Who's your Daddy: Navigating donor questions as a single mom by choice

Single moms by choice share how they've handled questions about dads and donors. (Photo: Getty)
Single moms by choice share how they've handled questions about dads and donors. (Photo: Getty)

As a single mom by choice (SMBC), I’ve had quite a few conversations with friends, family members and acquaintances about my decision to start a family using a fertility center and sperm bank. But, I never thought about exactly how I would discuss the ‘dad’ topic with my daughter, assuming I would just be open and honest about using a sperm donor from the beginning. I’ve always known I wanted to be up front about my choice, to keep it from feeling like a secret or something to be ashamed about. However, while it sounds simple in my head, explaining conception to a young child can get messy without a little forethought. So, I’ve asked other SMBCs how they are navigating the subject of their donor in age-appropriate ways as their kids grow up.

Traci S. Williams is a SMBC and a board-certified psychologist who advises introducing the topic early in childhood.

"Young children begin to understand the concept of gender, moms and dads around 2 to 3 years old," she explains. "Children’s books are a great way to introduce tricky topics. You can snuggle up with your little one, read the story and compare the characters to those in your family.”

Mimi, the Solo Magician Mom, and Cameron: A Donor Conception Story is one of those children’s books, Its author (and fellow SMBC) Melissa Macdonald says meeting other SMBCs in online groups inspired her to write the book.

“I learned so much from the women in these groups," Macdonald shares. "I was truly inspired by their perseverance and strength and how careful most of them are to do the right thing when it comes to raising a child alone and being transparent. People are often looking for resources, and I thought one more resource to help women with this conversation could help.”

"I wanted my daughter to feel confident and equipped to answer those questions without feeling shame or feeling less-than," one single mom by choice says. (Photo: Getty)
"I wanted my daughter to feel confident and equipped to answer those questions without feeling shame or feeling less-than," one single mom by choice says. (Photo: Getty)

Arlett R. Hartie created her own resource, a song, to share with her two children, both of whom she had as a SMBC.

“When my son was a baby I made a song that I still sing to him. It starts: 'This is the story of [baby’s name] and how you came to be.' I would sing it and be really playful," she says.

Hartie has sung the song to her children since they were born, being intentional about how early she began communicating their story.

"I did a lot of research before I decided to become a SMBC — I think most of us don’t do this on a whim — and the research I’ve found was that children of donors who are the most well-adjusted as adults are those that know their origin story from the beginning," she says.

Crystal King, a SMBC to kids aged 2 and 5, first discussed the topic with her oldest when she was 3 years old. Since her daughter was getting a sibling, King felt like it was an ideal time to talk about family structure.

“I started occasionally reading books to her about different types of families: two moms, two dads, one mom, one dad, etc.," King tells Yahoo Life. "The result is raising kids who don’t blink an eye when they have friends whose family structures are different than their own.”

King’s daughter has even been able to successfully navigate questions from her peers.

“I wanted my oldest to know as much as possible by the time she entered kindergarten because I knew that kids, parents and teachers always innocently ask about moms and dads in natural conversation," she says. "I wanted my daughter to feel confident and equipped to answer those questions without feeling shame or feeling less-than.”

Her approach worked. “By age 4, I had observed my daughter answering questions her friends would ask on play dates, the most common one being, ‘Do you have a dad?’ She would say, ‘No, I don’t have a dad’ and then the conversation would naturally move to another topic.”

Adds King, “I’m an open book when it comes to how my kids came to be, because without my donor I wouldn’t have been able to achieve my dream of being a mother.”

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