Life as a parent

Here's How to Tell the World that You're a Solo Mum

You might already know how to talk to your child about being donor-conceived, but how do you speak to strangers and colleagues about it? Psychologist Henriette Cranil gives you her best advice for the conversations to come.

April 03, 2020
9 min. read
Helle Tyllesen

Having a baby on your own is a decision that usually comes with a range of questions from the people around you.

Some questions have answers. In other cases, you might still be looking for the right response. That’s why opening up to a broader circle of people can be overwhelming, Henriette Cranil says. Cranil is a psychologist specialized in counselling women and couples on donor-assisted conception – and the mother of a pair of donor-conceived twins herself.

“Many single mothers by choice fear that they’ll be met with prejudice or presumptions when going public with their decision. The majority of these women still dream about a two-parent family, but they haven’t found the right partner and their biological clock is ticking. I still haven’t met a single mother by choice that felt like the decision was purely positive.”

Fortunately, with some preparation, you can ensure that your child’s unconventional family story is a non-issue.


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1. Be as open as possible – to as many as possible

When telling others about your decision, try being as straightforward as possible. Tell the person that you’ve used a sperm donor to have a child and explain the positive as well as negative sides of your story. Secrecy only makes it more difficult for you, your child and the next generation of donor-conceived children, Henriette Cranil advises.

It might also be useful to tell your colleagues as you’ll need some flexibility in your work schedule as an only parent

“I advocate openness all around. I know that some people are more private than others but try to be as honest as possible to the people around you. Share your knowledge and your feelings to make sure that no one passes something on to your child that you’re not OK with.”

This honesty applies to strangers as well as people close to your child like teachers and caretakers. Parents to your child’s friends might need to explain it to their children, so include them too. “It might also be useful to tell your colleagues as you’ll need some flexibility in your work schedule as an only parent,” Cranil adds.

2. Accept – and allow – critical questions

How can you let your child grow up without a father? Isn’t having a child on your own a selfish decision?

When opening up about your situation, you also invite potential scrutiny. The outside world can be quick to judge single women who choose to have a donor-conceived child. Some people will likely voice their views on the matter without you having asked for their opinion. That’s a challenging situation, but we need to find a way to co-exist with people who possess different beliefs than ourselves. That goes for all matters of life, and this case is no different, Henriette Cranil says.

Try to rehearse your answers in advance and find someone to test your arguments on. Also, consider the fact that complete honesty can be a good defence against critics.

”Try articulating the positive and negative aspects when talking to someone with critical views. Then see if that prompts a more nuanced discussion. Tell them that you don’t know if your child will need a father, but that you’ll talk to him or her about it and explain your decision. Most critics will be impressed if you show that you’ve thought about your child’s well-being in every way – including the negative ones.”

3. Think about what’s best for your child in the long run

Ultimately, telling people about your choice to be a solo mum is all about taking care of your child. Donor-conceived children will encounter situations throughout their lives where people will question their heritage. By preparing people and doing your bit towards breaking the taboo, you’re making things easier for your child.

For that reason, whenever you want to keep your family situation a secret, think about why. Is it because of your insecurities or for the sake of your child?

Start with your family and close friends. Help them understand and equip them with the story and arguments that you want your child to grow up hearing. Keep them updated along the way. That way, you reduce the risk of your child feeling misunderstood or wrong. If a child grows up thinking that parts of his or her background are not to be talked about, they can internalise that sense of wrongness or shame. So it’s important to make sure that your child feels that it’s OK to discuss everything.

“If you opt for openness, your child will be able to seek guidance from other people than you when he or she is old enough to question their heritage. That way, you leave room for another person to fill in as an important figurre in your child’s life,” Henriette Cranil says.

4. Turn the level of honesty up and down

Random people that you meet on holiday, business partners or the cashier at your local supermarket. As much as you should be open to people around you, not everyone needs to know everything.

There’s nothing wrong with sharing very little information or giving vague answers sometimes.

Turn down the information level in situations where you don’t want it to be the narrative that defines you or when you’re simply not interested in talking about your personal life choices, Henriette Cranil advises.

“There’s nothing wrong with sharing very little information or giving vague answers sometimes. It doesn’t mean that your child’s heritage is a secret”, she says.

5. Work on your insecurities

For some women, the choice of having a child on their own balances between deep desire and last-call, so some mothers feel ambivalent and perhaps a bit embarrassed about their decision. That’s perfectly okay. But as a mother, think carefully about addressing your insecurities in order to never pass them on to your child, Henriette Cranil says.

For that reason, Cranil advises that you examine your motives if you’re not honest in some situations. Make sure that embarrassment is never the reason not to be open.

“When discussing the topic, try to offer nuanced opinions instead of defending your decision with everything you’ve got. Take responsibility for your choice and remember that it’s okay if your decision comes with both good and bad sides.”

If you need support, you can join networks with other single mothers by choice where you can share your thoughts and test your arguments.

6. Start the conversation and assume the best

As a single mother by choice, you’ll face questions that two-parent families never encounter. But more often than not, you may get no questions at all. Or you’ll find people awkwardly skirting the topic or fumbling mid-sentence.

Take responsibility for the situation and don’t be afraid to start the conversation. In many cases, people stay quiet because they’re scared of putting you or themselves in an awkward position. They might lack vocabulary – for instance, do you say donor child, donor-conceived or something completely different – and they don’t want to seem rude.

Starting the conversation puts you in control of where the dialogue is moving. And by talking openly about your family, you provide people with the language that they might be lacking. You’re also signalling to them that it’s okay to ask questions. Ultimately, your courage and openness pave the way for an easier life for your child and children to come.


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