Second Place, 2017 Howard C. Schwab Memorial Essay

In the Case of Biology v. Psychology: Where Did My “Parent” Go?

Michelle M. Gros


In 2015, four percent of children in the United States were living with relatives or nonrelatives with no biological parent present in the home. Additionally, there were 3.3 million cohabiting couples with children under age eighteen, which is a drastic increase from 1.2 million children in 1996. Disconcertingly, millions of children in the United States are raised by a person who is not biologically related to them but who has essentially become their parent. The child and nonparent have no legal relationship, but over time, they develop a parent-child relationship and psychological attachment. For various reasons, many children are raised jointly by a parent and nonparent or solely by a nonparent. This situation is typically the result of the biological parent’s lack of financial resources or family support, age, behavioral issues with the child, incarceration, military deployment, physical illness, mental illness, disability, substance abuse, cognitive deficits, unsafe living arrangements, employment hours, unemployment, or abandonment of the child to pursue personal agendas. Additionally, a parent in either a same-sex or heterosexual relationship may decide to cohabitate with his or her partner but remain unmarried. These circumstances often result in the couple sharing physical custody (but not in a legal sense) and “parenting” responsibilities for the child.1 Sometimes the biological parent even intends for the child’s birth to coparent with his or her partner.2 Unfortunately, if this couple breaks up, the child risks permanently losing his or her “mommy” or “daddy.”

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