New law says platonic friends can be parents

Both my mums: Natasha Bakht and Lynda Collins fought a legal battle for two years.

This Sunday is Mother’s Day in the UK. Now two Canadian women have become “co-parents” to a disabled boy, despite not being in a relationship. Could friends make better parents than lovers?

Elaan was born seven years ago. At first he seemed healthy. But soon doctors realised parts of his brain were dead. Elaan had spastic quadriplegia: a form of cerebral palsy which denied him the use of parts of his body.

He was later diagnosed with asthma and epilepsy. His disabilities presented his single mother Natasha Bakht with a challenge — and her friend, Lynda Collins, offered her some help with parenting duties.

“I was just over here a lot, day in, day out,” she recalls. “What we found is that we were really happy parenting together.” The pair decided to try to become “co-mommas”.

Lynda was not legally allowed to become Elaan’s second mother as she was not in a “conjugal relationship” with Natasha. But now they have successfully won the legal right to parent him together.

It is the first time in Canadian history that two people who have never been romantically involved have been legally recognised as parents. “We’re very excited and open to the possibility of the family growing,” Natasha said this week.

This is just one form of platonic parenting: bringing up a child between friends, rather than as a loving couple. Other couples who are not in romantic relationships have used artificial insemination to have children together. Parents whose relationships have failed have also continued to live together with their children.

The idea has spawned several popular websites where people can meet platonic partners. But it has also created a series of legal quandaries and new challenges, for example over living arrangements and financial support.

Platonic parenting is just the latest change to the traditional family. Gay marriage is now legal in 23 countries. Increasing numbers of women are choosing to become single mothers. And polls suggest most young people regard good parenting as more important than successful marriages.

So could friends make better parents than partners?

Platonic justice?

Absolutely, say advocates. Society should support anyone willing to take responsibility for a child. Friends can rationally divide child-rearing duties and plan for the future. They can put a child’s interests first, free of the inevitable arguments and emotional turmoil which romantic relationships bring. And children need not see their parents get divorced.

Nonsense, say traditionalists. Friendship is shallower than love: parents are better equipped to form a meaningful bond with their children if they do so with each other first. Platonic parenting risks confusing children by raising them in two different worlds. Their parents’ lovers could pose a particular difficulty. And children benefit from witnessing a healthy loving relationship between committed adults.

You Decide

  1. Would you consider becoming a platonic parent?
  2. Will friends make better parents than lovers?

Activities

  1. You have fast forwarded to the year 2067. Write down ten questions you would like to ask people about child-rearing and parenting.
  2. Research and write a two-page essay plan under the following title: “The traditional family has made the world a better place. Discuss.”

Some People Say...

“Love does more harm than good.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Platonic parenting is becoming more of a trend. Canada has given legal recognition to people who want to bring up children together without entering a romantic relationship. And websites which match people for co-parenting are doing a very good trade in many countries.
What do we not know?
Whether other countries will follow Canada’s lead, or whether there will be further changes to the traditional family.
What do people believe?
In the West, marriage is in decline. Women’s expanding rights have enabled more of them to enter the workplace. More children now live with single parents or grandparents than they used to. Many think these trends will roughly continue. Perhaps there could be other changes too: for example, could families have more than two parents?

Word Watch

Cerebral palsy
An umbrella term for several conditions which affect the area of the brain that controls muscles. About one in 400 children born alive has cerebral palsy, according to the NHS.
Artificial insemination
A technique of inserting sperm directly into a woman’s womb, used to help couples to have a baby when they are unable to do so naturally.
Websites
For example Modamily, which was founded in 2012 to help match people interested in co-parenting, has 20,000 members worldwide.
Legal
In the USA, laws on platonic parenting vary between states. In the UK, there are several legal oddities. For example a child’s father has no rights over the child if it is conceived through artificial insemination carried out through the NHS or in a privately licensed clinic. But he does have rights if a home insemination kit is used.
Choosing
Women can freeze their eggs, use sperm donors or adopt children.
Polls
In 2012 Pew found that 52% of American millennials considered being a good parent was one of the most important things in life; just 30% said the same about having a successful marriage.

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