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Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood: Resisting Monomaternalism is Adoptive, Lesbian, Blended, and Polygamous Families

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Abstract

Bridging the gap between feminist studies of motherhood and queer theory, Mothering Queerly, Queering Motherhood articulates a provocative philosophy of queer kinship that need not be rooted in lesbian or gay sexual identities. Working from an interdisciplinary framework that incorporates feminist philosophy and queer, psychoanalytic, poststructuralist, and postcolonial theories, Shelley M. Park offers a powerful critique of an ideology she terms monomaternalism. Despite widespread cultural insistence that every child should have one—and only one—“real” mother, many contemporary family constellations do not fit this mandate. Park highlights the negative consequences of this ideology and demonstrates how families created through open adoption, same-sex parenting, divorce, and plural marriage can be sites of resistance. Drawing from personal experiences as both an adoptive and a biological mother and juxtaposing these autobiographical reflections with critical readings of cultural texts representing multi-mother families, Park advocates a new understanding of postmodern families as potentially queer coalitional assemblages held together by a mixture of affection and critical reflection premised on difference.
... Two committed females co-mothering children contest mainstream US ideological assumptions about what constitutes authentic motherhood. Despite the plurality of motherhood experiences in the USA today, children are still seen as having only one real mother (Park, 2013). Authentic motherhood is viewed as stemming from a particular set of biological processes (e.g., pregnancy, birthing, lactation), which are believed to induce an irreplaceable, biologically based mother-child bond. ...
... Multiple studies to date have examined the interplay of competing discourses surrounding adoptive families (e.g., Suter, Baxter, Seurer, & Thomas, 2014) and one study to date has applied RDT to the study of lesbian and gay familial communication processes, examining the discourses characterizing adult children's retrospective accounts of their parents' coming out to them (Breshears & Braithwaite, 2014). The present inquiry adds to the conversation by focusing on the construct of motherhood by examining the cultural discourses surrounding the presence of more than one mother, or the polymaternalism (Park, 2013), inherent in the lesbian family form. Specifically, this investigation considers the meaning(s) of motherhood in the context of co-motherhood. ...
... Interrupting monomaternalism (DQM). The DQM interrupts the DEM's monomaternalist contention (Park, 2013) that motherhood is occupied by one woman. In the DQM, the nonbiological mother is not viewed as unneeded repeat; rather, she is seen as an authentic mother whose presence augments familial life. ...
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Framed by relational dialectics theory (Baxter), this investigation considered the meaning(s) of motherhood in female-female co-motherhood. Analysis identified two competing discourses: (1) discourse of essential motherhood (DEM) and (2) discourse of queer motherhood (DQM). Speakers' invocation of the DEM reinscribes the mainstream US cultural discourse that children can have only one authentic (i.e., biological) mother, whereas invocation of the DQM denaturalizes the DEM's presumptions of authentic motherhood as biological, interrupts monomaternalism, destabilizes the patriarch, and troubles the equation of biological with moral motherhood. Whereas interpenetrations of the DEM and DQM were typically sites of adversarial discursive struggle, in a few instances, the DEM and DQM rose above their antagonistic relationship, combining to create new meanings of motherhood.
... Lesbian couples have described feeling judged and scrutinized by people asking who the real mother is (e.g., O'Neill et al., 2012). Park (2013) suggests that queering motherhood involves dismantling the ideas that a child can have only one mother (monomaternalism) and that the biological mother is the real mother. Some non-birth mothers may feel free to construct their own type of motherhood that does not conform to the ideologies of biological motherhood or gender role stereotypes (Ben-Ari & Livni, 2006;Padavic & Butterfield, 2011). ...
... Non-birth mothers encounter challenges to the legitimacy of their motherhood in their everyday social relations and interactions with legal institutions (Bergen et al., 2006;Hayman et al., 2013;Hequembourg, 2004). The concept of a mother in Western society is equated with the biological processes of pregnancy, birth, and lactation, which are assumed to produce a special maternal bond between mother and child (Park, 2013). By privileging biological motherhood, other types of mothers including non-birth mothers in same-sex relationships are often rendered invisible or secondary (Green, 2015;Morrow, 2001). ...
... Biological motherhood is still viewed in Irish society as more legitimate than other routes to motherhood, and nonbirth mothers did not experience the same unquestioned parental recognition as their partner, likely arising from the idea of monomaternalism (Park, 2013). Participants described the burden of repeatedly explaining their role to others (Hayman et al., 2013). ...
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In this qualitative study, we explored the experiences of non-birth mothers whose child(ren) were planned and conceived within their same-sex relationship. We conducted semi-structured, face-to-face interviews with 14 participants in Ireland. We transcribed the interviews verbatim and analyzed the data using interpretative phenomenological analysis. Our findings comprised three superordinate themes: A Question of Recognition, An Insecure Connection, and Carving Your Own Way and related subordinate themes. Motherhood experiences were characterized by resilience and vulnerability in parenting their children without legal parental rights and within a heteronormative society that privileged biological motherhood. The dynamic relationship between seeking connection and seeking legitimacy that is at the heart of the participants’ experiences of motherhood is highlighted. Participants encountered challenges to their maternal legitimacy within their families and communities and in their interactions with legal and social institutions. Participants described using various strategies to reinforce their parental identity. Despite the challenges, participants were engaged in constructing satisfying parenting roles. The findings highlight the importance of legitimizing the parental identity of non-birth mothers. Therapists should be sensitive to the additional marginalization of non-birth mothers in same-sex parent families. Validating their vulnerability and their resilience in the face of obstacles may enhance their coping resources.
... Another way to compensate for the biological ties but also to transgress the monomaternal model that privileges biological motherhood in Western culture (Park, 2013) is naming practices developed by this family. Neither woman wanted their son to call Marta by her first name or to call her "auntie" which is the most common practice in lesbian families in Poland according to the survey results (Mizielińska et al., 2015). ...
... Thus, the daily observation of the family revealed different parental practices that sustained Pola's authority as the biological mother who always knows better what is best for her child. Of course, we can only speculate about the roots of her behavior but it seems fair to argue that she strongly internalized the cultural monomaternal belief (Park, 2013) that there is only one true mother who instinctively has better knowledge about child's upbringing and needs. Consequently, she is not willing to share her motherhood equally with Marta. ...
... The primacy of the birth mother is deeply rooted in the Western cultural construct of a family which is why it is extremely difficult to challenge and achieve the acceptance of non-biological but parental status (Park, 2013;Wright, 1998). To do so, "the mother script must also be rewritten, in order to make room for the stepmother in the family" (Wright, 1998, p. 113). ...
Article
In the paper, I draw on the data from the ethnographic part of my recently completed research project “Families of Choice in Poland” (2013–2016). I focus on queer families’ ways of describing their kin-relations and the meaning of “families”. This often involves strategic use of kin language and reference to the importance of blood relations. Analysis reveals a high degree of polemic interplays and ambivalences, especially in reference to the role of social mother within lesbian families. In their narratives lesbian mothers and their children struggle between the biogenetic normative understanding of the family and the practical one based on parental practices of care and shared affections. By investigating the family maps of participants I aim to demonstrate what kind of relatedness matters to them, how it is (re)negotiated and changed. By doing this, I intend to show that queer kinship is always already very plastic, based on contradictions between choice and blood. Blood as an important symbol of kinship is affirmed and simultaneously challenged because biology ceased to be a singular self-evident and natural fundament of kinship.
... A growing body of knowledge shows that from the moment a woman becomes a mother she is continuously living under authoritative knowledge systems of gender, class, ethnicity, and heteronormativity, which join forces in order to maintain the image of 'the good mother'an image that limits her room for maneuver (e.g. Collins, 2007;Hays, 1996;Hooks, 2007;Park, 2013;Ruddick, 1989). ...
... Carolin hinterfragt die Differenzierung in "richtige" und implizit "falsche" Mütter und damit soziale Selbstverständlichkeiten (vgl. auch Park (2013) zu "Monomaternalismus"). Was gesellschaftlich als "richtig" wahrgenommen wird, orientiert sich an sozialen Normen: Als "richtige" Mutter wird gegenwärtig die austragende Person bestimmt. Diese Differenzierung ist -weniger explizit -ebenso in den Bezeichnungen von "Mutter" und "Co-Mutter" enthalten. ...
... This research is a case of how marginalized racial/ethnic groups adopt and resist hegemonic family formation ideologies. Although an increasing number of families form through divorce, cohabitation, interracial relationships, single parenthood, same-sex partnerships, and adoptions, a dominant narrative that privileges a heteronormative, endogamous, nuclear pathway toward family formation persists [1,20]. Individuals reproduce commonsense notions of family through ideals of courtship, marriage, and childbearing. ...
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Family types continue to expand in the U.S., yet normative patterns of endogamy and the privileging of nuclear families persist. To understand how professional women of color navigate endogamy and family ideals, I draw on 40 in-depth interviews of professional Black women and Latinas to ask how they construct partner preferences. I find that professional Latinas and Black women prefer same-race, similarly educated partners but report significant barriers to satisfying these desires. Respondents’ experiences with racism, the rejection of ethno-racial and cultural assimilation, gendered racism from men of color, and the college gender gap emerge as mechanisms for endogamous preferences. These preferences resist and support hegemonic family formation, an ideological and behavioral process that privileges, white, middle class, endogamous, heteronormative ideals for families comprising courtship, marriage, and biological childbearing. By challenging the racial devaluation of people of color while preferring the normativity that endogamy offers, the women in this study underscore the fluidity embedded in endogamy.
... The desire for children was depicted as part of a natural, evolutionary process in family formation. Some co-mothers ascribed this normal desire for children to naturally occurring, biologically-based desires (Park, 2013) encoded in female DNA (Hequembourg, 2007). Some narrated having always been psychologically aware of a biologically induced desire to procreate, invoking the cultural sense of women as "natural or born mothers," as "maternal." ...
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This study examined co-mother family of origin stories. Origin stories, representing the formation of a family, are culturally understood within a master narrative of heterosexual love and biological childbearing. Beginnings of co-mother families rupture this dominant, gendered, boy-meets-girl script. Investigating whether or not co-mother stories reify the normative master narrative or if instead their narrations resist and/or possibly transform conventional understandings, analysis identified three co-mother origin story themes: Becoming a Family (1) as Normal, (2) as Negotiation, and (3) as Normalization. Themes differ in terms of depiction of co-mother family formation as congruent with current norms, as something that needs to be made to seem normal (i.e., in need of normalization), or as something between normal and normalization—to be negotiated internally within the couple. Study results are discussed within a broader framework of family coming-together stories.
... In the case of removal, participants framed sex and gender as inconsequential to selfhood, thereby transcending biological essentialism and its competing discourses.Suter et al. (2015)represents a second study capitalizing on the critical reorientation of RDT 2.0. The study examines how lesbian and bisexual comothers (a contemporary instance of polymaternalism;Park, 2013) construct meaning(s) for motherhood in light of cultural discourses that position the second mother as inauthentic. Interested in permeations of culture and motherhood, the authors explicitly focused on the distal links in the utterance chain, yet simultaneously captured intersections of the distal and proximal sites by focus-group interviewing comothers about identity-challenging interactions with family, friends, and/or community members—interactants with whom the comothers have a past, present, and future. ...
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Despite modest growth in interpretive research, the study of family communication remains predominantly situated within postpositivism to the relative neglect of critical approaches. We argue that this inattention derives partly from the limited number of critically inflected family communication theories. In this article, we seek to encourage critical family communication theorizing. We do so by explicating the critical underpinnings of the recent rearticulation of relational dialectics theory, RDT version 2.0 (Baxter, 2011). We frame our (re)reading in terms of critical family communication considerations of power; connection of private familial spheres to larger public discourses and structures; and inherent openness to critique, resistance, and transformation of the status quo (Suter, 2016).
... For example, centralizing race in accounts of lesbian motherhood demonstrates how differences cut through this sexuality-defined cohort (Moore, 2011); similarly with class and education (Taylor, 2009). Stories of different relationship and family forms have shown how everyday acts and strategies of resistance may combine to queer lesbian motherhood (Park, 2013). ...
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This article explores how advancements in equality rights combine with attitudinal changes in UK society and LGBTQ communities to impact on the experience of lesbian mothers over a generation. The author reflects on ordinary moments where sexuality and relationships become meaningful and situate emotions at the heart of analytical enquiry because it is through emotional interactions that micro–macro networks of relations intersect. Autobiography is combined with original data from empirical research to provide analytical entry points, which aims to advance understanding and also facilitate reflection on how we understand and come to know queer parenthood. Whilst there are now many routes into lesbian motherhood and the stigma of queer kinship is diminishing, this article demonstrates the need to problematize the prevailing narratives of coupledom that are emerging and tease apart the conflation of temporal progression, progressive rights and narratives of progress.
... An important advancement of second wave feminism was to establish studies of care and intimacy on the social science agenda, demonstrating the centrality of 'private' matters to the functioning of every aspect of social life. Contributions to studies of families, intimacies, care and personal life can be found throughout geography (Nash, 2005;Wright, 2010), social policy (Henderson & Forbat, 2002;Daly, 2011), mainstream social psychology (Fagundes & Diamond, 2013;Meyers & Berscheid, 1997), cultural studies (Berlant, 2013;Lee, 2007), queer studies (Park, 2013;Stacey, 1996) and law (Bornstein, 2012;Rosenbury & Rothman, 2010). Likewise, largely due to feminist influences, topics of personal life have always been central to critical social psychology, evidenced today in research investigating relationships (Meenagh, 2017), communities (Johnson, 2012), support networks (Gibson, Wilson, Grice, & Seymour, 2017), or the experiences of love (Watts, 2017). ...
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Singleness, parenting, sexual practices, sibling rivalries, through to meal times, investigating how intimacies and personal lives are organised have always been a mainstay in critical social psychology. However, in the interdisciplinary field of studies of personal life, sociologists often take the lead. In this article, I discuss three illustrative Examples—family practices, queered studies of personal life, and emerging emotional regimes in “late modernity,” and ask how critical social psychology, with its history of investigating the social processes of subjectivity‐making, could be deployed to resolve debates that have emerged within a sociology of personal life. I suggest that clarifying critical social psychology's position in relation to broader studies of personal and intimate life would showcase the distinctiveness of critical social psychological contributions in understanding relational selves, whilst simultaneously fostering interdisciplinary working.
... Carolin hinterfragt die Differenzierung in "richtige" und implizit "falsche" Mütter und damit soziale Selbstverständlichkeiten (vgl. auch Park (2013) zu "Monomaternalismus"). Was gesellschaftlich als "richtig" wahrgenommen wird, orientiert sich an sozialen Normen: Als "richtige" Mutter wird gegenwärtig die austragende Person bestimmt. Diese Differenzierung ist -weniger explizit -ebenso in den Bezeichnungen von "Mutter" und "Co-Mutter" enthalten. ...
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Regenbogenfamilie, Inseminationsfamilie, Mehrelternfamilie: Diese Begriffe versuchen das Phänomen zu fassen, dass Elternschaft und Familie in vielfältigen Konstellationen verwirklicht werden. Sie stehen dabei im Spannungsfeld zwischen empirischer Vielfalt und gesellschaftlichen Norm- und Normalitätsvorstellungen. Die Beiträge des Sonderheftes erkunden die Familienformen lesbischer Zweielternfamilien, Trans* und Co-Elternschaft, nicht-monogamer Beziehungsnetzwerke sowie queere Beziehungsnetzwerke im Kontext von Flucht. Die Autor*innen beschäftigen sich aus geschlechter-, sexualitäts- und queertheoretischen Perspektiven mit vielfältigen Familienformen jenseits heteronormativer Verwandtschaftsbeziehungen. Der empirische Fokus liegt auf den familialen Alltagspraxen: Wie gestaltet sich das doing family und doing reproduction in diesen Familien? Hier stehen die damit einhergehenden Ambivalenzen und Ungleichheiten im Zentrum. Einerseits werden die rechtlichen und politischen Öffnungen sowie die reproduktionstechnologischen Möglichkeiten in der Praxis vielfältig genutzt. Durch den Gebrauch von assistierter Reproduktion wird die Norm der zweigeschlechtlichen Fortpflanzung innerhalb der heterosexuellen Paardyade aufgebrochen. Andererseits sind neben Prozessen der Einschließung auch neue Ausschlüsse zu beobachten, scheinen doch nur solche Liebes- und Lebensformen staatliche Anerkennung zu gewinnen, die der ‚Normalfamilie‘ ähneln.
... Es geht uns darum, das Korpus an wissenschaftlichen Auseinandersetzungen zum Thema um eine etwas unkonventionellere und damit auch facettenreichere Verhandlung zu ergänzen, unter anderem mit Hilfe verschiedener Textsorten wie Gedichten, Listen und Erfahrungsberichten. (Park 2013, S. 1). Sie sieht den Ursprung dessen vor allem in einem Phänomen, das sie "Monomaternalism" (Park 2013, S. 3) nennt. Es ist die Annahme, dass ein Kind eine und nur eine Mutter haben muss, soll und darf. ...
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In diesem Beitrag berichten die Herausgeberinnen, wie das vorliegende Buch entstanden ist. Sie legen dar, worum es ihnen mit diesem Buch geht und verorten es im bereits existierenden wissenschaftlichen und gesellschaftlichen Diskurs zu Mutterschaft und Wissenschaft. Im Anschluss geben sie einen Überblick über die einzelnen Beiträge.
... 21 See esp. Park (2006Park ( , 2013, Johnston (2016) and Schaffer (2019). 22 For early care-adjacent critiques of the systematicity of modern moral theory, see Baier (1995, p. 2) and Walker (2003, p. 89 and 90). ...
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In a moment where needs for care are acute and their provision precarious, feminist care ethics has gained new relevance as a framework for understanding and responding to necessary interdependence. This article reviews and evaluates two long‐standing critiques of care ethics in light of this recent research. First, I assess what I call the pluralist feminist critique, or the dispute over the ability of care ethics to address the needs and histories of a range of marginalized subjects. I identify two forms of this critique: the first disputes the biased starting points shaping the development of the theory, and the second concerns the weaponization of care in support of domination. Although these critiques are well‐established, I draw attention to recent responses that move care theory in generative directions. I argue that the pluralist feminist critique demands both self‐critical transformation in dialog with other feminist schools of thought and a robust account of care ethics' normative authority. I then take up critiques those levied by mainstream ethicists concerned with care theory's adequacy as an ethical approach. I show that recent work on normative authority, conceptual uniqueness, and the grounding of responsibility must be engaged before care theory can be dismissed as “under‐theorized.” In articulating these two sets of critiques and evaluating recent rebuttals to them, I argue for a pluralist feminist theory of care within which strands informed by varying philosophical schools and methods can coexist.
... In order to do a queer feminist study of their situation with the method of BBBA, it is not only important to examine their living conditions, but also to engage with a discourse analysis approach, not least because motherhood is linked to a multiplicity of social meanings and powerful discourses that have developed historically and are specific to Western cultures (e.g., Davis, 2012;Miller, 2007;Phoenix & Woollett, 1991). Discourses produce norms that link motherhood with traditional femininity and are often racialized: "good mothers" in dominant discourses are mainly heterosexual cis-women who are white and, ideally, married (Park, 2013). At the same time, discourses on motherhood are also connected to conditions, be they material or economic conditions. ...
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This paper aims at connecting the Berlin school of Critical psychology with queer feminist theories by focusing on the concept of condition-meaning-reason (Bedingungs-Bedeutungs-Begründungsanalyse, BBBA). To this end, we will first discuss basic aspects of the BBBA concept, which forms an important analytical tool of German Critical psychology. Second, we will present possible connecting lines to queer feminist approaches. In so doing, we will argue that the concept of conditions offers links to feminist theories of New Materialism and (Neo)Marxist Critique. The concept of meaning contains parallels to the Foucauldian concept of discourse, which is central to Butler’s theories of performativity and various subsequent queer feminist schools of thought. In turn, the concept of reason provides an opportunity to understand why subjects who live in similar material conditions and social constellations of meaning act differently. The fictional example of single mothers serves to illustrate the facets of the BBBA concept and the condition/meaning/reason analysis. In this way, we want to emphasise the potential of Critical psychology for queer feminist approaches and break new ground methodologically by integrating the previously divergent insights of Marxist, poststructuralist and psychosocial critiques.
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Based on in-depth interviews with twenty-three Israeli mothers, this article seeks to contribute to an ongoing inquiry into women's subjective experiences of mothering by addressing an understudied maternal emotive and cognitive stance: regretting motherhood. The literature teaches us that within a pronatal monopoly, threatening women that they will inevitably regret not having children acts as powerful reproducer of the ideology of motherhood. Simultaneously, motherhood is constructed as a mythical nexus that lies outside and beyond the human terrain of regret, and therefore a desire to undo the maternal experience is conceived as an object of disbelief. By incorporating regret into maternal experiences, the purpose of the article is twofold: The first is to distinguish regret over motherhood from other conflictual and ambivalent maternal emotions. Whereas participants' expressions of regretting motherhood were not bereft of ambivalence, and thus were not necessarily exceptional or anomalous, they foreground a different emotive and cognitive stance toward motherhood. The second purpose is to situate regret over motherhood in the sociopolitical arena. It has been suggested that the power of backward thinking might be used to reflect on the systems of power governing maternal feelings in two ways: first, through a categorical distinction in the target of regret between object (the children) and experience (maternity), which utilizes the cultural structure of mother love; second, by opposing the very essentialist presumption of a fixed female identity that naturally befits mothering or progressively adapts to it and evaluates it as a worthwhile experience.
Article
The purpose of the study is to contribute to an understanding of the cultural and normative meaning of birth motherhood and how lesbian couples decide who carries the child. The decision of who carries the child is central in lesbian family‐making, carrying consequences for life after birth. Even so, it has been relatively overlooked in research. Drawing from the sociology of personal life and Park's (2013) conceptualization of monomaternalism, we study how informants consider and decide birth motherhood. Semistructured interviews with both partners in 21 pregnant lesbian couples in the Netherlands were thematically analyzed. The meaning of birth motherhood was ambivalent, linked to femininity, socially recognized motherhood, and biogenetic imaginaries. In couples where both wanted to carry, age, which carried different symbolic meanings, was a powerful tiebreaker. Our study shows how the monomaternalist norm shapes conceptualizations of birth motherhood. Desires to experience pregnancy are strong for many. Referring to age can be a way for couples to defuse tension, but it can also be a resource drawn upon to close further negotiations. Our study carries implications for policy makers, health care workers, and mothers‐to‐be. Scholarly, it illuminates the ways in which motherhood, in its various forms, is perceived and recognized.
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Sexism, heteronormativity and mononormativity are constitutively entangled, but to what extent does undoing one undo the others? Through a reading of HBO’s Big Love, a television series about a polygamous family that is conservative in every way except their plural marriage, this article argues that there are ways in which intimacy might be politically transgressive even as it reinforces gender and sexual norms. Expanding on the definition of ‘mononormativity’ through analogy to Berlant and Warner’s (1998) ‘heteronormativity’ it is argued that in order to do justice to the complexity of intimate politics we must attend to relational norms and their transgression.
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Chapter
The challenges facing LGBTQ parents and families are complex and diverse. This chapter aims to provide an overview of the research literature on LGBTQ parents and families while also identifying gaps in the literature. An intersectional approach is used to examine issues facing marginalized populations within LGBTQ parenting and family communities. Issues addressed in the chapter include issues related to parenting and gender identity, trans-racial and multi-racial families, family structures, assisted reproductive technology, foster parenting and adoption, and parenting children from previous relationships. Two case vignettes illustrate issues covered in the chapter, followed by clinical recommendations and discussion questions.
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