I confess I’ve been following the Olympics pretty closely. Imagine finding something in that coverage that fits so well here? But here it is.
Apparently Simone Biles (do I need to explain that she is the finest gymnast on the US team, thought by some to be among the best ever?) was adopted by her maternal grandfather (Ron Biles) and his wife (Nellie Biles) when she was young. Her genetic mother (Ron Biles’ daughter) struggled with drug and alcohol issues.
There’s nothing secret about this, as far as I can tell. in the article I linked to, Simone Biles is quoted as saying:
When I was younger, I was adopted by my grandparents, which are now my parents” ….. “I call them Mom and Dad. Everything’s just been so normal.”
But I guess not everyone is as clear about this as she is. An NBC commentator said “They may be mom and dad but they are NOT her parents.”
Now I have to say, I’m not even sure what this means. I think he might have meant that she may call them “mom” and “dad” but that this doesn’t make them parents.
But doesn’t it depend what kind of “parents” we are talking about? If there was an adoption (and it certainly appears that there was) then they are her legal parents. At the same time, they are not (and I doubt they would claim to be) her genetic parents.
But my guess it that neither of these are what Simone Biles was thinking about. As far as I can tell she–and those who criticized the commentator–were thinking about psychological/social parents. Ron and Nellie are the people who raised her, who guided her, who were there for her. They are, in the most important way of all, her parents.
And apparently even the commentator figured this one out. His last quoted comment is “Ron and Nellie are Simone’s parents.”
I think for many people the default, unmodified “parent” in common speech is indeed the social/psychological parent. It’s mostly in specialized contexts (doctor’s appointments, legal matters) that the other forms of parentage come to the fore.