What is the ideal number of parents? 2? 4? 5?

How many parents is too few, or too many, or just right? Dr Kamal Ahuja, a well-known IVF specialist at the London Women’s Clinic, once declared “The definition of a traditional family is progressively fading… Families of the future may combine up to five parents. Regardless of culture, the evidence is that children adapt well and it’s the quality of the nurturing environment which is important.”

However, not much study has gone into investigating what lawyers term “intentional parenting” – defining parents by whether they intend to be involved in a child’s life rather than by the biological relationship. A controversial new study by family scholar Elizabeth Marquandt challenges the conventional view that “being wanted” is all that children need.

In “One Parent or Five”, she documents the growth of contemporary family structures with one, two, three, four, five or even more adults claiming to be parents. Her own attitude is far from optimistic: “intention alone hardly guarantees good child outcomes”. The study build on an earlier one on the children of anonymous sperm donors.

“The main point is this: the value of intentional parenthood is not a settled question, but rather a hotly contested one… Are children commodities we commission to appease adult desires, or are they vulnerable creatures with individual human dignity, whose needs must come first? In today’s global family debate, these are the questions on the table. Nothing less than the well-being  of this and future generations of children is at stake.”

The provocative report is published by the Commission on Parenthood’s Future and the Institute for American Values, a US think tank. 

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