I read this week about a website called modamily.com (as in modern family) that promotes what’s called “non-romantic co-parenting”. The idea is that the website will match you up with someone who has similar goals and principles regarding parenting so the two of you can co-parent a child without any romantic relationship whatsoever. All important details of the arrangement (including the method of conception) would be worked out ahead of time, of course. I guess it’s kind of like a divorce settlement without the animosity.

Our concept of the family has been changed by the high divorce rate, adoption, surrogate parenting, gay marriage and who knows what else? If people are willing to have non-romantic parenting arrangements, why stop at a couple? In this world of the internet, why not half-a-dozen or more parents from various parts of the globe united in raising one child? (Though imagine the grief of having six parents tell you to clean up your room!) Sooner or later someone will try this. Whether or not they should is another question.

SF writers have been trying to imagine future approaches to parenting for decades. Many stories and novels have offered parental arrangements that don’t include co-habiting with each other or the children. Brave New World and numerous others have featured laboratory fertilization and gestation, with the child-rearing handled by entities like daycare centers and sometimes even by robot caregivers. I noticed that the newest Superman movie Man Of Steel showed that type of system in use on Krypton. The question of parenting in space colonies or colony ships has always been an issue because children would be few, the group very close, and there may be compelling reasons for parenting duties to be shared among more than just the two genetic parents. There’s even some precedent for this in small tribal cultures where paternity can often be in doubt. What’s next? Once gestation is taken out of the womb, will it really matter who our “natural” parents are? Perhaps parents will be chosen by the state.

One of the great joys of parenting is watching that little being, from your own flesh and blood, grow and develop and achieve. It works the other way around, too, with children being proud of their parents, wanting to be like them. There’s no question that role-modeling is important to child development. Sons often want to grow up to be “just like Dad”. But say a child on a spaceship crew doesn’t know who his father is. I suspect he’ll choose the man who best represents the qualities he wants in a dad, and emulate him. What if all of the children chose the same guy (the manly and brave captain, no doubt)? Then, with both genetics and behavior, we’d be messing with the mostly random variety that evolution has directed up to this point.

In many cultures family is everything. We use phrases like “blood is thicker than water” to say that blood ties demand the ultimate loyalty. Evolution is behind this, too. But can bonds like that survive forms of family structure that have no basis in genetics or even living under the same roof? And won’t society suffer without them?

The old/new-again expression claims “it takes a village to raise a child”. In these days of the “global village”, it’s pretty hard to predict how all of this will turn out.