What It Means to Be a Parent

beach-1867271_1920Since the beginning of recorded history, people have been writing about parenthood and what it means. Many people feel a strong drive to become parents, and they may start or expand their family in many different ways – adoption, assisted reproduction, surrogacy, and more.

Whatever your family looks like, there are two ways to think about parenthood. One takes into account the legal definition and the rights and responsibilities parenthood entails. This is a good way to begin to understand parenthood. The rest of what it means is a life-long journey that’s different for everyone.

Understanding the Legal Definition of Parenthood

The legal rights of a parent generally come into force from the moment the child is born. In the case of an adoption the rights are phased in often with temporary rights soon after birth and full rights when the adoption is granted.  

The principal legal right conferred by parenthood is custody:

  • Physical custody means where the child lives and with whom they are physically with day to day
  • Legal custody means the right to make binding decisions on behalf of the child
  • Inheritance means the right to leave property to a child, as a gift or after death

Legal custody gives parents the right to make decisions about a child’s health, education, and religious upbringing. Parents share these rights, and limits might be placed on them if parents separate or one parent is no longer in the child’s life.

From the perspective of a court, parental rights come with a duty to support the child, usually until the age of 18. Parents must also meet a child’s basic needs, including food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education. Of course, this is really only the beginning of parenting.

What It Means to Be a Parent Goes Deeper than Legal Definitions

It might sound strange for an adoption attorney to say there’s something at play deeper than the law. But there are some subjects that can’t be explained easily – and parenthood is definitely one of them. Each parent-child relationship is different, yet some things about parenting can transcend individuals.

A parent is someone who exhibits a deep, driving devotion to the ultimate well-being and best interests of a child. Studies have shown a powerful, abiding emotional connection can develop between an adult  and child whenever an adult chooses to nurture, attend to, and care for a child.

Families come in all shapes and sizes, and it is not required to be biologically related to be a loving parent. On average, adopted children have similar rates of positive mental health outcomes as their peers who are raised by biological parents. This is true no matter the family’s gender makeup.

Parenthood entails a commitment to put a child’s interests and needs first until that child is ready to live independently. The decision to put another first is an act of love, and it affects the journey parents and children take together – in childhood and later in adult life.

Every day of parenthood is different. You will see new family traditions and rituals develop before your eyes. You will make important decisions – first on your own, then with increasing input from your child. Parents have a lot to think and worry about, but their adventure is full of love and learning.

Contact Jennifer Fairfax today to learn more about adoption.


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“I believe in working with each of my clients—in support of their family dynamic—to make the dreams of parenthood a reality. Whether you are single or married; or gay; a step-parent, a surrogate or intended parent or a child of adoption, it is my mission to serve as your advocate. With a dedication to the ethical and sensitive nature of each situation, I will help you understand the laws within Maryland or Washington, DC for adoption or surrogacy, and pledge to be your partner throughout the journey.” - Jennifer Fairfax

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