While young children who grow up with single mothers have questions about the absence of their fathers, they tend to be well-adjusted and generally have positive feelings about family life, a new study has found.
UK researchers focused on children who had been conceived as a result of donor insemination, as the number of women choosing to start families in this way is on the increase. They looked at 51 single-mother families and compared them to 52 heterosexual two-parent families, with at least one child conceived though donor insemination. All of the children were aged between four and nine years.
This is the first study to look at child adjustment and children's perspectives in single-mother families at an age when children are old enough to understand their circumstances and what it means to grow up in a home without a father.
It is also the first study to examine children's own reports about their family experiences.
The mothers in both groups filled in questionnaires and underwent an interview, while 47 of the children within the single-mother families were also interviewed.
When assessing how children adjust to things, the study noted no significant difference between the two family types.
It found that single mothers reported that conversations about fathers were a prominent feature of family life. However, when the children were questioned about changing their family circumstances, almost four in 10 only wanted trivial changes to be made, while half said they did not want any changes made.
Most said they enjoyed school and all said they had at least one friend, while many had five or more friends. A majority said they had never been teased, while a minority said they had only experienced trivial teasing.
According to Dr Sophie Zadeh of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, donor-conceived children between the ages of four and nine who are living in single-mother families ‘seem to be doing well'.
She acknowledged that this may change over time and more research is needed to see how they feel about growing up without a father later on.
However, she said that in general, these findings suggest that ‘what matters most for children's outcomes in solo mother families is not the absence of a father, nor donor conception, but the quality of parenting, and positive parent-child relationships'.
Details of these findings were presented at the Annual Meeting of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Helsinki, Finland.
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