Without fathers

// 20 May 2008

Really good little set of interviews in today’s Guardian, with lesbian couples and single mums raising kids without fathers. As well as clamping down on women’s right to abortion, amendments before the Commons today could see restrictions placed on the ability of single women and women in same-sex relationships to access IVF (more in the Guardian).

I like this quote from Briony Hanson:

Do I worry about them not having a male role model? I can honestly say I’ve never been less worried about anything in my life. We’re making a conscious decision to surround ourselves with as many different role models as possible: we don’t want our children to grow up in a lesbian-only community. We want them to be surrounded by as diverse a set of people as possible, and I think that will be good for their development.

And this one from Helen Churchill:

I went on a waiting list to have AID [artificial insemination by donor]. My flatmate moved out, and my partner and baby moved in. I didn’t worry about introducing male role models into Leah’s life. There are men in our family, such as grandfathers and uncles, who Leah is close to. But I didn’t feel I needed to orchestrate those relationships – I knew they would either develop or they wouldn’t.

As one of the many, many people raised primarily by women (my mum and then my aunt), I would just say that the argument that fathers are essential to producing functional adults is a blinkered one. It’s not the job of the state or the NHS to dictate what works and what doesn’t as a family configeration – the important thing is surely the presence of loving parental figure(s) and/or guardians, not their gender.

In fact, there’s plenty of pressure to do things the nuclear-family way already. It’s not like the whole of society isn’t set up to expect a mum, dad and 2.4 kids. I am trying to not get angry or offended, but it’s hard:

The bill currently being debated in parliament retains the requirement in the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act that fertility clinics take account of the “welfare of the [potential] child”, but replaces the requirement that they also consider a child’s “need for a father” with the phrase “supportive parenting”. The Conservative front bench is up in arms; the wording they would prefer, according to Andrew Lansley, the shadow health secretary, would be “supportive parenting and a father or a male role model”.

Up in arms?! Seriously?! It is deeply worrying to me that the Tory front bench – let’s face it, likely our next government – is actually angry at the thought of women making a conscious choice to have children, just because they don’t want or need a father figure in the picture. I read things like that, and I think, first of all – what business is it of theirs? And secondly – are these people completely lacking in empathy and human feeling?

Given that Lansley is a proponant of cutting the time limit on abortion, it’s interesting, isn’t it, that the same person can be happy to enforce unwanted children on mothers – regardless, presumably, of whether there’s a pater familias – but can’t bare the thought of women seeking invasive medical treatment just to they can bring a wanted, loved child into the world, just because those women don’t fit his retrograde ideas of what a family should look like.

Comments From You

Sonia // Posted 20 May 2008 at 1:28 pm

Fathers are more likely to abuse their children than mothers. ‘Having a male role model’ could mean having to watch a man beat up your mother. When parents divorce, fathers are more likely to bugger off and make little effort to see their children again. It baffles me that social conservatives are so much more up in arms about women choosing to have a much desired child, who will be deeply loved, than about these three things.

Lindsey // Posted 20 May 2008 at 1:36 pm

I think the ‘kids need fathers’ bandwagon started when the ‘kids need two parents’ campaign got subverted by increasing numbers of gay couples starting families.

Also: why are the tories so keen to get in people’s private business on this issue when they usually criticise labour for nannying the nation?

Mary Tracy9 // Posted 20 May 2008 at 1:49 pm

“are these people completely lacking in empathy and human feeling?”

Well… Yeah. They are Tories, after all.

anna rannva // Posted 20 May 2008 at 2:00 pm

my dad left my mum and i when i was 11, and i cant say that i turned into a rampant yob just because he was not around. my mum did a great job all on her own, and saying that fathers are super essential i dont think is true,just another way of restricting women’s choices in life. no one is addressing the fact that many fathers dont care enough about their kids and they never bother seeing them again, oh right, thats a MAN’S choice, lets not interfere with that then….

Dawn // Posted 20 May 2008 at 2:01 pm

Just as in the abortion debate, women’s voices have, on the whole, been silenced on this matter. I was raised by my lesbian grandmother and her partner and have done very well in life thus far, am confident and well-balanced, in my opinion. Whether your parents/care-givers love and support you is of far more importance and worth than their gender. Bloody Tories.

Marina // Posted 20 May 2008 at 2:01 pm

It is nothing to do with caring for children, but all about trying to take the power from women once again. Sounds like the fa*king church have just spent a lot of money on politicians.

Sarah // Posted 20 May 2008 at 2:27 pm

The thing is, the ideal of the ‘normal’ family with full-time working father, housewife mother and 2.4 children, this is really a fantasy. It’s not the reality for most people, and never really has been. There are some families that work on this model, sure, but there are so many other different types of family – single-parents, foster families with both long and short-term fostering, second marriages with step-children and half-brothers and sisters, adoption, grandparents caring for children etc etc.

Surely what matters is that the child is safe and loved and well cared for, far more than whatever gender or sexuality or family structure his/her parents happen to have. That should be the focus, not trying to legislate what a family ‘should’ look like, because that is impossible to do.

And even if it could be demonstrated that having a mother and father in ‘traditional style’ is better, all other things being equal (and this is highly doubtful), it would be meaningless, because in real life ‘all other things’ never are equal, every family’s situation is different and what works for one may not be right for the other. For example a lesbian woman partnered with a man for the sake of providing a ‘correct’ family environment would hardly be a recipe for stability and happiness! Much better for her and her child if she has the partner who is right for her. I’m rambling on a bit, but this really irritates me. Of course children’s welfare is incredibly important, however as long as that is not in doubt, then the other stuff is no one else’s business.

Anne Onne // Posted 20 May 2008 at 3:39 pm

I’m lucky enough to have grown up with two parents, but many people I know (of all ages) have had situations where for whatever reason they did not have parents. The nuclear family model is not the only one that can work (what about extended family? close family friends?), and having two living mixed sex parents in the same house in no way guarantees the happiness and stability of children’s lives. Real life throws many problems into our faces, and people cope as best they can, often raising children in extraordinary circumstances. Why then, should anybody else have their choices dictated by someone unconnected to them?

The Tories want to help kids? Stop harassing those that don’t have problems (or won’t), and spend that time and energy and money on the many that do need your help. Yes, there are a lot of children acting out, who need help and role models. But what are they doing to help them?

yeomanpip // Posted 20 May 2008 at 5:13 pm

In my case I am a single parent father to 3 girls, although only 1 left at home now ~sigh!~

And I have an oft difficult job telling my daughters that their mum does love them, because she hardly ever contacts them, but that’s another story (and No, I don’t blame her for the way things are, but just try convincing children…).

But I won’t deny that Sonia and others are wrong, I know I am a rarity.


My Mum and dad got divorced in the late 60’s, when divorce for the working class was more than frowned on, but before the divorce there were too many times that I heard my Dad shouting at my Mum, Too many times I came home to see my Mum sitting on the kitchen floor crying.

Some time later my Mum and 3 of her 4 sons (including me) moved to Plymouth, as she had a boyfriend there, when she got there the boyfriend who had promised her the world didn’t want to know, so mum lived as a single parent for quite a while.

But despite the 60’s and 70’s being thought of as a new era of love peace and harmony, that wasn’t the case, it was still a Patriarchy, The only change seemed to be the colourful clothes that were available.

So with that in mind Mum’s position wasn’t acceptable to society, she HAD TO find another man.

So Mum started dating someone, who again promised the world, and he seemed ok at the time, but it wasn’t long before I found myself, as a skinny 10 year old, helping to throw this big man out of our house, the more he hit my mum, the more I bit, kicked and stamped on him.

Since the 70’s there has been some change for the better, but not enough.

Because if there had been enough, we wouldn’t hear BS like this from the likes of Andrew Lansley.

Shea // Posted 20 May 2008 at 8:02 pm

I might be mistaken, but doesn’t their proposal only apply to females seeking assisted conception? Presumably a male homosexual couple would fulfil the need for a father and/or male role model (with the use of a surrogate)? Its interesting there is no stipulation for a female role model– because obviously that kind of altruism is just expected of women.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 20 May 2008 at 9:28 pm

It is not the gender of a parent or caregiver which is central but whether or not the person is able and willing to provide love, support and care to children. Claiming that all children and especially boy children need a ‘father’ in their lives is a patriarchal belief. The aim is of course, to once again reinstate the patriarch – one who is a male adult and who has power and control over ‘his’ (sic) family. Well, what about girl children don’t they all need a female role model? Not all girl children have a ‘mother’ in their lives but this does not mean they will become dysfunctional adults.

What about homosexual couples who adopt children, should there not be a ‘mother’ role model for these children? Of course not, but patriarchal ideology is seeking one thing only and that is the subordination of women to men and especially when it comes to raising children. Boy children learn how to enact so-called appropriate masculine behaviour not just from the male role models in their lives, but more importantly boys learn about masculine behaviour from their peers, school, relatives and society itself. This is why it is so difficult for parents who want their children to grow up without adhering to rigid gendered roles because these parents have to challenge dominant myths emanating from the media, children’s peers, family, friends and of course society.

BrevisMus // Posted 21 May 2008 at 1:38 pm

Shea wrote:

“Its interesting there is no stipulation for a female role model– because obviously that kind of altruism is just expected of women.”

There was – the old wording was to consider the need for “a mother or father”. There were two amendments going on, one to remove the need for “a mother or father” and one to add in “or a male role model” after the word “father”.


But yes, as far as I’m aware, there was never a plan to add in “or a female role model” (presumably because this situation did not apply to male gay couples and a surrogate).

jacky // Posted 21 May 2008 at 7:29 pm

As my friend Jane said when she was quoting Claire Raynor – parenting is something you do with your heart, not your genitals.

Kate Smurthwaite // Posted 6 June 2008 at 9:55 pm

Having grown up with an abusive father I have to say I would have been loads better off without him around.

Iona // Posted 23 December 2008 at 3:24 pm

I have been bought up by my mum and along with three younger sisters. My Dad has never been around and I have to say I think I have missed out. I think there is an important role for each gender to play, somethings things that only a man can give and others that only a woman can give…can you all honestly say you feel totally complete and that you don’t feel somewhere deep down inside that you may have missed out on something?

I’d be interested to hear what your answers are.

Jess McCabe // Posted 23 December 2008 at 8:13 pm

Iona – well, my parents split up when I was four, and my mum and aunt raised me, but my father was around. At least until I was about 13 and he moved to Japan… so I didn’t miss out entirely on having a father-figure about.

That said, I don’t really think that the important thing is to have a man around; I think it’s to have loving parents. And I don’t feel like I missed out on something particularly from not having a father around – I think I missed out when one of my parents moved half way around the world, and then failing to be there for me subsequently. But that was to do with him being a parent, not a male parent, and I don’t feel a sense of being incomplete!

I’d be interested to hear what you feel like you missed out on specifically, though?

Have Your say

To comment, you must be registered with The F-Word. Not a member? Register. Already a member? Use the sign in button below

Sign in to the F-Word

Further Reading

Has The F-Word whet your appetite? Check out our Resources section, for listings of feminist blogs, campaigns, feminist networks in the UK, mailing lists, international and national websites and charities of interest.

Write for us!

Got something to say? Something to review? News to discuss? Well we want to hear from you! Click here for more info

  • The F-Word on Twitter
  • The F-Word on Facebook
  • Our XML Feeds