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A parent is a caregiver of the offspring in their own species. In humans, a parent is the caretaker of a child (where "child" refers to offspring, not necessarily age). A biological parent is a person whose gamete resulted in a child, a male through the sperm, and a female through the ovum. Biological parents are first-degree relatives and have 50% genetic meet. A female can also become a parent through surrogacy. Some parents may be adoptive parents, who nurture and raise an offspring, but are not biologically related to the child. Orphans without adoptive parents can be raised by their grandparents or other family members.


A parent can also be elaborated as an ancestor removed one generation. With recent medical advances, it is possible to have more than two biological parents. [1] [2] [3] Examples of third biological parents include instances involving surrogacy or a third person who has provided DNA samples during an assisted reproductive procedure that has altered the recipients' genetic material. [4]

The most common types of parents are mothers, fathers, step-parents, and grandparents. A mother is, "a woman in relation to a child or children to whom she has given birth." [5] The extent to which it is socially acceptable for a parent to be involved in their offspring's life varies from culture to culture, however one that exhibits too little involvement is sometimes said to exhibit child neglect, [6] while one that is too involved is sometimes said to be overprotective, cosseting, nosey, or intrusive. [7]



Obama family portrait, 2011 Barack Obama family portrait 2011.jpg
Obama family portrait, 2011

A person's biological parents are the persons from whom the individual inherits their genes. The term is generally only used if there is a need to distinguish an individual's parents from their biological parents, For example, an individual whose father has remarried may call the father's new wife their stepmother and continue to refer to their mother normally, though someone who has had little or no contact with their biological mother may address their foster parent as their mother, and their biological mother as such, or perhaps by her first name. [ citation needed ]


Postpartum baby Postpartum baby2.jpg
Postpartum baby

A mother is a female who has a maternal connection with another individual, whether arising from conception, by giving birth to, or raising the individual in the role of a parent. [8] More than one female may have such connections with an individual. Because of the complexity and differences of a mother's social, cultural, and religious definitions and roles, it is challenging to define a mother to suit a universally accepted definition. The utilization of a surrogate mother may result in explication of there being two biological mothers. [9]


Timothy L. Pesto and Kaitlyn E. Pesto play football as their father watches, Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Timothy L. Pesto and Kaitlyn E. Pesto play football as their father watches, Tuscaloosa, Alabama LCCN2010638252.tif
Timothy L. Pesto and Kaitlyn E. Pesto play football as their father watches, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

A father is a male parent of any type of offspring. [10] It may be the person who shares in the raising of a child or who has provided the biological material, the sperm, which results in the birth of the child.


Grandparents are the parents of a person's own parent, whether that be a father or a mother. Every sexually reproducing creature who is not a genetic chimera has a maximum of four genetic grandparents, eight genetic great-grandparents, sixteen genetic great-great-grandparents and so on. Rarely, such as in the case of sibling or half-sibling incest, these numbers are lower.

Paternity issues

A paternity test is conducted to prove paternity, that is, whether a male is the biological father of another individual. This may be relevant in view of rights and duties of the father. Similarly, a maternity test can be carried out. This is less common, because at least during childbirth and pregnancy, except in the case of a pregnancy involving embryo transfer or egg donation, it is obvious who the mother is. However, it is used in a number of events such as legal battles where a person's maternity is challenged, where the mother is uncertain because she has not seen her child for an extended period of time, or where deceased persons need to be identified.

Although not constituting completely reliable evidence, several congenital traits such as attached earlobes, a widow's peak, or the cleft chin, may serve as tentative indicators of (non-) parenthood as they are readily observable and inherited via autosomal-dominant genes.

A more reliable way to ascertain parenthood is via DNA analysis (known as genetic fingerprinting of individuals), although older methods have included ABO blood group typing, analysis of various other proteins and enzymes, or using human leukocyte antigens. The current techniques for paternity testing are using polymerase chain reaction and restriction fragment length polymorphism. For the most part, however, genetic fingerprinting has all but taken over all the other forms of testing.

Roles and responsibilities


A legal guardian is a person who has the legal authority (and the corresponding duty) to care for the personal and property interests of another person, called a ward. Guardians are typically used in three situations: guardianship for an incapacitated senior (due to old age or infirmity), guardianship for a minor, and guardianship for developmentally disabled adults.

Most countries and states have laws that provide that the parents of a minor child are the legal guardians of that child, and that the parents can designate who shall become the child's legal guardian in the event of death, subject to the approval of the court. Some jurisdictions allow a parent of a child to exercise the authority of a legal guardian without a formal court appointment. In such circumstances the parent acting in that capacity is called the natural guardian of that parent's child.


Parenting or child rearing is the process of promoting and supporting the physical, emotional, social, financial, and intellectual development of a child from infancy to adulthood. Parenting refers to the aspects of raising a child aside from the biological relationship. [11]

Gender and gender mix

A child has at least one biological father and at least one biological mother, but not every family is a traditional nuclear family. There are many variants, such as adoption, shared parenting, stepfamilies, and LGBT parenting, over which there has been controversy.

The social science literature rejects the notion that there is an optimal gender mix of parents or that children and adolescents with same-sex parents suffer any developmental disadvantages compared with those with two opposite-sex parents. [12] [13] The professionals and the major associations now agree there is a well-established and accepted consensus in the field that there is no optimal gender combination of parents. [14] The family studies literature indicates that it is family processes (such as the quality of parenting and relationships within the family) that contribute to determining children's well-being and "outcomes," rather than family structures, per se, such as the number, gender, sexuality and co-habitation status of parents. [13]


Parent–offspring conflict

An offspring who hates their father is called a misopater, one that hates their mother is a misomater, while a parent that hates their offspring is a misopedist. [15] [16] Parent–offspring conflict describes the evolutionary conflict arising from differences in optimal fitness of parents and their offspring. While parents tend to maximize the number of offspring, the offspring can increase their fitness by getting a greater share of parental investment often by competing with their siblings. The theory was proposed by Robert Trivers in 1974 and extends the more general selfish gene theory and has been used to explain many observed biological phenomena. [17] For example, in some bird species, although parents often lay two eggs and attempt to raise two or more young, the strongest fledgling takes a greater share of the food brought by parents and will often kill the weaker sibling, an act known as siblicide.


David Haig has argued that human fetal genes would be selected to draw more resources from the mother than it would be optimal for the mother to give, a hypothesis that has received empirical support. The placenta, for example, secretes allocrine hormones that decrease the sensitivity of the mother to insulin and thus make a larger supply of blood sugar available to the fetus. The mother responds by increasing the level of insulin in her bloodstream, the placenta has insulin receptors that stimulate the production of insulin-degrading enzymes which counteract this effect. [18]

Having children and happiness

Sinatra family 1949 Sinatra family 1949.jpg
Sinatra family 1949

In Europe, parents are generally happier than non-parents. In women, happiness increases after the first child, but having higher-order children is not associated with further increased well-being. Happiness seems to increase most in the year before and after the first childbirth. [19]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Father</span> Male parent

A father is the male parent of a child. Besides the paternal bonds of a father to his children, the father may have a parental, legal, and social relationship with the child that carries with it certain rights and obligations. An adoptive father is a male who has become the child's parent through the legal process of adoption. A biological father is the male genetic contributor to the creation of the infant, through sexual intercourse or sperm donation. A biological father may have legal obligations to a child not raised by him, such as an obligation of monetary support. A putative father is a man whose biological relationship to a child is alleged but has not been established. A stepfather is a male who is the husband of a child's mother and they may form a family unit, but who generally does not have the legal rights and responsibilities of a parent in relation to the child.

Child custody, conservatorship and guardianship describe the legal and practical relationship between a parent and the parent's child, such as the right of the parent to make decisions for the child, and the parent's duty to care for the child.

Paternity law refers to body of law underlying legal relationship between a father and his biological or adopted children and deals with the rights and obligations of both the father and the child to each other as well as to others. A child's paternity may be relevant in relation to issues of legitimacy, inheritance and rights to a putative father's title or surname, as well as the biological father's rights to child custody in the case of separation or divorce and obligations for child support.

DNA paternity testing is the use of DNA profiles to determine whether an individual is the biological parent of another individual. Paternity testing can be especially important when the rights and duties of the father are in issue and a child's paternity is in doubt. Tests can also determine the likelihood of someone being a biological grandparent. Though genetic testing is the most reliable standard, older methods also exist, including ABO blood group typing, analysis of various other proteins and enzymes, or using human leukocyte antigen antigens. The current techniques for paternity testing are using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP). Paternity testing can now also be performed while the woman is still pregnant from a blood draw.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Behavioral ecology</span> Study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures

Behavioral ecology, also spelled behavioural ecology, is the study of the evolutionary basis for animal behavior due to ecological pressures. Behavioral ecology emerged from ethology after Niko Tinbergen outlined four questions to address when studying animal behaviors: What are the proximate causes, ontogeny, survival value, and phylogeny of a behavior?

A sibling is a relative that shares at least one parent with the subject. A male sibling is a brother and a female sibling is a sister. A person with no siblings is an only child.

Polygynandry is a mating system in which both males and females have multiple mating partners during a breeding season. In sexually reproducing diploid animals, different mating strategies are employed by males and females, because the cost of gamete production is lower for males than it is for females. The different mating tactics employed by males and females are thought to be the outcome of stochastic reproductive conflicts both ecologically and socially.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Inclusive fitness</span> Measure of evolutionary success based on the number of offspring the individual supports

In evolutionary biology, inclusive fitness is one of two metrics of evolutionary success as defined by W. D. Hamilton in 1964:

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grandmother hypothesis</span>

The grandmother hypothesis is a hypothesis to explain the existence of menopause in human life history by identifying the adaptive value of extended kin networking. It builds on the previously postulated "mother hypothesis" which states that as mothers age, the costs of reproducing become greater, and energy devoted to those activities would be better spent helping her offspring in their reproductive efforts. It suggests that by redirecting their energy onto those of their offspring, grandmothers can better ensure the survival of their genes through younger generations. By providing sustenance and support to their kin, grandmothers not only ensure that their genetic interests are met, but they also enhance their social networks which could translate into better immediate resource acquisition. This effect could extend past kin into larger community networks and benefit wider group fitness.

Parent–offspring conflict (POC) is an expression coined in 1974 by Robert Trivers. It is used to describe the evolutionary conflict arising from differences in optimal parental investment (PI) in an offspring from the standpoint of the parent and the offspring. PI is any investment by the parent in an individual offspring that decreases the parent's ability to invest in other offspring, while the selected offspring's chance of surviving increases.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Parental investment</span> Parental expenditure (e.g. time, energy, resources) that benefits offspring

Parental investment, in evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology, is any parental expenditure that benefits offspring. Parental investment may be performed by both males and females, females alone or males alone. Care can be provided at any stage of the offspring's life, from pre-natal to post-natal.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Alloparenting</span>

Alloparenting is a term used to classify any form of parental care provided by an individual towards young that aren't its own direct offspring. These are often referred to as "non-descendant" young, even though grandchildren can be among them. Among humans, alloparenting is often performed by a child's grandparents and older siblings. Individuals providing this care are referred to using the neutral term of alloparent.

A donor offspring, or donor conceived person, is conceived via the donation of sperm or ova, or both.

Extra-pair copulation (EPC) is a mating behaviour in monogamous species. Monogamy is the practice of having only one sexual partner at any one time, forming a long-term bond and combining efforts to raise offspring together; mating outside this pairing is extra-pair copulation. Across the animal kingdom, extra-pair copulation is common in monogamous species, and only a very few pair-bonded species are thought to be exclusively sexually monogamous. EPC in the animal kingdom has mostly been studied in birds and mammals. Possible benefits of EPC can be investigated within non-human species, such as birds.

Gene–environment correlation is said to occur when exposure to environmental conditions depends on an individual's genotype.

In genetics, a non-paternity event is the situation in which someone who is presumed to be an individual's father is not in fact the biological father. This presumption of NPE is a subset of a misattributed parentage experience (MPE) which may be on the part of the individual, the parents, or the attending midwife, physician or nurse. An MPE may result from sperm donation, undisclosed adoption, heteropaternal superfecundation, promiscuity, paternity fraud, or sexual assault, as well as medical mistakes, for example, mixups during procedures such as in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination. Where there is uncertainty, the most reliable technique for establishing paternity is genetic testing; however, there is still a risk of error due to the potential for gene mutations or scoring errors.

Sperm donation is the provision by a man of his sperm with the intention that it be used in the artificial insemination or other 'fertility treatment' of a woman or women who are not his sexual partners in order that they may become pregnant by him. Where pregnancies go to full term, the sperm donor will be the biological father of every baby born from his donations.

Accidental incest is sexual activity or marriage between persons who were unaware of a family relationship between them which would be considered incestuous.

Evolutionarily speaking, offspring have a greater bond to mothers than fathers; women are universally known to be the direct caregivers in a parent-offspring relationship, whereas males are seen as material resource providers or involved only with their own reproductive success. Women have the "maternal instinct" to aid, assist, embrace and invest in their offspring. Males are evolutionarily known to invest less due to paternal uncertainty and therefore seek as many sexual partners and seek for an increase of their genes amongst society.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Polyandry in nature</span>

In behavioral ecology, polyandry is a class of mating system where one female mates with several males in a breeding season. Polyandry is often compared to the polygyny system based on the cost and benefits incurred by members of each sex. Polygyny is where one male mates with several females in a breeding season . A common example of polyandrous mating can be found in the field cricket of the invertebrate order Orthoptera. Polyandrous behavior is also prominent in many other insect species, including the red flour beetle and the species of spider Stegodyphus lineatus. Polyandry also occurs in some primates such as marmosets, mammal groups, the marsupial genus' Antechinus and bandicoots, around 1% of all bird species, such as jacanas and dunnocks, insects such as honeybees, and fish such as pipefish.


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