How FamilyByDesign Helps Prospective Co-Parents Find Each Other
Do gay men really need one more online matchmaking service?
You bet, says entrepreneur Darren Spedale. Just not for the reason you perhaps expected.
“Part of my role is to educate people about co-parenting as an option,” says Spedale, founder of FamilyByDesign. “It’s amazing how many people I speak to who say, ‘I never really thought about that as an option. But now that I do, it makes perfect sense.’”
Expecting something else? Sorry to disappoint. The only hook-ups that happen through FamilyByDesign are new platonic partnerships between individuals who are ready to have a child in their life – but not necessarily a romantic relationship. Co-parenting is the catchall term for the arrangement, though it can take many forms and arise from very different motivations. Some people seek co-parenting partnerships because they’re still single, despite a biological clock ringing on full blast; others are committed gay couples who still want their child to have an opposite-sex adult figure. Some seek a relationship where child rearing is shared 50/50; others simply prefer a “known donor” or surrogate situation. (For more background on the concept, check out Gays With Kids blogger Bill Delaney’s multi-part series.)
What they’ve all had in common, until now, is this: a dearth of available resources. That’s where Darren Spedale stepped in, launching FamilyByDesign last year. Its website is filled with co-parenting primers (“Learn”) that offer information on every element to consider, including vitally important medical, financial and legal aspects. Plus there are forums to connect with and query professional experts and existing co-parents (“Share”). But one of its most innovative offerings is a service that helps prospective co-parents seek a compatible match. Upload a profile, answer dozens of questions about your lifestyle, values, and preferences, and you’re on your way.
Spedale is a self-described “serial entrepreneur” and founder of StartOut, a nonprofit that fosters the development of LGBT innovators. And FamilyByDesign smartly answers what may become an increasingly growing call for co-parenting resources. Spedale points to a 2010 Pew Foundation study that found 52% of millennials (18 to 29 year-olds) regarded parenthood as “one of the most important things in life.” That was well above the 30% who said the same of marriage.
But Spedale says that FamilyByDesign was spawned as much by personal interest as professional opportunity. He came out at 19 while attending Duke University, and immersed himself in studying modern families. His senior thesis on domestic partnerships paved the way for the school to offer benefits to employees; on a Fulbright Fellowship, he spent several years studying nontraditional family structures. Already the author of a book on gay marriage, he’s finishing his second tome, a guide to co-parenting — a possibility he’s considered for himself. Spedale’s situation is typical of those that investigate co-parenting options, he says: romantically independent and ready for a child, but hesitant to take on the pressures of single parenthood.
That he’s gay is no coincidence. “When it comes to co-parenting, the LGBT community has led the way for a long time,” says Spedale. He says that one of the most commonly sought configurations seems to be straight women seeking a gay man to co-parent. Gay male couples and lesbian couples often form parenting partnerships too. But whatever the permutation, all users seeking matches through FamilyByDesign fill out comprehensive profiles that include open-ended responses to prompts about their “Views on Parenting”: eating habits, views on discipline, and religious upbringing are among the areas covered. Users describe the characteristics of their “Ideal Partner,” explaining how they’d approach the sharing of finance and time. And the “Compatibility Survey” contains dozens of broad-ranging questions, like “How do you care for the environment?” “Should boys be circumcised?” “What’s your typical evening out with friends?” and “What would you do if you discovered your teenager had marijuana?” Users can indicate how important it is that their match’s answer be similar; an algorithm then computes scores and makes suggestions that are sortable by level of compatibility, geographical distance, and more.
Sound familiar? It’s no wonder. “It really is like a dating process,” says Spedale, who generally suggests that potential partners generally spend at least a year getting to know each other. After all, it’s after the euphoria and excitement of finding a prospect fades that some of the most important conversations, conflicts, questions and answers can arise.
Of course, there’s still some uncharted territory regarding co-parenting itself. Legally speaking, it’s still the Wild West: potentially thorny legal issues involving co-parent rights could arise, according to Spedale. Since FamilyByDesign was largely conceived for co-parents who want to have biological offspring, there’s still more to learn about the dynamics of same-sex platonic co-parents. (As in, gay dads who want to raise a child with, but not date, another dad.) And there are many unknowns that each couple must address on their own. For instance: if one co-parent dates, when, how and to what extent should another adult be integrated into the child’s life?
But with FamilyByDesign, there’s now a wide breadth of resources available to educate those exploring co-parenting as an option – and maybe even help them find someone on the same path. “It makes me feel good to connect people who have so much love to give,” says Spedale. “And co-parenting is an especially important possibility for gay men and gay families, who have the ability to create their families in the ways that make the most sense for who they are.”