Nanette Gartrell and Henny Bos (author of Parenting in Planned Lesbian Families (UvA Proefschriften) have the authored the first longitudinal study to track the outcomes of children created through artificial insemination through their teenage years. The results?
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.
“We simply expected to find no difference in psychological adjustment between adolescents reared in lesbian families and the normative sample of age-matched controls,” says Gartrell. “I was surprised to find that on some measures we found higher levels of [psychological] competency and lower levels of behavioral problems. It wasn’t something I 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.
The data that Gartrell and Bos analyzed came from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), begun in 1986. The authors included 154 women in 84 families who underwent artificial insemination to start a family; the parents agreed to answer questions about their children’s social skills, academic performance and behavior at five follow-up times over the 17-year study period. Children in the families were interviewed by researchers at age 10 and were then asked at age 17 to complete an online questionnaire, which included queries about the teens’ activities, social lives, feelings of anxiety or depression, and behavior.
The one downside to these kids’ experience reported makes a case for increased social acceptance of lesbian parenting, rather than against it:
However, teenagers whose mothers said they experienced anti-lesbian bullying were more anxious and had more depressive symptoms than their peers although it was not clear if the anxiety was a product of the bullying or the other way around.
Cheryl Wetzstein reports on possible limits of the study:
Peter Sprigg, senior fellow for policy studies at the Family Research Council (FRC), said the study clearly acknowledges it has major flaws.
The data come from mothers’ reports but don’t include answers from teens or their teachers, he said. The fairly small number of lesbian families all volunteered for this study years ago, and may be especially committed parents, rather than representative of all lesbian families.
Moreover, several findings are “implausible,” said Mr. Sprigg. For instance, the researchers also found “no differences” in whether a child’s lesbian mothers separated (as 56 percent did) or stayed together, or whether the children knew the identities of their sperm-donor fathers. There were also no differences seen between lesbian-raised daughters or sons.
“This study is inherently unreliable for the very same reasons that other same-sex parenting studies are unreliable. … [I]t does not use a random sample, the sample is very small and the data relied upon is from self-reporting [by mothers] of children’s behavior,” said the ADF’s Mr. Raum, who is defending California’s Proposition 8, the voter-passed amendment to the state’s constitution that defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
How to explain the good results? “These are not accidental children,” Gartrell tells WebMD.
The babies, she notes, were all planned, all conceived through donor insemination. “The moms tended to be older and attended parenting classes. They were very involved in the process of education [for their children].”
Were the mothers realistic in rating their kids? Gartrell thinks so. ”We saw a tremendous amount of candor,” she says. The checklists include more than 100 items.
Obviously if the overall results were higher than average, it is still questionable whether that candor on balance was nonetheless outweighed by parental optimism.
Do the results tell us anything about gay fathers?
Gartrell can’t say with certainly whether the findings would apply to gay fathers. It’s ”highly likely,” she says. But gay couples who have a child through a surrogate is much more recent phenomenon than lesbian couples opting for donor insemination, so the research will take time to catch up, she says.
Was the study biased since it was funded by various LGBTQQ advocacy groups?
Gartrell was quoted as saying “My personal investment is in doing reputable research,” “This is a straightforward statistical analysis. It will stand and it has withstood very rigorous peer review by the people who make the decision whether or not to publish it.”
And Jezebel relays the following:
And it certainly wasn’t what Wendy Wright, president of the Concerned Women for America, expected. Wright believes that the study was flawed, rigged in order to support gays. “You have to be a little suspicious of any study that says children being raised by same-sex couples do better or have superior outcomes to children raised with a mother and father,” she said. “It just defies common sense and reality.”
Yet there is an element of “common sense” in the idea that children born into planned families, to parents who both actively want kids, tend to have better experiences than kids who happen unexpectedly. The study states that the mothers’ “commitment even before their offspring were born to be fully engaged in the process of parenting” may be a key factor in explaining the unique benefits of having two moms. They also found that same-sex mothers tend to be more involved in their children’s lives, and more likely to communicate with their kids. Through these traits are not tied to their sexuality, lesbian parents do face unique challenges, which could actually help make them better parents. Since many kids in same-sex households face teasing at a young age, the parents are more likely to initiate discussions about sexuality, diversity, and tolerance.
Unlike Gartrell and Wright, Joseph F. Hagan from the University of Vermont is“not surprised” by the study, mainly because it states something he intuitively knew: Love trumps all. Not to get all Dumbledore on you, but Hagan’s argument is rather sweet – not to mention filled with “common sense.” He writes, “our experience tells of the resilience of children who are loved and know that love. Our learning tells us of the boundless ability of children to respond to that love despite the absence of a traditional parenting relationship.” Breaking: good parenting has far more to do with love and communication than sexuality.