A Quest For Exotic Families
Over 150 million children in the world are orphans. Many of them spend their childhoods in institutions.
This is an exploration of alternative solutions to provide at least some of these children with the love and emotional support of a real family. This is not an advocacy paper, but an incomplete and in-progress wishful reflection on parenting, family ties and emotional safety.
A village for every child
“It takes a village to raise a child”.
This old African proverb was literally true in ancient times. In these societies, children were informally, sometimes permanently, sometimes temporarily, given in adoption to relatives or other members of the same clan.
The reasons behind these transfers were not necessary poverty-related, but had to do with complex spiritual beliefs, social structures and personal affinities.
A million reasons why
Fast forward to present.
In today’s “hypercivilized” world, there are at least 153 million orphan children. Furthermore, in every world country, thousands of children age out living in institutions devoid of love and care. And yet, baby factories are booming as the right to pass one’s genes is increasingly becoming commoditized.
Fortunately, not everyone thinks the same way. A few brave women are already beginning to talk about “adoption as a first option”.
Warning: unsecure connection!
In traditional communities, at least some children were gifted to close relatives. But this was a safe practice where everybody knew everybody. On the contrary, modern society is far from being child-friendly.
The reality of adoption, international adoption in particular, is rather grim, as childless couples show distinct preferences for new-born or very young children, shunning those already a few years old. Acquiring a healthy baby child is more often than not a matter of economic and racial privilege.
There are also free-roaming perpetrators and far too many irresponsible well-meant-adults-turned-to-abusers. Who may adopt an unrelated minor is rightly a difficult ethical question and a subject of fierce debate.
Exploring alternative families
Living as we are in the global village, we’d be excused for believing that we’ve already become one big family. However, this can’t be true in a world where economic inequality, gender violence, famine, disease and war still prevail.
Thus, exploring new avenues in family building may be dangerous. It could give rise to further child welfare issues and even more ethical dilemmas.
But asking questions isn’t harmful in itself. The following ideas have been inspired by the on-going talks about rainbow families, the rise of single parent adoptions and…the apparently un-related scientific quest for exotic particles. (The similarity with the latter is only metaphoric: just like in Particle Physics, Family Building is a matter of hit-and-miss, social combinatory and unexpected discoveries).
Here are the questions that we would like to explore:
•Are there any undiscovered forms of safe parenting for abandoned children in foster care?
•Could growing up in a non-traditional family improve an orphan’s life and improve their future prospects?
•What if groups of kindred people became eligible for adoption?
Before anything else, it is important to mention that here we are talking exclusively about orphan children, that is, children without any known family ties, abandoned or living on the street. Children who have been separated from their families due to economic or social reasons should always get support in order to be reunited with their parents or relatives.
For now, we explore two possible “exotic forms” of kindred adoption: the Parenting Triad and Sibling Parenting.
What if groups of kindred people became eligible for adoption?
Exotic Structure #1: The parenting triad
What is it?
“Parenting triad” = three first or second degree adult relatives who decide to adopt together an unrelated child.
In theory, there could be as many triad configurations as there are family ties: grandmother, mother and son or identical twins and paternal aunt or son, female cousin and maternal uncle. In practice, the most stable combinations are yet to be discovered and studied.
Knowing each other well, a triad’s members could support and complete one another in guiding a child through life.
There should be different options for various degrees of involvement, depending on the adoptive family’s availability and their suitability for parenting. Thus, a parenting triad should be able to apply for guardianship, foster care, joint custody or even adoption.
Needless to say that only those families who get along should be offered the chance to embark on this journey!
Zero divorce risk. Family is forever: stable, caring and reliable. Even if this is not entirely true, at least in some cases blood ties manage to succeed where romantic relationships fail.
Diverse role models. Two parents is great, but three could work even better. In traditionally large families, children learn not just from mother and father, but also from uncles, aunties, grandfathers and cousins. This diversity and richness have been lost in modern nuclear families. And yet, in order to develop harmoniously, children need to spend time with adults with different personalities and diverse world views.
Team work and flexibility. This is all about sharing chores, planning weekends and days off and taking turns in doing cleaning, shopping or helping with homework. Today’s 9-to-5 jobs are sometimes too demanding for working-class parents. But add one more person in the mix and suddenly there might be enough time for games, trips and family dinners.
Accountability. Couples sometimes sweep child-abusive behaviour under the carpet of their tumultuous “chemistry”. But with three kindred adults of different ages, genders and mindsets it’s harder for dark secrets to linger on. Unless of course, the whole family is psycho…and this is where screening should come in.
Inclusiveness. Elder or disabled adults can be great parents, but they are usually denied the chance. The group power of kindred parenting could work in their favour: with three legally-responsible guardians, it would be much easier to compensate for the vulnerabilities and medical conditions of one. Furthermore, the gender identity, race or relationship status of either family member would not hinder the group’s chances to adopt.
The residence issue. Moving between two or three homes or frequent traveling to another county or state? This could be very stressful for the child. On the other hand, demanding that all three adults live under the same roof or within a range of miles, would put a great strain on the prospective parents’ personal and professional lives.
The burden of past trauma. Many families are plagued by invisible intergenerational trauma and dysfunctional, positive-on-the-surface, relationships. A child who enters such a family would risk being imprisoned in these self-perpetuating stories. This dark heritage is usually diluted (or merely recycled) in a romantic relationship, but it would retain its full power inside the “four walls” of a family home.
Sectarianism. Strange religious views, fanaticism, radicalism, delinquency? These too, run in families. Screening must double-check for sectarian tendencies and refuse to greenlight candidates with unhealthy or anti-social tendencies. In fact, a milder form of “sectarianism” is the classic “us vs. them” attitude which tends to afflict all closely knit families.
Exotic Structure #2: Sibling parenting
What is it?
“Sibling parenting”= a brother and sister dyad who decide to form a parental unit as a two-person opposite gender family group.
The two siblings should have similar lifestyles and a reasonable age gap. Both should to be financially stable and emotionally balanced.
Sibling parenting is definitely not about incest and certainly not a substitute for marriage or romantic relationships. It could be instead one of the most potentially stable forms of “kindred parenting”.
Zero divorce risk. Unlike married couples, a pair of siblings won’t separate through a mid-life crisis or because of failed romantic expectations. Well-rounded siblings are usually able to maintain a healthy relationship in adulthood and could provide a safe and nurturing environment for a child.
Coherent educational vision. Mother figure? Check. Father figure? Check. Congruent views on upbringing, discipline and life values? Check. Siblings share many life experiences and may agree on the same worldview to be passed on.
Inclusiveness. Sibling parenting adoption could help all those who find it difficult to engender a child due to diverse factors such as age, health, physical appearance, minority status or career choice.
Intergenerational trauma. The burden of past family trauma that can afflict all forms of kindred parenting, would affect siblings, too. Siblings could share painful memories and manifest similar unadaptative behaviours as a result of childhood trauma.
Sectarianism. Similarly, sectarian beliefs that can run in families are to be guarded against — as they are for any kind of adoption.
Relationship drama. In addition to parental duties, the two siblings would still have to deal with all the stress of their personal and professional lives. Conflict around shared responsibilities may arise.
The parents’ marital partners. The adoptive parents’ romantic/marital partners may endanger the child’s health and well-being, thus increasing the risks of anxiety, abuse and separation trauma.
Exotic, yet familiar?
Kindred parenting may be labeled as “exotic” from a bureaucratic point of view. But while it does carry some risks, this model of parenting doesn’t exactly fall in the “experimental” category as proven by our millenary traditions of raising a child “within the extended family”.
Following screening, the authorities could grant the kindred parenting groups’ full legal rights, including benefits and financial support for moving and living together.
Of course, a new legal framework should be created in order to deal with all the peculiarities of this type of family, stating the necessary rules and restrictions in order to safeguard the adopted child’s best interest.
Limitations and risks
Thus, it would be unreasonable to demand that “exotic families” do better than coupled or single-parent families.
So the real question is: could kindred adoption ever do worse?
We can’t know for sure, since we’ve never tried it.
But here is one argument in favor of kindred parenting: a significant number of successful single parents acknowledged that they have received a great deal of support from their own parents. Is blood thicker than water? Perhaps.
What do you think? Could kindred adoption ever work?
Do you believe first and second degree relatives could get along better as parents than married couples?
Can you imagine other types of undiscovered, yet un-named “exotic families”? If yes, which?
Originally published in The European Network