Research On Children's Adjustment
Research concerning the lasting effects on children raised by lesbian parents centers on three primary concerns: sexual identity, psychological adjustment, and social development. Each of these concerns are presented below.
Sexual identity. One assumption behind the bias against lesbian parenthood is that children raised by lesbian parents will experience excessive difficulty in determining their own sexual orientation and gender identity. However, no evidence suggests that lesbian parents are more likely to raise lesbian or gay children than are heterosexual parents (Patterson and Redding 1996). Other research using projective testing, which involves responding to ambiguous pictorial stimuli, and interview procedures has documented normal gender identity development among children raised by lesbian parents (Patterson and Redding1996).
Psychological aspects. Another assumption is that children raised by homosexual parents are at increased risk for depression, adjustment difficulties, or behavioral problems. Again, research indicates that children of lesbian or gay parents are at no more risk for experiencing psychological difficulties than are the children of heterosexual parents. Although children of lesbian parents report higher levels of stress, their overall sense of well-being is not significantly different from that reported by children of heterosexual parents (Patterson 1994).
Social development. Still another assumption is that children raised by lesbian parents may experience more social isolation and peer rejection, which would have adverse effects on their development. Again, the evidence indicates that children of lesbian and gay parents report peer relationships that are similar in quality to those reported by the children of heterosexual parents (Parks 1998). Certainly, children of lesbian and gay parents report instances of harassment, but this harassment is not significantly different in content from that experienced by children of heterosexual parents.
Finally, a pervasive cultural myth is that homosexual parents are more likely than heterosexual parents to sexually abuse their children. No empirical evidence supports such a belief. In fact, males typically exhibit more pedophilic behavior, so the potential for lesbian parents to commit sexually abusive acts toward children is miniscule (Patterson and Redding 1996).
Benefits. Contradicting the negative assumptions regarding lesbian parenting, a number of benefits have been documented. Four benefits accrue for children of lesbian parents (Allen 1997). First, children of homosexual parents learn respect, empathy, and acceptance of diversity. Second, some authors have argued that children of lesbian parents are also more assertive in confronting traditional sex roles and in establishing egalitarian intimate relationships. Third, children raised by homosexual parents may also learn to negotiate and maintain a healthy family in the face of legal restrictions (Savin-Williams and Esterberg 2000), understanding that families are not necessarily confined to biological events, but can be created by choice. Fourth, children in lesbian families may gain appreciation for the strengths and social support available in the gay and lesbian community (Allen 1997).
In sum, children of lesbian parents do not experience any apparent developmental disadvantage when compared to children of heterosexual parents. Overall, the quality of the child-parent relationship, not the mother's sexual orientation, is important to healthy child development. Lesbian parents experience a multitude of obstacles to becoming parents; however, many are fighting for their rights and paving new legal pathways to benefit those who will follow them. Research should continue to focus on the strengths and resiliency of these families.
See also: ADOPTION; CHILDCARE; CHILD CUSTODY; FAMILY ROLES; FICTIVE KINSHIP; FOSTER PARENTS; GAY PARENTS; GENDER; GENDER IDENTITY; MOTHERHOOD; PARENTING STYLES; SEXUAL ORIENTATION; SURROGACY; WOMEN'S MOVEMENTS
Allen, K. R. (1997). "Lesbian and Gay Families." In Contemporary Parenting: Challenges and Issues, ed. T. Arendall. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Almeida, R. (1996). "Hindu, Christian, and Muslim Families." In Ethnicity and Family Therapy, ed. M. Mc-Goldrick, J. Giordano, and J. K. Pearce. New York: Guilford Press.
Bigner, J. J. (2000). "Gay and Lesbian Families." In Handbook of Family Development and Intervention, ed. W. C. Nichols, M. A. Pace-Nichols, D. S. Becvar, and A. Y. Napier. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Crawford, I., and Solliday, E. (1996). "The Attitudes of Undergraduate College Students Toward Gay Parenting." Journal of Homosexuality 30:63–77.
Erickson, B. M., and Simon, J. S. (1996). "Scandinavian Families: Plain and Simple." In Ethnicity and Family Therapy, ed. M. McGoldrick, J. Giordano, and J. K. Pearce. New York: Guilford Press.
Friedman, L. J. (1997). "Rural Lesbian Mothers and Their Families." Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services 7:73–82.
Griffin, K. (1998). "Getting Kids and Keeping Them: Lesbian Motherhood in Europe." In Living "Difference": Lesbian Perspectives on Work and Family Life, ed. G. A. Dunne. New York: Haworth Press.
Gruskin, E. P. (1999). Treating Lesbians and Bisexual Women. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Leiter, R. A. (1997). National Survey of State Laws. Detroit, MI: Gale Research.
Parks, C. A. (1998). "Lesbian Parenthood: A Review of the Literature." American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 68:376–389.
Patterson, C. J. (1994). "Children of the Lesbian Baby Boom: Behavioral Adjustment, Self-Concepts, and Sex-Role Identity." In Contemporary Perspectives on Lesbian and Gay Psychology: Theory, Research and Applications, ed. B. Green and G. M. Herek. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Patterson, C. J. (1995). "Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children." In Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Identities Over the Lifespan: Psychological Perspectives, ed. A. R. D'Augelli and C. J. Patterson. New York: Oxford University Press.
Patterson, C. J., and Redding, R. E. (1996). "Lesbian and Gay Families with Children: Implications of Social Science Research for Policy." Journal of Social Issues 52:29–50.
Savin-Williams, R C., and Esterberg, K. G. (2000). "Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Families." In Handbook of Family Diversity, ed. D. H. Demo, K. R. Allen, and M. A. Fine. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sullivan, G., and Leong, L. (1995). "Introduction." In Gays and Lesbians in Asia and the Pacific: Social and Human Services, ed. G. Sullivan and L. W. Leong. New York: Haworth Press.
Human Rights Campaign Foundation. (2001). Adoption Laws in Your State. Available from http://www.hrc.org.
National Center for Lesbian Rights. (2001). Second Parent Adoptions: An Information Sheet. Available from http://www.nclrights.org.
SHARON SCALES ROSTOSKY