You don't need both biological parents to raise a family

Must we assume that a lack of genetic ties to a child make parents any less capable of bringing them up in a happy, healthy home?

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The Independent Online

It is a popular belief among conservatives that anything which makes divorce harder for couples is to be celebrated.

So there was reason for those on the right to celebrate a new law enshrined in last week’s Children and Families Bill, specifying that couples filing for divorce must attend a ‘mediation information and assessment meeting’ to encourage them to work things out for the sake of the kids.

If the law saves only one marriage, or makes life better for a single child, said Susan Elkin, writing in Independent Voices, it will be worth doing. On this, we are in agreement. It’s difficult to oppose something which might make a child’s life easier.

However, it was the supposition of Elkin among others that, according to unequivocal biology, children must have two parents working as a team within one household that caused me to spit out my morning coffee. As one of my Facebook friends remarked: “I'm pretty sure biologically we're supposed to be raised in a group setting with an entire tribe of carers, don't see anyone trying to enforce that.”

Sometimes, of course, it’s difficult to argue with biology. There’s no getting away from the fact that it takes one ovum, one sperm, and one act of passionate coitus or meticulously planned insemination to make a baby. In that respect genetics really do rule the roost. But, although necessary to create a child, biological father and biological mother are not always essential players in the game of raising a family.

As family compositions change and adapt to modern life, the ‘biology’ argument becomes increasingly redundant.

Historically, children were brought up in multi-generational homes, with grandparents, parents and siblings all mucking in to bring up the kids. In fact, around 51 million Americans still live in a house with at least two adult generations under one roof.

Multi-family households use a similar approach, and in 2013 in the UK they were the fastest growing household type, with homes containing two or more families increasing by 39 per cent in ten years, from 206,000 households in 2003 to 286,000 households in 2013. In such a home, a child might find that his biological parents are not his sole carers, but merely two members of a wider team.

Single parents, foster parents, step parents, and gay and lesbian parents are further examples of unconventional families in which both biological parents are not the sole guardians. Must we assume that because of their lack of genetic ties to a child they’re any less capable of bringing it up in a happy, healthy home?

And what of the parents who very work well as a team but not as well as a romantic couple? Divorce doesn’t have to mean a disintegration of teamwork. You might even argue that once quarrelling parents have resolved their issues by means of an amicable divorce, they’ll have more time to be attentive to the needs of their offspring.

The not so subtle insinuation that divorced parents are no longer adequate carers, or that a foster parent or a step parent is in any way less of a parent because they’re not part of the ‘biological team’ is a damning indictment on our society, and is, in part, the reason why the seething, bubbling stigma attached to divorce still exists.

In truth, I think we’re approaching this issue from the wrong direction. 30 per cent of women say they knew they were making a mistake on their wedding day. Maybe, rather leaving someone trapped in a relationship that isn’t working, we should be encouraging young lovers to undergo pre-marriage counselling to ensure they’re fully aware of the commitment they’re about to make. Prevention is, after all, better than cure.

It might sound rather Orwellian, and yes, romance goes out of the window a bit, but when the only other option is making it more difficult to escape a doomed partnership, having Relate on speed dial as he slips the diamond solitaire onto your finger actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea.