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Defining Who is a Parent

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Defining Who is a Parent

I was recently contacted by a lawyer, on behalf of an old friend who is locked in a bitter custody battle for her 7-year old daughter, and asked to make a statement verifying, and validating, my friends status as “mother” of this child. Long story short, this friend, along with her girlfriend at the time, had worked together (via artificial insemination) to have a child. The girlfriend was inseminated, carried the pregnancy and gave birth, and my friend served as loyal caregiver, as well as parent to this child for the first few years of the girl’s life.

As they sometimes do, the relationship deteriorated over time, and the child’s biological mother now rejects the notion of her former girlfriend being a “parent” of her daughter, and has refused visitation rights. Needless to say, this has been a very ugly and arduous battle for joint-custody, as well as parental rights at a time when same-sex parenting, as well as the definition of parent has been called into question. Who gets to be a “parent” and who doesn’t?

Drake Bennett of The Boston Globe took a hard look at this question of parenthood, and what it means in contemporary society in his recent investigative article, “Johnny Has Two Mommies — and Four Dads.” The basic question of the piece is, can a child have more than two parents, and if so, what are the ramifications (both moral and legal) of such an expanded notion of parenthood?

Even in this era of relative open-mindedness on the subject of parenting, the legal and social definition of a family still has certain rules — a family can be run by a single mom or a single dad and, increasingly, by two moms or two dads, but it can’t have three parents, or four. Bennett’s piece brings to light the contrary opinion of a few family-law scholars, who have begun to argue that there is nothing special about the number two — if three or four or five adults have a parental relationship with a child, the law should recognize them all as parents.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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8:08AM PDT on Jul 12, 2012

Personally, I don't think ANY child can have too many adults in his or her life who care, love and support -- denying involvement to the bio mom's former partner is a mistake indeed.

9:18AM PDT on Jun 21, 2012


1:33AM PST on Mar 13, 2011

Thanks for the info.

12:11AM PST on Jan 27, 2011

I've spent more of my life with four parents than I did with two. Were one of my parents and step parents to split, the step parent would still be my parent. I don't care if they have no legal rights, that is someone I spent my childhood looking to in that role.
Further, I think almost all parents who would try to keep a child from one of their parents using the fact that their DNA did not contribute, is not looking out for their child's best interest. They're only trying to hurt their ex-partner and are likely hurting the children in the process (the exception of course being abusive parents.)
Plenty of people are the legal parent to a child that is not genetically their own. I know a woman whose eggs were damaged and was able to be impregnated with donor eggs. Those eggs came from people she barely knows who live across the country and she has no genetic tie to children she bore for 9 months and is now raising. Would you argue her children aren't hers because of the DNA? And what of adoptive parents?
DNA means very, very little in parenting. Taking this 7 year old child away from a mother she's known her whole life, who has spent 7 years raising her, is just cruel. The biological mother ought to be ashamed of herself for ignoring her own child's best interests in an attempt to hurt her ex.

5:23PM PST on Jan 4, 2011

That is debateable, there can be many :-)

6:04PM PST on Dec 19, 2010

I believe in every child should have both a mother and a father for guidance from each side of the biological human equation. If that is not possible, such as in this case, I think the biological mother has every right to keep the child -- the proof is in the DNA.

1:57PM PST on Dec 19, 2010


11:34AM PST on Nov 14, 2010

Very interesting

12:19AM PST on Nov 11, 2010

Something to ponder on. Thanks

10:22AM PST on Nov 8, 2010

Very interesting article. I agree with Olivia's comment.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
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