I'm 30 years old, and some day, I'd like to have a family. I'm currently single and have been for several years.
But I'm not worried. Evolving attitudes toward love and marriage have armed me with options. I can focus on my career over romance; marry or remain single; be with a man or a woman. I can have sex without love, love without sex, and I can prevent pregnancy until I'm ready.
These options are liberating. But like most 30-something single women, I'm often reminded that they could be limiting, too.
Millennials like myself are staying single for longer. And millennial women are giving birth at the slowest rate of any US generation. We've still got time, and some of us are left straddling the divide between traditional desires and modern convictions. What if you don't want to be in a traditional relationship, or simply don't find one, but you still want to be a parent?
Co-parenting is a term most often applied to couples who have kids and continue to parent amicably, post-breakup. But another definition of co-parenting makes romance obsolete from the start. Also known as "platonic parenting," this arrangement involves two or more people who join forces for the sole reason of having and raising a child.
This can include a gay couple and a woman who joins them in a threesome of parenting. Or two friends who become parents together. The possible makeups of co-parenting relationships are endless, and they're contributing to a growing number of representations of what family can look like.
At 31, Lauren Brim's life in Los Angeles was almost everything she'd ever wanted. "I was working for myself and making art," she told me. "I had great friends."
But she wanted to be a mom. Lauren tried everything – from relationship seminars to hypnosis – in her quest to secure that missing piece. "It finally struck me – why do I have to wait for a man to decide he wants to marry me and have kids?"
Brim's friend and fellow ballet dancer had also expressed a desire for children. So she approached him about possibly having a child together. After months of conversation about everything from spirituality to schooling and medical care, the two straight friends decided to parent together, with the understanding that they would not be a romantic couple.
Their daughter, Svea, is now 20 months old, and Brim has since published a book that explores her path to motherhood, along with other nontraditional families.
Brim admits that she had reservations about this unconventional parenting arrangement before giving birth. Would her decision to have a baby prevent men from wanting to be with her in the future?
She discovered the opposite. "I dated a lot while I was pregnant!" she says, laughing. "There's this myth that life is going to stop for women when they have a baby." But she hasn't found that to be true. Brim is now dating a man whom she's been with for eight months.
But what if you don't have a ready and willing co-parent in your life? Tatijana Busic, a 35-year-old single mom, wanted a second child and didn't feel like she had a lot of time to spare. So she logged on to the co-parenting website Modamily and met Brendan Schulz, a 44-year-old gay man who was also looking for a partner in parenting.
Modamily allows people to create profiles and meet compatible strangers, much like Match.com or OkCupid. Since launching in 2012, Modamily, the first North American-based website for co-parenting, has led to at least 50 babies. Other options include Coparents and Family by Design.
Ivan Fatovic, founder of Modamily, recognized a need for family-making options when many of his female friends in their late 30s to early 40s were growing frustrated with online dating. They were ready to settle down, but apps involved too many first dates and casual expectations. One friend had a tendency to drink a couple of cocktails and then tell men that she wanted three children in the next five years.
"That's not exactly what most guys at a bar want to hear," Fatovic said.
He created Modamily to provide men and women more options when it comes to creating a family. Users can specify their preference in a variety of parenting agreements, from 50/50 partnerships to anonymous sperm donors. They answer questions about parenting styles and family values and are provided with matches. Although co-parenting was once dominated by the LGBTQ community, various combinations of genders and orientations are now using sites like this one.
Platonic parenting can be complicated. A living situation and financial commitments must be negotiated. And there's a lot of gray area when it comes to the legal rights of a co-parent, especially if there are more than two. Coparents.com encourages individuals to seek legal counsel before entering a platonic parenting relationship.
Schulz and Busic have a written agreement that outlines a pretty even split on finances and time spent with Milo. But it's not legally binding. Schulz points out that trust is required of any committed relationship. Perhaps the biggest difference is that co-parenting encourages the type of conversation that romantic relationships often skip.
It can take a long time for the topic of parenting to feel like appropriate territory with a romantic partner. The casual nature of the online dating sites so many of us depend on can lead to poor communication. The prevailing attitude is: Go with the flow. Be chill. Don't get too serious or you'll scare him away!
But if you're on a site like Modamily or Coparents.com, you don't have to wait until beer three of date seven to ask someone if they want kids and how many. You can do it in the first few minutes.
Co-parenting is still outside the mainstream; there are just a handful of websites offering online access to potential co-parenting partners. A big hurdle for those partaking in this adventure is sharing it with their family and friends. And the stigma might fall hardest on women.
"It's expected that LGBTQ folks will have to follow a less traditional path for having children," Busic notes. "But for a single, straight woman – I had to have my own kind of coming out."
People wanted to know – was she giving up on love?
"I haven't given up on anything, " she insists. "I've taken my family planning into my own hands."
Brim also faced some painful pushback on her decision to co-parent, specifically from her father. "I thought he'd be happy for me," she recalls of making that phone call to share her decision. "He knows how hard I've worked at relationships, and that it just hasn't happened for me."
Brim's father was not supportive at first. "But since Svea was born, he's come around," she told me. "Now he adores his granddaughter."
Despite the rising roar of feminism in recent years, narrow ideas about women's role in society persist. Marriage can still seem like the most validating moment in a woman's life. People rarely gush with congratulations for a single woman's home purchase or work promotion as much as they do for a single woman who found someone to put a ring on her finger.
And what about the kids? Do children face confusion and conflict if their parents have never been a romantic couple?
Fatovic explains that co-parenting is like skipping straight to divorce, without the trauma of Mom and Dad falling out of love. Families are always going to be messy, but in the case of platonic co-parenting, people can plan for that from the start. No one is distracted by the fairy-tale sheen of happily ever after.
Busic and Schulz joke that they're not allowed to fall in love with new people until Milo is at least a year old. But neither of them really has the time. They're raising a child, and Busic has a daughter from a previous marriage. At the moment, dating feels like an unnecessary distraction.
"We've created something that's so full of love, so wholesome," Busic says.
"I had hoped for a strong friendship" with Busic, Schulz says. "But our relationship has far exceeded my expectations. We're family."
There was once a time when people were confused by or ashamed of online dating. I was one of them. Now it's assumed that if you're single, you're swiping. One of my best friends just married a Tinder match.
As more co-parenting sites pop up and more people discover this option, the stigma will likely fade. I'm not looking for a co-parent just yet, but I love that the option is there to explore in the future.
"I know it sounds strange, but the most surprising aspect of this whole experience has simply been how much I love her," Brim gushes. "You know you're going to love your kid. But I just want to spend every moment with [Svea]."
That's a sentiment any parent can share, no matter how their family was formed.