This study followed 65 families from when their children were babies until they became young adults. Some children were born through methods like surrogacy, egg donation, or sperm donation. When the children turned 20, the study found that those born through these methods had similar levels of happiness and good relationships with their families as those born naturally (1). However, it showed that telling children about their biological origins before they turned 7 could be helpful for their relationships with their families and how well they adjust to life. Young adults who learned about their biological origins earlier had fewer bad relationships with their mothers, and their mothers felt less anxious and depressed.
This study is the first to look at the long-term effects of different types of assisted reproductive technology (ART) on parenting and how children adjust, as well as the impact of when children are told about being conceived with donor eggs, sperm, or surrogacy. Susan Golombok, who led the study at the University of Cambridge, learned a lot about how parent-child relationships and happiness change as children born through ART become adults.
Positive Development Continues
The study found that families formed through reproductive donation were doing well when the children were 14 years old. But it was not clear if this would continue as the children got older. The seventh part of the study explained in this new report, shows that the families are still functioning well and the children are still growing up happy and well-adjusted when they become young adults. Even though there were concerns before about problems and difficulties with relationships with their mothers, young adults who were conceived through reproductive donation are generally doing well.
Telling about Biological Origins
The researchers talked to the mothers and children using questions and interviews. They found that young adults who were told about their biological origins before they turned 7 had fewer bad relationships with their mothers. From the ages of 3 to 20, there were no big differences in how parents raised their children or how children adjusted between families that used assisted reproduction and families that did not. But the findings suggest that not having a biological connection does not stop the development of good relationships between mothers and children or cause problems when they become adults. The researchers suggest that parents who used third-party ART consider talking to their children about how they were born at an early age, preferably before they start school. It’s interesting to note that only 7% of mothers who told their children before age 7 had problems with their family relationships, while 22% of those who told them later had problems.
Sperm Donation and Family Communication
Although the study generally shows good outcomes for children conceived through third-party donation, there was one exception related to families with children conceived through sperm donation. Young adults conceived through sperm donation reported having worse communication within their families compared to those conceived through egg donation. This difference might be because sperm donation is often kept more secret, sometimes because fathers are hesitant to tell their children that they are not their biological fathers. The researchers found that only 42% of parents who used sperm donation told their children by the time they turned 20, compared to 88% of parents who used egg donation and all of the parents who used surrogacy.
These findings challenge the common belief that children conceived through gamete donation, without a genetic connection to their parents, might have more problems adjusting. The researchers argue that children born through third-party assisted reproduction are raised in their families and are considered their parents’ own children. In most cases, there is still a genetic connection to at least one parent.
Susan Golombok, the lead researcher, wants to highlight that even though people were worried at first, families with children born through third-party assisted reproduction continue to do well as the children become adults. She also notes that people’s attitudes are changing and what really matters is the strong desire to have children, regardless of biological factors.
It’s important to note that the study’s findings emphasize the significance of telling children about their biological origins if they were conceived through ART. By having these discussions at an early age, preferably before starting school, families can promote healthier relationships and enhance the child’s psychological well-being. Open communication and understanding within the family play a crucial role in establishing a solid foundation for the child’s development.
The results of this study have important implications for individuals and couples considering third-party assisted reproduction. They provide reassurance that these alternative methods do not hinder the formation of positive family relationships or hinder a child’s psychological adjustment. Knowing that families created through gamete donation or surrogacy can thrive and have well-adjusted children allows individuals to pursue their dream of becoming parents without undue concern about potential negative outcomes.
As society becomes more accepting of diverse family structures and alternative methods of conception, it is crucial to support and provide resources for families formed through third-party assisted reproduction. Offering counseling services, educational materials, and support groups can assist parents in navigating the unique aspects of raising a child conceived through ART. Additionally, continued research and long-term studies in this field can provide further insights into the experiences of these families and contribute to improved support systems.
In conclusion, this groundbreaking 20-year study demonstrates that children conceived through third-party donation enjoy positive family relationships and psychological well-being. The absence of a biological connection between children and their parents does not hinder the development of positive parent-child relationships. Disclosing biological origins at an early age appears to have numerous benefits for family dynamics and the child’s long-term adjustment. With the understanding that families created through third-party assisted reproduction thrive, we can celebrate the diverse ways in which individuals can become loving and nurturing parents.
Golombok S, Jones C, Hall P, et al. A longitudinal study of families formed through third-party assisted reproduction: Mother-child relationships and child adjustment from infancy to adulthood. Developmental Psychology, 2023. DOI: 10.1037/dev0001526