10 Things Donor-Conceived Children Want Parents to Know

Lisa Schuman, LCSW, has spent more than two decades working with families who have opted for donor conception. Here are the things she's witnessed donor-conceived kids typically care most about.

illustration of silhouette of child hugging parent and DNA double-helix pattern
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Parents of donor-conceived children can have very strong feelings about the way they built their families. Often, feelings of loss, joy, excitement, anxiety, fear, or simply a feeling of not knowing how to understand their child or child-to-be, can be consuming. Parents want to do all they can to help their children feel happy, successful, and close. Yet, because most parents who use donor conception are not well-educated about the ways they can best understand their children, they may project their feelings or fears onto their kids. Or they may feel surprised when an issue concerning their donor arises and become frustrated, not knowing how to manage that experience at the moment.

It is not always easy to put the donor's role in the proper perspective, whether you are biologically related to the child or not. But this is important so families can pave the way for positive dialogue with each other and with the world outside. Getting started down this path requires learning ways of understanding how donor-conceived children feel and what they need from their parents as they grow.

I have worked with donors and the recipients of egg and sperm donation for more than two decades. I run support groups for parents who have used a donor and educational programs for donor-conceived children. Through my years of experience, I have watched hundreds of parents struggle before, during, and after the process of creating their families.

I formed the Center for Family Building to meet the needs of these people and to guide, support, and educate them so they can have an easier journey to parenthood and feel more comfortable in understanding the needs of their donor-conceived child. Here are the 10 things I've learned that donor-conceived children usually want their parents to know.

1. You are their parents.

There are various ways donor-conceived children come to be. But even when the child is biologically related to only one parent, there are times they will still wonder about their origins. It's also true that they may want to find their donor and/or donor-related siblings someday, but that doesn't mean that they see them as their family. They know their family is the people who have raised and cared for them.

2. Feelings change.

Don't feel thrown by your child's ever-changing feelings about her genetic make-up. She may never be interested in learning more about her biological background or may be interested sometimes. Her feelings may change over time as she grows and develops her own unique identity—and that's totally OK.

3. Exploring feelings together is important.

There are two important parts to this. First, if your kid seems upset about something having to do with his donor, chances are he wants you to talk to him and help him explore his feelings. Second, your child may not be ready to meet or learn things about the donor. That could be because he formed ideas about the donor and may not be ready to embrace the reality of who that donor might actually be. So, before you help your kid find his donor, consider exploring feelings and thoughts together. If you need help with this, there are experts who can give you guidance and support.

4. They want to feel connected to you.

Even if a child is biologically related to you, he may sometimes feel sad about knowing his other biological parent. Your child may pay extra attention to when strangers make comments about him looking like you since he wants to feel that connection. If you are not a biological parent to your child, it's also really nice for him to hear other people think you look alike and are related genetically.

5. It’s not a big deal to mention the donor.

Just because your child may not always feel like talking about her donor, it doesn't mean she forgets about how she came to be. So, mentioning the donor will not make her remember or stir up negative feelings.

6. Saying nice things helps.

It's a good idea to say nice things about the donor to your kids or in front of them. They are usually always listening and when you say nice things about the donor, they feel good about that part of them too.

7. It’s their own information.

Always try and remember that donor information also belongs to your child. As she gets older, she will develop her own thoughts about who she wants to tell about her donor and when—and that will be her choice.

8. Meeting other non-traditional families is a good idea.

It may not be easy to find other donor-conceived children but meeting children with different family structures or children who joined their families through adoption will feel comforting and will help your child know he's not alone.

9. It’s OK for your kid to feel sad sometimes.

If they have moments of sadness or disappointment about being donor-conceived, let them feel those emotions. Most times, children want to be like their parents, but in this case, differences may feel disappointing to them sometimes. But that doesn't mean they will be disappointed for long.

10. Remember, your child is still just a child.

Your little one's personality—mature or immature for his age, introverted or extroverted—may influence how he feels about his donor at different stages of development. So don't worry so much about making mistakes as you navigate your family dynamic. Like any parent and child, your relationship will develop over time and the more accepting you are of his donor, the better he will feel.

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