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I've done some searching on this, both here at StackExchange and elsewhere, but nothing I've found thus far addresses this question and in this day and age of single parent families where women are sometimes the only parent, it is something I've wondered about for a while now.

Some of what has been returned to me in searches makes me think that feminizing the word "padre" by adding "la" in front of it refers to something else altogether. Also, along these same lines, if you wanted to refer to several female parents, would you say "las padres?"

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I am not sure that I understand the question, but I'll take a go at it.

As others said before, the word padre can never be used specifically for a female; you would use madre. The plural, padres, would include male and female, but padre, does not. This is consistent with the DRAE definition; the plural includes both sexes, but the singular does not.

There is a word that can be used for any parent: progenitor. This word can vary to progenitora for a female parent, but the masculine progenitor can refer to either a man or a woman. Currently, official documents in Spain no longer read padre and madre for a person, but progenitor A and progenitor B; this makes no assumption as to the sex of both parents. But progenitor is a fairly formal word.

Whenever you mean any parent, you may also say el padre o la madre. Similar to what Santiago Tórtora says for Argentina, in Spain the formula padre, madre o tutor legal is quite usual to mean any child guardian.

I would say that the use of the word padre, in singular, to refer only to a man and never a woman is not controversial among Spanish speakers, unlike what happens with many other masculine words.

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    I don't typically reassign the green check mark, but after reading through this thread again, your answer does seem to have broader application (plus, it cites a source and a reputable one at that). Gracias por tu respuesta. – Lisa Beck Sep 6 '19 at 9:23
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Although you already selected one answer, I would like to bring more information.

You can say uno de los padres for referring either the father or the mother, one of them, not they both together. Of course you can use any of the variations you can think of:

El niño puede venir acompañado por cualquiera de los padres

Uno de los padres debe firmar la autorización.

¿Conoces el nombre de alguno de los padres de Gabriela?

Padre is always masculine and can never be use as feminine, nor in singular nor in plural. But padres can be used for referring the mother and the father, and of course for referring to two or more masculine parents, but never for referring several feminine parents, in that case you say las madres.

Most of the times when you speak about a single mother you say ella es la mamá y el papá de Juanito, meaning she assumes both roles. That's the same for fathers.

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When I was a kid and the school would send a note to my parents the note would be addressed to the child's "padre, madre o encargado".

Googling around I found that in Argentina they use the even longer form "padre, madre, tutor o encargado"

It appears there is no single word that can refer to a generic parent of undetermined gender. In normal speech "padre o madre" is used, or sometimes just "padre". In formal speech they use one of the longer forms I mentioned above.

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    Very interesting, @Santiago Tórtora. I really appreciate the personal experiences you shared with us in your post. It isn't the sort of thing you'll often find in a textbook, so muchas gracias for adding it to your post! – Lisa Beck Jul 18 '16 at 1:32
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    In Bolivia the school reports used to say: "Firma del padre, madre o apoderado" (Father, mother o legal guardians' signature). Pretty much like in Argentina. – Delonix R. Jul 19 '16 at 2:07
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As in your previous question about "marido" you can not just change the article.

"Padre" is masculine and to specifically refer to the female parent you use "madre".

The plural "padres" refers to both parents male and female so for instance you could ask a child "¿dónde están tus padres? (where are your parents?) to ask for either or both.

If you know that the child has two female parents (gay marriage is getting more common each day) you may ask about his mothers by saying "madres" but if you do not know the gender of the parents you could surely say "padres".

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    Oddly enough, I have recently reviewed many words whose form remains the same and are only differentiated for gender with the inclusion of an article or complementary adjective that would reveal it (e.g., el/la general, el/la votante, el/la corresponsal, and many others). I realize, however, that it doesn't apply to every Spanish noun. NTL, I appreciated your answer and was thisclose to selecting it as the best, but my predilection for the interjection of personal experiences made me favor ST's slightly. I look forward to reading more of your answers in the future. – Lisa Beck Jul 18 '16 at 1:49
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    No problem @LisaBeck. I'm on this forum to learn and I answer to help (not to for the score). Please keep asking because every question make us all learn a little bit or at least reflect on what we know. – DGaleano Jul 18 '16 at 1:57
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I hope this is not taking your question too literally.... To refer specifically to a female parent, the word is

la madre

or

la mamá

The plural would be las madres or las mamás.

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  • @walen - I didn't find an answer that addressed in a clear and simple way the question that was asked, without wandering off on tangents. – aparente001 Sep 7 '19 at 7:04

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