Raising a child as a single parent may be stressful, but a study has found that a financially stable single mother and her kids have a greater social support network with brothers, sisters, parents, friends of neighbours than nuclear families.
Comparing the well-being of children growing up in single-mother-by-choice and heterosexual two-parent families, the researchers found no differences in terms of parent-child relationship or child development.
Investigator Mathilde Brewaeys from VU University Medical Centre, Amsterdam said that the children in both family types are doing well in terms of their well-being.
"Single-mothers-by-choice and their children benefit from a good social support network and this should be emphasised in the counselling of women who want to have and raise a child without a partner," Brewaeys added.
Fertility treatment of single women is now available in most European countries and is an increasingly popular procedure for single women who wish to become pregnant without a partner (ie, single mothers by choice).(1,2)
"The assumption that growing up in a family without a father is not good for the child is based mainly on research into children whose parents are divorced and who thus have experienced parental conflict," explained Ms Brewaeys.
"A strong social network is of crucial importance," said Ms Brewaeys. "So I would recommend that all women considering single motherhood by choice make sure of a strong social network - brothers, sisters, parents, friends of neighbours. And to never be afraid to ask for help."
However, it seems likely that any negative influence on child development depends more on a troubled parent-child relationship and not on the absence of a father, the researchers noted.
Single-mothers-by-choice knowingly make the decision to raise their child alone, in contrast to unintended single mothers.
They analysed 69 single-mothers-by-choice (who had knowingly chosen to raise their child alone) and 59 mothers from heterosexual two-parent families with a child between the ages of 1.5 and six years.
The parent-child relationships, mothers' social support network and children's well-being were compared.
Single-mothers-by-choice showed significantly higher scores on the social support they received, but also on wanting more social support.
Most women in her study were financially stable, had received a higher education and had meaningful partner relationships in the past.
The research would be presented at the 33rd Annual Meeting of ESHRE in Geneva.