Donor-conceived children born to single women are equally well adjusted as those from two-parent donor-conceived families, according to a recent UK study examining the views of single mothers and children aged between four and nine years old.

‘At an age at which children begin to understand their family circumstances, they continue to function well,’ said researcher Dr Sophie Zadeh of the Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge.

The study, recently presented at the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology annual meeting in Helsinki, Finland, compared 51 single-mother families with 52 heterosexual two-parent families with at least one donor-conceived child.

Results of questionnaires given to mothers on child adjustment and parenting stress showed no significant difference in the total scores for child adjustment between the two family types. However, higher levels of financial difficulties and parenting stress within single-mother families were associated with greater likelihood of child adjustment problems.

In the single-mother family group, mothers were also asked about their child’s feelings on the absence of a father. They reported that conversation about fathers was a prominent feature of daily family life, with some children initiating the conversation from as young as three. Most also reported that their children had neutral (39 percent) or mixed (28 percent) feelings about father absence. Only eight percent reported negative feelings.

Forty-seven children from the single-parent families were also asked about their social and family lives. The majority expressed a desire for either no change (51 percent) or for only trivial changes (38 percent) to their current family structure. Almost 60 percent of the children also reported a high or very high level of enjoyment in school, and most had either never been teased at school or had only experienced trivial teasing. All children reported having at least one friend, and just over half reported having five or more friends.

‘In general, our findings seem to 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,’ said Dr Zadeh. ‘These findings therefore echo much of what we already know about the determinants of children’s psychological adjustment in other family types.’

Dr Zadeh also stated that further research examining children’s perspectives will be needed as they grow up. ‘We don’t yet know how these children will fare over time, or what they will think and feel about being donor-conceived and/or growing up without a father in the home as they grow older,’ she said.

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