What are biological children

One child - two parents? Diversity of parenting

1. Changing parenthood: three developments

A cultural change in family realities has been observed since the 1970s. In addition to the biological and social unity of mother, father and child, other structures of parenthood emerge more often than ever. Three developments in parenthood should be emphasized.

First: A simultaneous and sequential pluralization parenthood changes the social relationship between mother-father-child. Parenthood of different sexes is simultaneously expanded through parenthood of the same sex and parenthood that is not limited to two people. As a result of separations, divorces and remarries, temporary, sequential parenting in step- and blended families is normal for those involved.

Secondly: The application of reproductive medicine leads to a Dissolution of the biological reproductive triad, consisting of two different sex mating partners and their offspring. A child can now have more than two biological parents.

Third: The The biological reproductive triad and the parent-child relationship as a social relationship are drifting apart. Through the application of new options in reproductive medicine in its various variants of conception and reproduction without sexuality, egg donors, sperm donors and surrogacy are the biological parents without the obligation and responsibility of later social parenthood.

The change in familial realities of life contains “potentials of existential irritation” of cultural habits. More culturally significant than the sequential pluralization of parenthood in the biographies of the adults and children involved or the open and self-evident coexistence of same-sex parents with their children is likely to be the deliberate drifting apart of biological and social parenting while at the same time increasing variations in biological parenting. Politics and law react to the changing realities of family life. Your decisions help to re-measure the space of what is considered socially acceptable as parenting. A basis for their decisions are, on the one hand, precise distinctions and concepts of parenthood and, on the other hand, knowledge of the empirical frequency of the various forms of parenthood.

2. Forms of parenthood: How does parenthood arise and how many parents are possible?

Parenthood is always a problem of belonging in the “we” of a family: who belongs to the family, who does not? In the following, a distinction is made, unlike in family research, between biological, psychological and social parenting, and beyond: in biological parenting between genetic and non-genetic and in social parenting between familial and legal parenting.

Biological Parenting: Genetic - not genetic

Biological parenting denotes a biological descent. In the case of women, you can also choose between genetic and not genetic Parenthood can be distinguished. Biological parenthood comes about through conception and birth. If there is genetic parenting, there is a consanguinity. The man who supplies the semen for procreation is the genetic father. The woman who delivers the egg cell or parts of this egg cell is the genetic mother, regardless of whether she carries and gives birth to the child. A woman who did not conceive but carried and gave birth to the child is the biological, but not the genetic mother. There is no blood relationship to the child.

In contrast to Vaskovics (2011) and Lauterbach (2011), for example, biological and genetic parenthood are not seen as opposites here. Genetic parenting is not a “debiologizing” of parenting, but biological parenting is the unity of the distinction between genetic and non-genetic parenting. How different from biological, for example, is procreation to be understood after the pipette penetrated the unfertilized egg and injected the sperm. In the Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) two selected cells with their genetic properties are brought together by an act of injection. The embryo develops outside of the female body and can be transferred to a woman's uterus after a few days. It can be passed on to the genetic mother or to another woman. In the first case, the child would have two biological parents who are also the genetic parents. In the second case, the child would have three biological parents, two of whom are the genetic parents and one of whom is the non-genetic parent. A child can now have three genetic parents regardless of which woman is carrying the child.1 In addition, there is the notion in the world that, in short and long, the number of genetic parents can in principle also be unlimited.2 On the other hand, biological parenthood that is not genetically based is likely to remain limited to one uterus.

Mental Parenting: A Black Box

Mental parenting arises from thoughts and feelings. Feelings can be understood as psychological observations and descriptions of physical states. Depending on his body, his hormonal equipment, his feelings and his biography, including his own child socialization, the individual develops his psychological parenthood. Before giving birth, a woman who is going through a pregnancy first of all develops a conscious psychological relationship with the child. Your feelings should be fundamentally different from those of the genetic mother who delivered an egg cell for conception. The feelings do not contradict rationality. Thinking, feeling and evaluating belong together. For an outsider, however, individual consciousness remains a black box. It cannot be seen or interpreted by him. What can be seen is only the interaction between parents and children, i.e. family communication among those present. In principle, psychological parenting is possible with more than two parents.

Social parenting: familial - legally

Social parenting denotes a social role. On the one hand, it means taking on certain tasks in bringing up the child, and on the other hand, the responsibility as an expectation to successfully fulfill these tasks. In society, it is primarily the parents as persons, but also the state, with its legal norms, that take on tasks and responsibility in bringing up the child. It is therefore between more familial and legal To distinguish parenting. In contrast, the common distinction between social and legal parenting is imprecise. It is based on a term “social” that is oriented towards everyday life and implies ideas such as “warmth”, “closeness” or “affection”. The real possible relationships in the family, however, range from warmth to cold, from closeness to distant, from affection to dislike; and only very rarely is this broad social spectrum legally relevant. At the same time, she places legal expectations and decisions outside of the “social”. This distinction is incompatible with a scientific understanding of society. As a social issue, society differs from consciousness with psychological references and organic bodies with physical references. According to this, family and law, but also politics, economy, religion and science are social issues that are only possible within society and not in contrast to society. In short: what happens in the family and in law is at the same time the fulfillment of society.

Family parenting arises from the fact that a person actually takes on parental responsibility for a child through self-commitment. As a decision, family parenting is never arbitrary, but always specified semantically. It is an expression of a radical restructuring of the family's social structure. The family is less often than ever as an institution based on its legal, political or religious references, but primarily on the production and self-descriptions of the people involved. This internal orientation is neutral towards biological requirements. A preference can be empirically observed that the persons in the couple relationship are the same who also justify parenthood biologically. But beyond bisexuality and two-parenthood, family parenting is structurally more diverse. Under the conditions of increased self-referentiality and inner orientation of the family in modern society, it is the adults involved who decide on parenthood and the number of parents. In terms of responsibility, they commit themselves to be responsible for bringing up one or more children. Family parenting then ranges from the single parent to the couple relationship to a trio, quattro and X relationship. For example, with multiple parenthood in so-called queer families, where more than two people take on family parenthood. Multiple parenthood is also comparatively common in the diverse constellations of stepfamilies and blended families, because pairs of parents separate and connect with new partners. The persons involved in the intimate relationships involved can also be partially or completely different from those who make up the parenthood. In principle, any structural variation in familial parenting is possible beyond the constellations that are often statistically recorded. Family parenting is an expression of the structural openness of social parenting. At the same time, the respective constellation is only one at the moment. Familial parenthood can be perceived in its updated constellation permanently or temporarily, continuously or discontinuously. Family parenting can change in the biography of parents and children through the exclusion of previous parents and inclusion of other people as parents. At the same time, family parenting is not arbitrary. What is decisive are the contexts in which parenting is culturally based today. They can be observed when parents take care of their children, how they handle their responsibility and authority in bringing up them and thus differ semantically from education through the social environment. The responsibility is extensive and includes the assumption that responsible persons, in this case the parents as responsible persons, should be able to develop problems of upbringing that others are unable to develop. This of course includes a failure of familial parenting, a "dysfunctional parenting".

Legal parenting arises from the legal assignment of a child to a person. This assignment results in general and specific duties and rights of the person towards the child. It is less comprehensive than family parenting, and it is fuzzy in relation to the content of family upbringing. It is characteristic of legal parenting that it only becomes an issue in the family when extreme crises or conflicts irritate the family's everyday life. Legal parenting is then not regulated in the family, but only within the legal system, between lawyers and in front of the courts. In Germany, the number of legal parents has so far been limited to a maximum of two people. A distinction must be made between this so-called “full legal parenthood” and “subsidiary parenthood” if individual rights and obligations are assigned to other people, for example in custody and access rights.

In addition to the parents, a child can also have close relationships with other people. Vaskovics (2016) suggests calling them “social-family relationships” in these cases. Such personal relationships are semantically and structurally similar in many ways to family parenting. However, such relationships with relatives, friends, acquaintances, neighbors or professional educators are less structural than semantic. Compared to familial parenting, they are less exclusive and close, less continuous and permanent, less comprehensive. To a large extent, they are arbitrary, selective, informal and ambiguous in terms of normative obligations and services.

3. Empirical Diversity of Parenthood - Missing Data

Multiple parenthood arises from the disintegration of biological, familial and legal parenthood, on the one hand through decoupling from one another, on the other hand through the splitting of the respective parenthood. Multiple parenting is historically not a new phenomenon. Today, however, it should be lived more openly and naturally, and thus more visible and more frequently. The empirical observations on multiple parenting are limited to social parenting. They only provide imprecise information about the actual spread of familial and legal parenting and only allow conclusions to be drawn about biological parenting. In Germany, the microcensus in particular provides empirical information about parents and children. It contains an extensive catalog of characteristics for over 800,000 minors and adults, making it the largest representative sample of the population in Europe. It is carried out every year. Since 1996, data has also been available on same-sex couples and children living with them. Since 2006, the microcensus has also provided information about registered partnerships with children.

First we consider the parents who live with underage children. Around 14.8 million parents lived in Germany in 2016. Of these, just under 89% lived in a different-sex couple community, around 0.1% lived in a same-sex couple community. Another 11% lived alone with their children. In most cases, it is likely to be a matter of familial parenting, the number of which would have to be supplemented by parents who live separately from their underage children and who nevertheless actually exercise parenthood. Regarding the possible legal status of parenthood: 77% of the parents are married, a further 10% are single and 2% are married, separated, divorced or widowed and live in a couple. Most of the married cohabiting parents are also likely to have legal parenting. However, this should not apply to this extent to those parents who are not married and form a couple. This is also indicated by the following observation: If two parents live together, this does not always mean that the children living with them are also their children. Stepfamilies can arise as a result of separation, divorce, but also death and remarriage. They are families in which children from previous partnerships live in the current household. In this household, therefore, children only live with one partner in addition to possible common children. The proportion of children who are not together is 1% for married parents, 14% for single parents and 45% for separated, divorced or widowed parents. It can be assumed that parents who are not married together are the most likely to diverge between familial and legal parenting.

If the parents with children who do not share one another are grouped together, then at least 4% of the parents living in couples should not be the biological parents of children living with them. Other studies come to the conclusion that around 7% to 13% of families in Germany are stepfamilies. The respective proportion of non-biological parenthood should, however, always only form a lower limit, since the information is missing here as to how many of the common and also of the non-common children have been adopted or taken into care. If you put the number of adoptions of minors and the live births in a year in relation to each other, then 0.5% (2015) of the underage children are adopted. In addition, around 2.7% (2014) of births are the result of artificial conception in Germany. The proportions are comparatively small, but in absolute terms that is 3 812 adopted underage children and 19 030 children who have been artificially fertilized. In addition, there are no live births who were born outside of Germany after an artificial conception.

Multiple parenting includes parents of the same sex. According to the 2016 microcensus, there are at least 10,300 families in Germany in which two parents with the same sex orientation live together with their underage or adult children. Thus every ninth homosexual couple lives with children. For comparison: It is more common for heterosexual couples to have children living in the same household. About 33% of the illegitimate and 45% of the legitimate couples have children in the household. Around 61% of same-sex parents form a registered partnership. From the children's point of view, this means: Of the 14,500 children, around 8,000 are children with parents in a registered civil partnership. The number of children with same-sex parents living together has risen regularly in recent years.


[1] With this new method of artificial procreation, the matured but still unfertilized nucleus with the crucial part of the genetic material is removed from an egg cell with defective mitochondria.This is then inserted into an enucleated second egg cell with healthy mitochondria, see Zhang, J., Liu, H., Luo, S., Chavez-Badiola, A., Liu, Z., Yang, M., Munne, S. ., Konstantinidis, M., Wells, D. & Huang, T. (2016). First live birth using human oocytes reconstituted by spindle nuclear transfer for mitochondrial DNA mutation causing Leigh syndrome. Fertility and Sterility, 106, e375 – e376.

[2] For possible genetic modifications of the germ cells before conception and of the embryo in vitro see Reardon, S. (2017). US science advisers outline path to genetically modified babies. Nature, February 17, 2017.


  • Lauterbach, W. (2011). Importance of descent for family and kin. In D. Schwab & L. A. Vaskovics (Eds.), Pluralization of Parenthood and Childhood. (Pp. 191-210). Leverkusen: Barbara Budrich.
  • Vaskovics, L.A. (2011). Segmentation and multiplication of parenthood. Concept for the analysis of parenting and parenting constellations. In D. Schwab & L. A. Vaskovics (Eds.). Pluralization of parenthood and childhood. (11-40). Leverkusen: Barbara Budrich.
  • Vaskovics, L.A. (2016). Segmentation and Multiplication of Parenthood and Childhood: A Dilemma for Legal Regulations? Youth and Education Law, 64, 194-209.


From: Eggen, B (2018). Multiple Parenthood - Towards the New Normal of Parenthood. RPsych Legal Psychology, 4, pp. 181-207; shortened and supplemented.


Bernd Eggen, Dr. rer. pol., graduate sociologist (Univ.) and graduate social pedagogue (FH), has been working on the Baden-Württemberg family research department of the State Statistical Office since 1990. The current research focuses are: family and their relationship to the social and non-social environment, family policy: logical, ideological and temporal frame of reference, family reporting as applied family research. About the method: The application of systems theory (Niklas Luhmann) as a general sociological theory to the three issues of family, family policy and family reporting. An overview of the publications can be found on the homepage of FamilienForschung Baden-Württemberg of the State Statistical Office.


Dr. Bernd Eggen

Baden-Württemberg State Statistical Office
Family Studies Research Center,
Social science analyzes
P.O. Box 106033

70049 Stuttgart

Phone: 0711-6412953



discontinued on 08/14/2018