What do you think holds a family together? Love and support? Are the relationships shared between parents and child biological? Sharing the same home? When you ask Indians, who matters the most to them, they are likely to say, my family.

In the past, children were raised in homes of multi-generations, with grandparents, parents, and siblings all chipping in to raise the kids. A research showed that around 51 million Americans still live in a house with at least two adult generations under one roof. Even Indian houses till date, follow the system of joint family or live with a family comprising two or more adult generations.

(Photo by Rajiv Perera)

As the world transforms, and grows every day, so does every community and section of society. In the U.S., study has shown that unconventional families are becoming increasingly common: the number of two-parent households has been in steady decline.

But in a country like India where family is given utmost importance, it’s peculiar that not all Indians get to have one. Have you ever come across queer parents at parent-teaching meetings, adoption centres, or so much as in a movie theatre? In India, the LGBTQ+ community still don’t have the right to marry, and for most, parenthood is something they can’t even think about. And is it vital to be married in order to be a parent?

In a country where rights for single parents and live-in couples with children is still an arduous battle, the discrimination against LGBTQ+ parents is not even part of public conversations. The right to parenthood for people of the LGBTQ+ community is not recognised or adapted by society let alone law. United Nations’ Article 16’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “men and women of full age… have the right to marry and to found a family.” The phrasing of even this 72-year-old document is exclusive. But even in today’s India, the right to start a family is only available to heterosexual cisgender men and women.

Even if laws were passed on parenthood and marriage for the LGBTQ+ community, will society accept it? Section 377 has been decriminalized, but wandering eyes and stigma continue to follow.

Even in the 21st century, individuals find it difficult to comprehend that family doesn’t merely mean biological parents, or individuals with whom DNA is shared. A lot of peoples’ ‘parents’ aren’t their blood parents; it is someone that has influenced their life and been there for them the most.

The concept of parenthood can be defined through different lenses, depending on the perspective assumed. Indeed, who a child’s parents are is a question that might be answered differently by a psychologist, a jurist, a biologist, or even by the child itself. There are situations in which parenthood is legally recognized, even in the absence of genetic bonds between adults and children. This is the case when a child is conceived through assisted procreation, but also when a child who was born into a biologically-related family is later adopted by a non-biological family.

Is family just one word to describe the similar chemical traits in our DNA that make us family and nothing else? Just a biological similarity of genes and bloodlines? Or, is it more than just basic genetics?

Where do we draw the line, if sharing DNA is what makes a group of people a family? As human species, somewhere we all share common DNA attributes and only a drastically small percent of our DNA makeup is what makes us unique in our own way. So where is the end of a family? second cousins, third cousins? Maybe fourth cousins, once detached? When we take such a simple definition of a family we run into various ethical, scientific, and moral affairs.

What about adopted children, orphans who find and fail to find foster parents, or unrelated individuals who come together to form a family. Are they considered family or not?

Many countries, and states have orphanage homes/ foster care systems that look after children whose families left them in hospitals, streets, or couldn’t financially take care of them, or maybe because of crimes, drug usage, etc., had to be put into the system. If those children aren’t adopted; throughout their lives, until they are independently capable to stand on their own feet, they are looked after by caretakers. These caretakers nurture them and help them develop their emotional and physical well-being, catering to their educational and every possible needs. Just like a parent. They are living proof that a biological connection is just a factor, but that isn’t the only thing that makes people parents, or makes certain individuals a family.

LGBTQIA+ parents, orphan caretakers, step parents, foster parents, and single parents are examples of unconventional families where both the biological parents are not necessarily the sole guardians. Do we then assume that because of their lack of genetic attachment to a child they aren’t capable of raising them in a happy, healthy home?

There are several parents who work really well as a joint force but not quite well as a romantic couple. In such cases, divorce doesn’t have to undermined the teamwork. It also happens that once arguing parents sit down and have a cordial conversation about their issues through divorce, they’ll find more time to be attentive to the needs of their child.

In life, we even have unrelated friends we call family, we say things like “she/he is like a sister/brother to me” or “growing up, they were like a second family for me.” So, it becomes clear that the notion of the nuclear biological family doesn’t seem to fit today, and perhaps it never really did. Any relationship on this planet is complex in itself so I guess it makes sense that we have same-sex parents who aren’t biologically connected to us, or have parents who have been there for us more than our actual biological parents, or those who play a parental role in orphanages and foster cares.

However, should it be that complicated? It’s easy when you love and respect your parents, despite the DNA you share. However, the opposite is also true, where you may have biological family members that you find hard, or even impossible, to love or understand, and here’s where parent-like figures exist.

Whether these are your biological parents or not, these individuals deserve to be called ‘parents’, despite what society says, or what your “friend” teases you. They are the ones who support you, care for you, love and cherish you through the ups and downs, these are the people you’ll always want in your life. The point is that the most basic fundamental principle of family is love and if there is love the family bond will endure to healthy and strong.

So, what is it that creates a strong bond? Is it the biological DNA and family genetics or pure love? In a perfect scenario, the two will be intertwined and will be hard to be separated. They will blend and merge to a point where they’re completely indistinguishable and not even considered. However, sometimes biology and love can fall apart in which case love tends to be the winner at all costs. This then suggests that love is indeed more powerful than biology and like any relationship, love must be earned and is not just given based on sharing chemical genetics.

Society is gradually realizing this too and bit by bit changing from preconceived notions of a family. Even popular culture is catching up with this with shows like F.R.I.E.N.D.S. showed different types of parents, and Modern Family where the extended families in the show are anything but traditional, but they’re held together by love and compassion.

Of course, sometimes, it’s difficult to argue with biology. There’s no getting away from the fact that it takes one gamete, one sperm, and one act of passionate intercourse or diligently planned fertilization to form a baby. In that sense, genetics really does rule the roost. Although it is necessary to create a child, biological father and biological mother are not always essential players in the game of raising a family.

Family compositions transition and alter to modern life, the argument of ‘biology’ argument becomes progressively redundant.

“Family is Family. Whether it’s the one you start out with, the one you end up with, or the Family you gain along the way.” – Gloria Pritchett (Modern Family)

Written by: Edlyn Cardoza


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