If like me, you went to a primary school in India, there comes a point when you learn about families. It happens in the Environmental Sciences class, in second grade. I remember these classes quite vividly (because I like to think I was a precocious child) because unfortunately, I did not fit in. My teacher taught us that families consisted of parents and children. There is always a father, a mother, and siblings. We were also made to stick pictures of families which consisted of a father, a mother and a brother and a sister. And just to clarify the 'me not fitting in' part - I did not have siblings then. Now I have more than my share.
If you google the word 'family', there are two definitions that come up: The first one is better than the one I was taught when I was seven, and the second one has strong biological connotations - 1) a group consisting of parents and children living together in a household. 2) all the descendants of a common ancestor.
For clarity's sake, I would like to draw your attention to the first one and compare it with my second-grade definition.
In the 21st century, a definition of family as "parents and children living together in a household" is progressive in comparison to "father, mother, children".
But let us take a moment to consider a few other forms of families:
Case I - Father+ Mother -- Child/Children
Case II- Father+Father -- Child/Children
Case III - Mother+Mother -- Child/Children
Case IV - Father -- Child/Children
Case V - Mother -- Child/Children
Case VI - Father+ His family + Mother + Her Family (in case of estranged parents) -- Child/Children
Case VII - Godparents turned parents -- Children
Case VIII - Siblings turned parents -- other siblings/children
Not to forget transgender parents and/or transgender children, and numerous other forms of families you can think of.
The point being there are no hard and fast rules here.
Years of agency and access given only to heteronormative families often sideline families that do not fulfill the norms and thus often fail to be recognised as families.
We are still on section 377, so legally recognizing same sex marriage/co-habitation/partnership and then parentage is a dream for the future.
Socially, single parents face numerous hurdles in daily lives. Though society is often sympathetic to the plights of widows and/or widowers who have to raise children on their own, active supportive mechanisms are few or negligible.
While the whole concept of adoption and biological parentage deserves a whole paper on its own, it is important to acknowledge how adoption is considered a difficult process and is not socially encouraged. And while the difficulty of the process can be justified on the basis of child protection and security, and the feasibility of the adoptive parents to take care of an adopted child - socially, adding the 'adopted' tag and differentiating a biological child from an adopted child in social situations has multiple repercussions for both the child and the parents as they try to lead normal lives. Though single parents are legally allowed to adopt, the process is long drawn with quite a few case studies available where even single parents who fulfill all the requirements are denied parentage on various pretexts.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of India, has notified the coming into effect of the Maternity Benefit Amendment Act 2017, since the 1st of April this year. While this is a key achievement, actual equity is achieved only when this is extended to fathers as well. Though the Central Government in 1999 under Central Civil Services (Leave) Rule 551 A made provisions for paternity leave for a male central government employee for a period of 15 days to take care of his wife and newborn child, there are many loopholes within the same, and the law as evident is quite exclusive to a particular section. Moreover, it stereotypes the roles expected of fathers and mothers. With an increase of women participating in the workforce, it is important to re-evaluate existing policies and legal frameworks, to keep them there while encouraging men to participate more in raising their children.
Let us also take a moment to acknowledge families where uncles and aunts become parents, where elder siblings take up responsibilities and turn into parental figures, those homes where grandparents become the active parents, where the household help knows more about the ward than the actual parents, where friends and sometimes strangers turn into family.
Our father left three months ago. My little brother gave this to me today for "Father's Day" 😭 pic.twitter.com/fVlRQdH2Yo— Ethan (@ethanlanphere) 18 June 2017
Often in the name of what is traditional, we tend to exclude and alienate what is not the norm. Families ideally must be a safe heaven, a source of immense support, security and unconditional love in the true sense of the term. The word 'nurture' is thus, often associated with familial circumstances. But if nurture is not found in 'nature' or the 'biological', there is no harm in acknowledging and celebrating the sources of nourishment that are not found from within the expected circle. Here is to modern families and individuals who fulfill parental roles that exist outside expected social categories - may we acknowledge, accept and most importantly let them be.