Although previous studies have indicated that children with same-sex parents show no significant differences compared with children in heterosexual homes when it comes to social development and adjustment, many of those investigations involved children who were born to women in heterosexual marriages, who later divorced and came out as lesbians.
For their new study, published on Monday in the journal Pediatrics, researchers focused on what they call planned lesbian families — households in which the mothers identified themselves as lesbian at the time of artificial insemination.
Data on such families are sparse, but they are important for establishing whether a child’s environment in a home with same-sex parents would be any more or less nurturing than one with a heterosexual couple.
The authors found that children raised by lesbian mothers — whether the mother was partnered or single — scored very similarly to children raised by heterosexual parents on measures of development and social behavior. These findings were expected, the authors said; however, they were surprised to discover that children in lesbian homes scored higher than kids in straight families on some psychological measures of self-esteem and confidence, did better academically and were less likely to have behavioral problems, such as rule-breaking and aggression.
They simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls. They were surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of psychological competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something they anticipated.
In addition, children in same-sex-parent families whose mothers ended up separating did as well as children in lesbian families in which the moms stayed together.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that 41% of children reported having endured some teasing, ostracism or discrimination related to their being raised by same-sex parents. But they could find no differences on psychological adjustment tests between the children and those in a group of matched controls. At age 10, children reporting discrimination did exhibit more signs of psychological stress than their peers, but by age 17, the feelings had dissipated. Obviously there are some factors that may include family support and changes in education about appreciation for diversity that may be helping young people to come to a better place despite these experiences.
It’s not clear exactly why children of lesbian mothers tend to do better than those in heterosexual families on certain measures. But after studying gay and lesbian families for 24 years, the authors have some theories. The lesbian parents are very involved in their children’s lives. And that is a great recipe for healthy outcomes for children. Being present, having good communication, being there in their schools, finding out what is going on in their schools and various aspects of the children’s lives is very, very important.
Although active involvement isn’t unique to lesbian households, same-sex mothers tend to make that kind of parenting more of a priority. Because their children are more likely to experience discrimination and stigmatization as a result of their family circumstances, these mothers can be more likely to broach complicated topics, such as sexuality and diversity and tolerance, with their children early on. Having such a foundation may help to give these children more confidence and maturity in dealing with social differences and prejudices as they get older.