As the novel follows Juliet and reveals the past compositions of her family, as well as the compositions of other characters' families, it's telling that few of the families are conventionally organized with two married parents and biological children. However, this is seldom seen as a bad thing—in many cases, people are simply happy to be able to care for children after their parents' deaths in the war—and indeed, there are situations where one's biological family is actually regarded with fear and apprehension. In this way, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society suggests that there's no single correct way to form a family or for a family to look. Instead, what's most important is that family members, biological or otherwise, provide unconditional love and care for others.
Juliet's early childhood was very happy. She was raised on a farm by two loving parents, and she was able to read as much as she wanted. However, this all came to an end at twelve years old, when Juliet's parents died and she was sent to live with her elderly great-uncle, Dr. Roderick Ashton. The transition was understandably difficult for Juliet. After she ran away twice, Dr. Ashton took a friend's advice and sent Juliet to a girls' boarding school. At school, Juliet befriended Sophie Stark and the entire Stark family, who increasingly came to treat her more as a family member than a mere friend of their daughter's. Upon Dr. Ashton's death when Juliet was seventeen, the Starks continued to house Juliet during school vacations and supported her through early adulthood. The Starks' treatment of Juliet makes it clear that blood ties or formal ties (like marriage) aren't necessary prerequisites to providing love and care to children. Despite this, Juliet's inclusion in the family is later formalized when Sophie names Juliet the godmother of her son, Dominic. Taken together, this suggests that while relationships recognized by the state aren't necessary, per se, they do offer a sense of legitimacy—and in the event of a worst-case scenario like Sophie and her husband's death, it won't just be because of luck that Dominic has someone to care for him, love him, and guide him through life as the Starks did for Juliet.
Guernsey explores similar ideas of legitimacy and what makes a family in its consideration of Kit, the four-year-old daughter of Elizabeth McKenna and the German soldier Christian Hellman, both of whom are deceased by the start of the novel. Elizabeth kept her relationship with Christian and Kit's paternity a secret from the authorities, though it's suggested the German authorities were aware of at least the relationship. Two years later, after Elizabeth is taken to a concentration camp in mainland Europe, the Society takes turns caring for and parenting Kit, offering Kit a loving extended family—none of whom are related to her by blood, but love her fiercely just the same.
Later, Amelia tells Juliet that the secret of Kit's paternity persists to the present, as Kit's caretakers on Guernsey fear that if Christian's relatives were to find out about her, they'd attempt to take her away. Though it's impossible to know whether Christian's family is alive, or if any of them truly believe in Nazi ideals if they are, this suggests that as far as Kit's adoptive family is concerned, it's far preferable to be raised by people not related by blood but who are known to be kind and on the right side of history, than would be to be raised by blood family with horrific and dehumanizing views of life and other people.
A few months after Juliet moves to Guernsey, her integration into the "family" of the Society members is so complete that she's put in charge of caring for Kit while Dawsey is in France. During the month or so that Juliet cares for Kit, the two become extremely close and Juliet becomes increasingly interested in how to properly and effectively parent a child. Especially as Juliet listens to stories about the children of Guernsey being evacuated in the days before the German occupation, she comes to realize that the crushing love that caused Guernsey parents to send their children to England to keep them safe is something that she feels for Kit, despite the fact that Kit isn't her biological child. Notably, this helps Juliet to begin to think of herself as a parent, and shows again that a blood relationship isn't necessary to have a child's best interests at heart.
This also leads Juliet to decide to pursue formally adopting Kit, an idea that Amelia fully supports and Kit agrees with as well. However, despite the community's support for the adoption, Juliet recognizes that because she's unmarried, Mr. Dilwyn, Kit's legal guardian and the executor of Elizabeth's estate, may be unwilling to grant her request in full—indicating that, at least when it comes to formal parenthood, the lack of a blood relationship with a child combined with presenting an other-than-acceptable image of a parent (in this case, being unmarried) can keep people from being able to effectively protect and parent a child. Though the novel ends before tying up these particular loose ends, it's important to note that because Juliet marries Dawsey, she'll be in a much better position to adopt Kit within a week of the novel's close. The family that those three presumably create then becomes the novel's most successful and most compelling example of a chosen, adopted family, legitimized in the eyes of the law to nurture and protect a child.
Family, Parenting, and Legitimacy ThemeTracker
Family, Parenting, and Legitimacy Quotes in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Though I had little hope of success, I knew it was my duty to warn her of the fate that awaited her. I told her she would be cast out of decent society, but she did not heed me. In fact, she laughed. I bore it. Then she told me to get out of her house.
The principal work of the baby's maintenance was undertaken by Amelia Maugery, with other Society members taking her out—like a library book—for several weeks at a time.
They all dandled the baby, and now that the child can walk, she goes everywhere with one or another of them—holding hands or riding on their shoulders. Such are their standards!
There was an old canvas bathing shoe left lying right in the middle of the path. Eli walked around it, staring. Finally, he said, "That shoe is all alone, Grandpa." I answered that yes it was. He looked at it some more, and then we walked on by. After a bit, he said, "Grandpa, that's something I never am." I asked him, "What's that?" And he said, "Lonesome in my spirits."
The States didn't want the parents to come into the school itself—too crowded and too sad. Better to say good-byes outside. One child crying might set them all off.
So it was strangers who tied up shoelaces, wiped noses, put a nametag around each child's neck. We did up buttons and played games with them until the buses could come.
But then I imagined a lifetime of having to cry to get him to be kind, and I went back to no again. We argued and he lectured and I wept a bit more because I was so exhausted, and eventually he called his chauffer to take me home. As he shut me into the back seat, he leaned in to kiss me and said, "You're an idiot, Juliet."
And maybe he's right.
I sometimes think that we are morally obliged to begin a search for Kit's German relations, but I cannot bring myself to do it. Christian was a rare soul, and he detested what his country was doing, but the same cannot be true for many Germans...And how could we send our Kit away to a foreign—and destroyed—land, even if her relations could be found? We are the only family she's ever known.
I knew that all children were gruesome, but I don't know whether I'm supposed to encourage them in it. I'm afraid to ask Sophie if Dead Bride is too morbid a game for a four-year-old. If she says yes, we'll have to stop playing, and I don't want to stop. I love Dead Bride.
I also know that she cherished you as her family, and she felt gratitude and peace that her daughter, Kit, was in your care. Therefore, I write so you and the child will know of her and the strength she showed to us in the camp.
It's odd, I suppose, to mourn so for someone you've never met. But I do.
Maybe every mother looks at her baby that way—with that intense focus—but Elizabeth put it on paper. There was one shaky drawing of a wizened little Kit, made the day after she was born, according to Amelia.
She told me once that those guards used big dogs. Riled them up and loosed them deliberately on the lines of women standing for roll call—just to watch the fun. Christ! I've been ignorant, Juliet. I thought being here with us could help her forget.
She was showing me her treasures, Sophie—her eyes did not leave my face once. We were both so solemn, and I, for once, didn't start crying; I just held out my arms. She climbed right into them, and under the covers with me—and went sound asleep. Not me! I couldn't. I was too happy planning the rest of our lives.