When he was in his 20s, Darren Spedale used to joke with his friends that if they made it to their 30s without finding partners, they’d pair up and have kids.
Ten years later, Spedale hit that target sans partner and child. Unfortunately, unlike in the movies, Spedale, who lives in New York, didn’t have any friends who were still in the same situation.
So he created a website for people looking for co-parenting partners: no dating, no romance and often no sex, even for conception purposes.
Family by Design, which launched in 2012, now has 30,000 active users and plenty of children (though they don’t track the number), all conceived by people who are together with for the sole purpose of making and raising children.
“I wanted to have a partner in terms of scheduling and time and financial sharing in a child’s life, and an emotional partner for the child’s life,” Spedale said. He found this arrangement via his own site, and is now co-parenting a 4 1/2-year-old daughter with a woman who had those same desires.
It’s a more modern version of a family, reflecting the declining marriage rates and the choice to live with a partner without making it official, says Spedale.
But removing romance completely out of the picture and mating with the sole intent to have and raise a child gets a little complicated.
When Lauren Brim, who holds a doctorate in human sexuality and is the author of “The New American Family,” wanted a child, she casually approached a friend.
“I was looking at sperm banks and thought, ‘I have to pay $500 for sperm? Maybe I could get sperm and child care for free — I know so many guys,’” Brim said. “I’ll just find a man who wants to be a father.”
Her friend agreed, and after months of chatting about the prospect, they had sex (“It was still a mystery to me that you could use a turkey baster,” Brim said). They now have a 3-year-old daughter.
Most of the time, the arrangement works well, though they’ve had power struggles over whether to give her sugar, when to start potty training and what school would be best.
Their daughter splits her time between her parents, changing homes every other night.
But the real issue came when Brim wanted to travel and her parenting partner wasn’t pleased. So for her next prospective co-parenting partner, she reached out to Modamily, another site with 25,000 registered members that introduces couples ready to have babies. She met a local man online and is currently trying to get pregnant with him through an at-home insemination kit.
“This time, he has all the things I was looking for before: The No. 1 thing would be that he would make a good father and he is a good provider,” Brim said. “But what was really important for me was also that he’d be really good to me.”
It’s not essential that two people be in love to be good parents, but they should love each other in a broader sense, said Santiago Delboy, a therapist in Chicago and founder of Fermata psychotherapy. “Love is the basis for mutual respect, curiosity, understanding, encouragement and support,” he said.
And while it may be possible that parents who are not in love with each other can offer a loving, nurturing and responsive relationship and environment to their child, children begin to internalize not only the individual parents, but the relationship the parents have with each other, Delboy said.
“Children are much more perceptive and receptive than adults give them credit for,” he said. “Even from a very early age, they are able to pick up the energy that exists at home, particularly between the two parents — whether it is love, enamorment, tension or disconnection.”
So growing up with parents who are not in love with each other might keep the child from the opportunity to experience what that looks and feels like, Delboy said.
Another issue: The parents are entering into a lifelong relationship by deciding to raise a child together, and they need to know each other beyond an interview or a few meetings. It’s important to gain understanding about motives, hopes and expectations.
“This self-awareness is important regardless of how we are thinking to have children, but it is especially important if we are considering nontraditional means,” Delboy said.
That’s why sites like Modamily and Family by Design recommend that co-parenting couples spend at least six months, if not a year, getting to know each other before getting pregnant.
Brendan Schulz, 46, of Toronto, logged on to Modamily after his five-year relationship ended 4 1/2 years ago. He realized that as a gay man, he’d have to take action to have a child.
Schulz was looking for a 50-50 situation, where they wouldn’t simply raise a child together: They’d create a family. He found this online and spent months ironing out an unofficial co-parenting agreement, though in Canada you can’t officially contract something that doesn’t exist yet.
The mutual agreement covered everything from the pregnancy (Schulz came to every doctor’s appointment, and he cut the umbilical cord post-birth) to parenting (all major events are shared, they spend ample time with extended family and they have an even split for everything else, living in separate homes just five minutes away from each other).
Co-parenting, Schulz said, has far exceeded his expectations.
“If I miss him on my days without him, I can drop by and see him. After he’s gone to sleep, I can call her and say, ‘Our maniac child just took forever to go to sleep, and she listens,’ ” Schulz said of his co-parenting partner. “I can’t imagine it a different way.”