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What Are Parents Anyway?

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What Are Parents Anyway?

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 friend’s 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?

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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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2:23PM PDT on Apr 22, 2013

after reading your article I doubt

12:52AM PST on Jan 21, 2012


12:29AM PST on Jan 21, 2012

I'm going through a similar situation. My son's biological father is a dud. My new husband is a father. Yet my ex wants to fight for more and more rights, and never could feed him or spend any real time with him. And a liar to boot...

1:29PM PST on Jan 16, 2012

The whole matter is very complicated, starting by the fact that it will deeply depend/vary on the specifics of each situation.
Maybe the biologist in me plays its role, but I think one of the problems is that we mix the emotional with the biological term. Even in animals where the young are raised by the pack in more or less degree, the parents are the biological individuals. That does not imply that the biological parents (especially males in many cases) play any tutoring or close related role with their offspring.
Maybe if we, as humans, managed to (at least legally) assume that biological parenthood is not necesarily related with what our society morally considers "parental duties" things would be easier.
IMHO biological parents may have some rights as long as their rights don't go against the kids'. But it's the tutor/protector/caretaker/provider, whatever you want to call the person who supports the child emotionally and economically, who cares and is there for him/her who should have more claims, and this person is not necesarily the biological parent. If not, where does that leave adopted kids' parents even in traditional couples?

9:25AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

My boyfriend is more of a dad to my son than his dad ever was.. even when we were married! Luckily that gives him a great role model. His dad occasionally attempts to be in his life, but is inconsistent and rarely follows through. In time my son will be old enough to form is own opinions, but until then we continue to remind him that yes, his father loves him even when he is absent, and no, it is not his fault when his dad fails to show up

3:40AM PST on Jan 16, 2012

The law needs to catch up with society and changing tradtion, not try to force people into idealized visions that may not always work out for real people.

5:58AM PST on Jan 14, 2012

Thanks for posting.

3:14AM PST on Jan 14, 2012

Blood-relatedness does not make (or break) a parent. We tend to be so caught up in the religious model of what makes a relationship (a man and a woman) and what makes a family (two (opposite gender) parents and two kids) that we forget that what really matters is love. If a child is fortunate enough to have one, two or twenty loving parents/carers or significant people in its life, then it is fortunate, whoever those people may be.

11:00AM PST on Jan 13, 2012


9:55AM PST on Jan 13, 2012

I agree witht he research, and that our society has changed, accordingly we need to change the laws to protect our children. It appears that we in the U.S. are a bit slow to do just that - and there have been allot of unjust rulings about custody.
I strongly believe that the gender and marital status, blood-relationa nd what not has nothing to do who is a true parent and who is not. Just like financial contributions does not make one a parent.
Same-sex partners that cared for a child are parents, just like unmarried heterosexual couples or partners that take care of children. And if there are more than 2 parties - than by all means, it is only just to rule in the best interest of the child.

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