Parenting

Same-sex parents: Still just like everybody else

A new study confirms what we kind of already know.

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Newsflash! Just in case there was any doubt, another study has confirmed what by now should be common knowledge: that children raised by same-sex parents are doing just as well as their peers raised by heterosexual parents.

An article published this week in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics (JDBP) found no differences in terms of general health, emotional difficulties, coping behaviour or learning behaviour between children raised by two moms and children raised by a mom and dad. It turns out that kids’ outcomes are—surprise!—more dependent on the quality of parenting than on their parents’ sexual orientation.

Although sexual orientation may have something to do with it: as the JDBP study points out, other studies have shown that children with two moms tend to do better in many ways. By virtue of being raised by two mothers, my sons, for example, are more likely to be more confident, open-minded and affectionate, and less aggressive and susceptible to anxiety and depression than their friends who have a mom and dad. And as a recently separated queer mom, I’m happy to be living proof that lesbian parents seem to do better even when they split up, with the vast majority—more than 70 percent—going on to share custody after separating.

“I sometimes wonder,” muses Brita Lind, who co-parents three kids aged five, eight and 12 with her same-sex partner of 15 years, “if everyone in the world had to go through as many steps and conscious choices as we did to have children, would the world be a different place for all children?”

Forgive me if I sound a bit jaded. As a queer mom, of course I appreciate having quality research to back up what should, in my not-at-all-humble opinion, be standard knowledge by now.

I’m a little less jaded, though, after speaking with Dr. Nanette Gartrell, principal investigator of the JDBP study, who explains that it addresses some of the shortcomings of earlier research— some of which was conducted in opposition to same-sex marriage. Previous research, she explains, compared children of continuously coupled (not separated or divorced) heterosexual parents with stable incomes to children raised by lesbian or gay parents who had been separated or divorced or had low incomes. Not surprisingly, the kids from less stable backgrounds had worse outcomes.

Instead, this latest study matched 95 continuously coupled two-mom families to 95 continuously coupled opposite-sex families along eight criteria. The study designers focused on “continuous” couples, says Gartrell, to counteract the stereotype that LGBTQ parents have more disrupted, unstable lives—not as a criticism to single or separated parents.

What this apples-to-apples approach shows is what should be obvious by now: that we’re all just trying to get a (somewhat) healthy dinner on the table, figure out boundaries around screen time, equip our kids with strategies to get along with their siblings and their friends and maybe even mix in some fun with the stress of raising small humans.

Speaking of stress, though, the study did find one significant difference between same-sex and opposite-sex parents: The same-sex parents reported higher levels of parenting stress. Why? While they didn’t get into specifics, researchers theorize it might have to do with lesbian moms’ concerns about raising kids in a homophobic society, or feeling more pressure to justify the quality of their parenting. As my 11-year-old might say, “Nice work, Captain Obvious!”

(To those reasons, I might add good old-fashioned sexism: Double the number of female parents in a household and you also likely reduce its overall average income and increase the chances that its parents will be the subject of sexual harassment and violence. Just saying.)

What’s interesting is that this extra stress doesn’t seem to affect our kids—suggesting that we find ways to mitigate those stressors, like accessing counselling. You know, because we’re good parents. Like the heterosexuals.

Lind also finds it intriguing that anyone still needs to do this kind of research. She remembers overhearing some young kids discussing her eldest son’s family. “Did you know that boy has two moms?” one kid said. Another nodded: “Wow, is he ever lucky.”

“All the kids within earshot nodded knowingly,” says Lind. “There was no debate. They didn’t study the situation or question their assumptions. They all just thought about how great it would be to have two moms and then went on their merry way. If kids can figure it out in about three seconds, why not adults?”

Look, I’m not knocking the research, or the motivation behind it. It would just be nice to lay to rest once and for all the question of whether those of us on the LGBTQ and two-spirited spectrum are decent parents, because we are. Sadly, I doubt that this will be the end of the discussion.

Which is too bad, because we could use our research dollars in much more productive ways. Let’s start figuring out how to ensure that we all have access to resources that enable us be the best parents we can: adequate income and housing, freedom from discrimination in all its forms, good health care and education, clean air and water, to name a few.

I’m glad—who wouldn’t be? Wait, don’t answer that—that the research comes down on the side of my family. I’m glad it comes down on the side of all families with parents who are doing their best.

I guess I’m just a bit tired of having to take a side at all.

Read more:
Yes, we know! The kids of same-sex parents are all right
I’m uncomfortable telling other parents I’m queer
Heather Has Two Mommies: Why it still matters 25 years later

 

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