Canada 2017·Future Now

Attention, Canadian singles: Why not raise a child with your best friend?

These groundbreaking best friends think romantic love is wonderful, but not the only strong basis for a great co-parenting arrangement.

"People want to know that there are many paths to a happy family."

Natasha Bakht, left, and Lynda Collins are best friends and legal co-parents to 7-year-old Elaan. (Alison Slattery)

Who among us is living like a person ahead of their time? And what might Canada need to do to catch up with them? Future Now is a new series featuring individuals who are living their version of the Canadian future … today.

In the lead up to Mother's Day, we hear from "co-mamas" Natasha Bakht and Lynda Collins.

We are two moms sharing the journey of parenting our unique, smart and beautiful 7-year-old boy, Elaan. But we are not lovers, nor are we ex-lovers.

Natasha gave birth to Elaan and this past fall an Ontario court recognized that Lynda is also his legal mother. 

As it turns out, our choice made legal history in Canada and sparked a national and global discussion that frankly stunned and delighted us. 

Apparently Canadians are ready to imagine new ways of making a family, moving us further away from one-size-fits-all models of parenting.

Bakht and Collins, who are both law professors, had to go to court to get their chosen family legally recognized. (Bakht and Collins family album)

Canada is justly lauded for its progressive recognition of same-sex spousal rights and diverse families. It's one bright thread in the tapestry of our pluralist society. But in most provinces, the legal definition of parenthood still rests on the idea that families originate in romantic relationships.

Apparently Canadians are ready to imagine new ways of making a family.

If we'd been in a romantic relationship — having sex and living in the same home — Lynda could have adopted Elaan through a simple "step-parent adoption" process.

Since we weren't, we had to gather a substantial body of evidence from his doctor, school principal, family and friends to prove what we all already knew: Elaan has two mamas.

Safe and loved

Bakht and Collins think that, although romantic love is wonderful, it "really makes no sense in 2017 to predicate co-parenthood on sex." (Arpan Soraya)

Though our legal case provoked media coverage across the country and around the world, what seemed to interest people most was not the technical victory, but the unique reality of our family life. 

We are two single women, close friends and colleagues at the University of Ottawa, and we have chosen to build a life together, to meet the challenges and savour the joys of parenting as a team.

To us, our family life is pretty average.

We eat meals together, coordinate our schedules to make sure our childcare needs are covered, read his homework together and attend the many medical appointments occasioned by Elaan's cerebral palsy and his other physical challenges. 

We have learned how to make a hospital room feel homey, which comfort food we each want in the Emergency Room cafeteria, and how to make Elaan feel safe and loved as he undergoes various medical procedures.

And we are human.

Like all parents we're immensely proud of Elaan's achievements, and we sometimes have fears about his future. We bicker sometimes about who will clean his feeding supplies or take the car to get washed. But we get over it, and we insistently focus on our great good fortune in having found each other.

Making it official 

Collins was the first person to hold Elaan after he was born. She's been a part of his life since day one. (Bakht and Collins family album)

So why did we feel the need to formalize Elaan's relationship with his second mama? 

Well, we're law professors so maybe the legal recognition mattered more to us than to most. But we also felt it was important to honour the relationship that had grown so organically between Lynda and Elaan. 

For Natasha, it was also about peace of mind, knowing that Elaan had another legal parent to rely on now and in the future.

For Lynda, it was about being able to say to doctors and teachers (and anyone who would listen!) "this is my son!"

The court that made us legal co-parents didn't give any reasons, which means our case wasn't recorded in legal databases as a precedent. Knowing our victory might fly under the radar, we contacted the CBC hoping for coverage on local radio. 

What we got instead was all-day national coverage on multiple CBC platforms, which led to interviews with the BBC, which led to coverage all around the world.

As the story spread, we received heartfelt, supportive emails from complete strangers from Canada and abroad. We were literally overwhelmed with the love and support of people for whom our story somehow resonated.

For Lynda, it was about being able to say to doctors and teachers (and anyone who would listen!) 'this is my son!'

More significantly for us, numerous friends reported that they'd overheard their young daughters scheming to one day raise a child with their best friends.  Adult friends tagged each other on Facebook, pointing to our story as a possible model for their own family lives.

An appetite for freedom

Though we can't know for sure, we think the enthusiastic public reaction to our story points to an appetite for freedom in family formation. 

People want to know that there are many paths to a happy family.  While romantic love is wonderful, it really makes no sense in 2017 to predicate co-parenthood on sex.

Other young families, like that of Tatiana Busic and Brendan Schulz in Toronto, are blazing the trail for platonic co-parenting in Canada. (Makda Ghebreslassie/CBC)

For those who find both romance and family in the same place we say, "Good on ya!"

For those, like us, who are still looking for the right romantic partnership, our story shows that you do not have to forgo the enormous joy and fulfillment of co-parenthood just because the love thing is taking its time.

Children know when they are loved and that is what ultimately matters most. In Canada's future, there will be no hierarchy of families.

We will continue to open our minds and hearts to embrace any form of family that works.