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Relationships

Are We Headed For Three-Parent Families?

By Elisabeth Torres-Schulte·· 3 min read
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The Atlantic recently published an article titled “The Rise of the Three-Parent Family.” It featured David Jay, a leader of the asexual movement, who is in a three-way partnership with Avary Kent and Zeke Hausfather, who are legally married.

Jay is a father alongside Kent and Hausfather to their biological daughter Octavia, and all members are legally seen as parents to the child, as California recognizes three-parent adoption. If this arrangement confuses you, you’re not alone. 

A New Type of Family on the Rise

While still a minority, California is not the only state to have legalized three-parent adoption. Louisiana, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts, Alaska, Maine, Rhode Island, and Vermont have all legalized the practice. These states argue that the legal institution of a third parent is a protection for the child in case the family splits, and that blended families, polyamorous families, and other non-traditional families benefit from this legal practice. If we take a closer look, though, is this actually helping children?

These states argue that the legal institution of a third parent protects the child in case the family splits.

What Is Ideal for the Child? 

At first glance, it may seem that having multiple legal parents is a protection for the child. Should a child wind up having step-parents because of a divorce, that step-parent may be more inclined to care for the child if they’re legally responsible for him or her. 

That being said, the bond between child and parent is important, and adding a third parent distorts that bond. Another family member or a step-parent can certainly act as a parental figure to a child without being legally recognized as a parent. For generations, grandparents and extended family have helped raise children, but they didn’t insist on being raised to the same level legally as a parent. They simply took responsibility for the child because they had a concept of family. 

Grandparents have helped raise children, but they didn’t insist on being legally recognized as a parent.

In regards to polyamorous relationships and “throuples” (three-way partnerships), these relationships have no legal standing. Polygamy is only close to being legalized in one state (Utah), and so the laws for separation in these unions are unclear. The truth is, throuples are fairly new, and most throuples don’t see them as actually lasting for the long term. If a child is brought into this situation, it could be incredibly damaging for their mental health, and terribly confusing for them. They may also bond with their biological parents more than the third parent, and that could cause rifts in the family. 

We Know Fragile Families Are Harmful for Children

The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study studied 5,000 children from cities across America. Children whose parents had divorced were more likely to fail in school, and those children whose parents were cohabiting or lone parents were twice as likely to not graduate high school. 

Children whose parents had divorced were more likely to fail in school.

Studies from the Urban Institute found that teenagers in lone parent and blended family homes fared worse academically and socially than those living with their two biological parents, and those with cohabiting parents fared worst of all. This shows that a legally recognized marriage improves child wellbeing and that having more parents doesn’t necessarily mean the child is better off. 

Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, we want what is best for our children. They’re the future, but they’re also the most vulnerable. The laws instituted should be designed to protect them above all else. While the three-parent family legislation may have been intended to help, it ultimately encourages situations that could ultimately harm the very children it was supposed to protect.

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