A report this week on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight’ examined the rise of ‘co-parenting’. Rebekah Moffett, communications officer at Christian Concern, comments on the impact that ‘co-parenting’ could have on society.
The norm of the ‘nuclear family’ – father, mother, two children – has long been in decline. However, a report from BBC Radio 4’s ‘The World Tonight‘ has now highlighted a rise in people instead choosing to ‘co-parent’. The trend has been depicted in many a movie and TV series, where two adults decide to have a baby while simply ‘remaining friends’. Now it appears it has caught on in real life, with many people desperate to have children taking on parenting together, but without the supposed ‘hassle’ of being in a relationship.
What is co-parenting?
The trend of ‘co-parenting’ initially began among gay and lesbian couples wishing to have children more ‘naturally’, and allowing the biological father or mother to be involved in raising the child. However, ‘co-parenting’ is now on the rise among heterosexual pairs who are not in a romantic relationship but still want to bring up a child.
Despite there being no official figures that show how popular co-parenting is, it seems the trend has grown enough to warrant the creation of agencies that match prospective parents so that they can have children together without starting a relationship.
One such agency, The Stalk, is based in Central London. Founder and CEO, Fiona Thomas, explained why the trend is taking off among heterosexual couples: “Basically they’re in a rush, they’re under a time pressure, if you are a lady, in particular, who is 40, 41, 42.”
When asked about how these ‘couples’ might conceive, she said there were a variety of options: “you can have a child by IVF, you could use what’s called an IUI [Inter-Uterine Insemination] … and then of course, there is the traditional way, for both parties consenting, of course, to grit the teeth, have a bottle of champagne, and get on with it! Lots of couples who get together in the normal way do that anyway.”
The advent of cheap, reliable contraception once promised sex without babies. Now, co-parenting arrangements promise babies without love.
The idea behind co-parenting is one of a contractual agreement between two adults who remain unmarried, not in a relationship, and not necessarily even living together, choosing to have a child together, and both playing a part in the child’s upbringing.
Cathy Herbrand, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at De Montfort University, Leicester, has researched the growing trend. Speaking to the BBC, she said: “Co-parenting is becoming more frequent because of the current fragility of relationships and the difficulty to find a long-term partner. So in these circumstances, a number of women decide not to wait for the right partner, but to prioritise the desire to have a child and to separate this desire from their love relationship.”
When asked if this agreement was impersonal and transactional, Herbrand claimed that she had never be given that impression before, and that she more often witnessed “a lot of excitement between co-parents”. However, she did concede that it was a contractual agreement.
One single mother, Lucy, co-parents with her child’s father. They have never been in a relationship together but were introduced by a mutual friend to a man who also wanted a child but wasn’t interested in starting a relationship. She says that the set up “absolutely works” and that she “[doesn’t] regret it for one minute”.
Her reasoning for choosing to co-parent was to avoid the ‘inevitable’ breakdown of other relationships: “The amount of couples that have been married or had relationships, they’ve had children and then they’ve had disastrous break downs or splits, and then it’s just awful for the child to go through that, and I didn’t want to put my child through that.” Yet, to the outside world, it would be easy to mistake them for a family: “His father will come over, put him to bed, bath him, read him a night time story, anything a normal father would do.”
A flaw in the plan
Yet however much they may wish, it isn’t a ‘normal’ father-mother situation; the ‘normal’ way to parent is to begin with a loving, committed relationship and then go on to have children. Even the films and TV series have picked up on it – everyone wants to see the ‘happy ending’, so the couple predictably end up falling in love and having their ‘happily every after’.
Children are meant to be created in the context of a family, with two united, married (heterosexual) parents; this is how the Bible depicts marriage and family, as a reflection of how God created us to be his children.
It is in that context of loving commitment that God intended children to be raised. The relationship between mother and father models to the children what it is to love, trust, and care for another person.
The failure of other parenting models
This is not the picture of marriage and family that we are normally presented with in this day and age. As ‘co-parenting’ demonstrates, there are many other forms that family life now takes: single parents, divorced parents, same-sex parents. However, none of these models are the ideal environment for children because – as a result of tragedy or as a result of sin – they depart from God’s pattern for the upbringing of children.
According to research by the Marriage Foundation, “if trends remain as they are, any child born today in the UK has only a 50/50 chance of being with both their birth parents by the age of 15”. It has also been shown that family breakdown has a hugely detrimental effect on the mental health of young people and children. The biggest cause of family breakdown is ‘irreconcilable differences’ – in other words, a lack of mutual, unconditional love.
The failure of co-parenting
Co-parenting is, in part, an attempt to avoid the conflict that often leads to family breakdown, by avoiding the romantic element of a relationship.
But this does not remove many significant threats to providing a stable environment for children to grow up. What if one co-parent wants to move to another part of the country or abroad? What if there are parenting-style disagreements? What if there are financial pressures and one co-parent is no longer able to afford to support the child?
A committed, faithful marriage helps parents work through those problems. Co-parenting arrangements will not in any way help parents overcome these difficulties.
The Marriage Foundation continues: “Parents who are married before they have a child are far more likely to stay together”. The risk of not being in any sort of committed relationship to each other is that one party is free to walk away at any moment – contract or no contract. The distinct lack of unconditional, faithful love teaches children that they were simply created out of a selfish desire by one or both of their parents, and that they are only worth as much as their parents’ desire to have them. This is not unconditional love; it is cheap.