Adoption is the legal and/or social establishment of a parent-child relationship where that relationship is not the natural result of biology. Yet, it seems that within this rather straight-forward definition, there are some who have a heart for traditional adoption and worry that anything that doesn’t match up on every single point is not worthy to be called “adoption.”

In general, when people hear about adoption, they imagine a baby or perhaps an older child who has been orphaned, and they imagine one or more adult strangers taking it upon themselves to make the child a part of their family. Newborn domestic adoption, international adoption, and foster care adoption all fall into this category.

However, there are a couple of slightly different scenarios that also involve adults taking on the rights and responsibilities of parenting a child to whom they are not genetically related. In these scenarios, while the adopted children will not have all of the same experiences common to traditional adoptees, they will nonetheless experience at least some of them. It would be doing these children and their parents a disservice to presume that they cannot consider theirs an adoptive family.

In kinship adoption, where the child and adoptive parents generally already know and love each other before the adoption takes place, the child doesn’t leave her or his original family but rather moves within in, often to the grandparents’ home, or an aunt or uncle’s, or even an older sibling’s. Oftentimes, such arrangements are not legally finalized in court, which results in an informal adoption. The child lives with the new parental figures, who are responsible for the child in all aspects of life, but no formal court adoption decree is issued.

In stepparent adoption, a child remains with one of his or her biological parents whose new spouse then adopts the child as a stepson or stepdaughter. This effectively establishes a legal parental relationship ,which takes the place of the previous parent, between the new parent and child. While it is true that a stranger becomes the child’s parent, the other parent remains a constant in his or her life.

Finally, the newest variation on an old theme is embryo adoption. Because the parents get to experience pregnancy and birth and because the child never experiences a conscious loss of an original parent, some question whether the term “adoption” is appropriate. Again, while certainly not comparable to a traditional adoption in many ways, the fact remains that newly conceived human beings grow, develop, and are raised by a family that is not genetically related to them. Therefore, there is an aspect of adoption for the family built by embryo adoption just like there is an aspect of adoption for the family built by kinship adoption or stepparent adoption.

In the end, what matters is that the family members love one another and do not let circumstances dictate who can and cannot be a mother or father figure for the affected children. The terminology may differ, as can the extent of the loss for the various members of the triad, but all fall under the umbrella term of adoption.