey July 11, 2012 at 09:35 PM
◦Married mothers tend to create a better home environment for their infants. Married mothers also tended to interact more positively with their infants compared to cohabiting or single mothers.8 ◦Married mothers are less likely to experience abuse and violence. Even when the very high rates of abuse of separated and divorced mothers were added into the statistic, the rates of abuse among mothers who had ever been married were still lower than the rates of abuse among women who had never married and those who were cohabiting. Among mothers who were currently married or had ever been married, the rate of abuse was 38.5 per 1,000 mothers. Among mothers who have never been married the rate was 81 per 1,000 mothers.9 8.Stacy R. Aronson and Aletha C. Huston, “The Mother-Infant Relationship in Single, Cohabiting, and Married Families: A Case for Marriage?” Journal of Family Psychology 18, No. 1 (2004): 5-18. 9.Robert E. Rector , Patrick F. Fagan, and Kirk A. Johnson, “Marriage: Still the Safest Place for Women and Children"
Joe Manthey July 11, 2012 at 10:08 PM
http://www.fatherhood.org/media/consequences-of-father-absence-statistics Father Factor in Child Abuse Compared to living with both parents, living in a single-parent home doubles the risk that a child will suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect. Source: America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. Table SPECIAL1. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1997. The overall rate of child abuse and neglect in single-parent households is 27.3 children per 1,000, whereas the rate of overall maltreatment in two-parent households is 15.5 per 1,000. Source: America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being. Table SPECIAL1. Washington, D.C.: Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics, 1997. (Cont.)
Joe Manthey July 11, 2012 at 10:09 PM
An analysis of child abuse cases in a nationally representative sample of 42 counties found that children from single-parent families are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than children who live with both biological parents. Compared to their peers living with both parents, children in single parent homes had: a 77% greater risk of being physically abused an 87% greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect a 165% greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect a 74% greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect an 80% greater risk of suffering serious injury as a result of abuse overall, a 120% greater risk of being endangered by some type of child abuse. Source: Sedlak, Andrea J. and Diane D. Broadhurst. The Third National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect: Final Report. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect. Washington, D.C., September 1996.
Andy Man July 11, 2012 at 10:44 PM
The comment I would like to make here would be a personal one. If I had lacked a father, I would have been dead by my 20s due to alcohol, self-harm/suicide etc. Having a father gave helped me to define who I wanted to be and gave me a stablizing influence. No woman will ever understand that as far as I can see.


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