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Their family situation may be atypical, but kids with two moms grow up to be typical teens, according to new research. In fact, they may be even more well-adjusted than their peers. According to findings that appear in the July issue of the American Academy of Pediatrics journal Pediatrics, children of lesbian parents are more likely to rate higher in academic performance and less likely to have social problems.
The research comes from a study that began in 1986, when Nanette Gartrell, M.D., now at the University of California San Francisco and UCLA, started the National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study to follow children of lesbian couples who conceived via donor insemination. Today, 78 families--93 percent of the original participants--remain in the study. For the latest findings, Gartrell and her colleagues checked back with the biological moms and teenaged offspring and compared them to age-matched and socio-economically matched counterparts in a University of Vermont database. They found those with lesbian moms rated significantly higher in social and academic competence and significantly lower when it came to rule-breaking and aggressive behavior.
“This is one more strong piece of evidence that there’s no handicap to children being born to and raised by lesbian mothers,” says Dr. Ellen Perrin, a developmental pediatrician at Tufts Medical Center.
That’s not news to moms like Wendy Cole, who now lives a mile away from her former partner and shares joint custody of their son and daughter. Just before the study came out, Cole's daughter Rachel, 13, came home with one B+ and the rest straight A’s. “[Having two moms] doesn’t seem to be harming their overall sense of well-being,” she says of her kids.
Researchers did not determine why children with lesbian parents are better adjusted than their peers. But one theory is that unlike many heterosexuals, lesbians do not get pregnant accidentally. (Nearly half of all U.S. pregnancies are unintended.) “All of these moms worked hard to have a child,” says Perrin. As a result, the moms end up being “very committed and involved parents,” says Gartrell.
Nurturing may also play a role. Kate Gerwe says she and her partner, Dr. Mindy Goldman, a gynecologist who works with breast-cancer patients at UCSF, both work full-time but make time for their kids, Megan, 6, and Jack, 4, every night. “There are lots of hugs, lots of snuggles,” she says. “Moms just always have the natural role of being the nurturing one. So the kids get a double dose of that.”
To be sure, some critics of gay marriage and adoption may be skeptical of the positive data. “It’s hard for science or a study to trump what people hold as moral beliefs,” says Dr. Joseph Hagan, M.D., author of a Pediatrics commentary on the study.
Still, parents like Cole and Gerwe hope these kinds of findings will help to alleviate some of the concerns about gay couples raising children and make such arrangements more acceptable.
Indeed, Americans’ attitudes toward gay couples and gay marriage, in particular, seem to be shifting already. The latest findings from Gallup’s annual Values and Beliefs survey, released in late May, found that for the first time in the poll’s 10-year history, more than half of respondents (52 percent) see gay relationships as morally acceptable. The number supporting legalizing gay marriage also grew, to 58 percent.
The Gallup poll did not ask about gay parents. But supporters hope that as gay relationships and marriage become more acceptable, having two parents of the same sex may too. Ultimately, says Gartrell, her study shows that it's not the sexual orientation of a parent that matters. “The more present, involved, and active parents are--along with love, nurturing, and obviously providing resources for a child--is what generates positive outcomes.”
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