Teenage Children raised by Same-Sex Parents Developing Normally
Love is what Matters
It Takes a Village to Raise a Child
Opponents of same-sex marriage, access to reproductive assistance for same gender couples, adoptions by same sex couples, and/or child custody being given to a homosexual parent in divorce proceedings often cite the "Rights of the Child" and state that same-sex parents are less capable parents that those in the so-called traditional heterosexual marriage. Some even go as far as saying it would be better for a child to be in an abusive family than with a couple who happen to be the same gender. Whilst it seems like a historical view to hold, it is even in the very recent past (say 2012) that these arguments are being used against marriage equality, and adoption by same sex couples. However, the evidence to support these theories are sorely lacking.
Research in this area is fairly recent, due to homosexuality and homosexual relationships only being made legal in the recent past (1970s onwards). Yet, in more than two decades of research, research has failed to show any significant difference, particularly negative, in the outcomes for children raised by homosexual parents in relation to those children raised by heterosexual parents.
What Research Says:
A study by Patterson in 2006 looked at research in the development of children with lesbian and gay parents - both the early research and more recent.
Early research seemed to focus on cases where children had been born into heterosexual marriages that had ended in divorce post the legalisation and non-medicalisation of homosexuality - where one parent had 'come out' as homosexual, ending the relationship with the heterosexual opposite sexed spouse. Few significant differences were found between the development of children raised by divorced lesbian mothers compared to those raised by divorced heterosexual mothers. However, as the children in these studies were from 'heterosexual' marriages - where at least one parent was heterosexual and involved in their upbringing, it could not be clear how to determine reasons for healthy development.
This early research was helpful for those judges who presided over divorce and child custody proceedings in cases where one parent was homosexual, however this early research still did not answer the real question: Do children raised from birth in lesbian or gay headed families develop normally? (or Do their children grow up in typical ways and show healthy development?)
In order to answer this question, it was necessary to begin to study children who had never lived with heterosexual parents. The Bay Area Families Study, a study of 4-9yr olds who were born or adopted early in life by lesbian mothers. Results showed that the children had regular contact with both children and adults of both genders, and that the children's self-concepts and preference for same-gender playmates and activities was much the same as other children their age.
Other studies studied children who were conceived using a sperm bank - enlisting both lesbian and heterosexual couples who had children conceived using donor sperm aged 5yrs or older. They also enlisted the assistance of the children's teachers in evaluation of the children's adjustment. The results found that parental sexual orientation was not related to children's adaptation. However, what it did show was that quite apart from sexual orientation of parents - when parent-child relationships were marked by warmth and affection, children were more likely to develop well. Limitations were that this study was drawn from a known population, as well as the fact that lesbian mothers who conceive using sperm banks are usually both educationally and financially comfortable, and thus may be able to protect children from many forms of discrimination.
Teenagers, Still Normal???
Now, parents of teenagers may disagree that teenagers in general are normal, and that is a topic for another hub!
Given the topic of this hub, I'd be remiss to forget to talk about the adjustment and development of adolescents. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health was a large, ethnically diverse and representative sample of American adolescents and their parents. The data collected by this study provided information on both heterosexual and same-sex parented children by asking only if the parents were in a marriage or marriage-like relationship, and only then asking gender of partner.
Consistent with earlier research, few differences in adjustment were discovered between adolescents living with opposite-sex parents and those living with same-sex parents. Nil difference was found on self-reported assessments of psychological well-being such as self-esteem and anxiety, school outcome measures such as grade averages or trouble at school.
The outcome of this particular study found that it is not only possible for children and adolescents parented by same sex couples to develop in healthy directions, but that even when studied in a diverse and representative sample of American children, they generally do develop as well as their counterparts.
What are they saying more recently?
The US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study follows a group of people who entered into the study as prospective mothers in the years between 1986 and 1992, with the design to follow through until the children reached adulthood, conducting interviews with the mothers, and children throughout the study. It's latest findings are from 17yr old adolescents within this study, on their psychological adjustment into adolescents.
Findings from this research have found that the 17yr old daughters and sons of the lesbian mothers in the study were rated significantly higher in social, school/academic and total competence. They were also rated lower in social problems, rule breaking, externalising and aggressive problem behaviours. This was when compared to their age-matched counterparts from Achenbach's normative sample of American youth.
The results also agreed with the previous study mentioned (The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health) in their findings that 'a satisfying relationships with one's parents is associated with a more favourable adolescent adjustment.".
Bilbarz and Stacey analysed 81 different parenting studies in 2010, and challenged deeply held beliefs about the 'right' way to parent, and raise normally developed children. This belief being that a child needs both a mother and a father in the household to thrive.
What they found was that there is no best household structure, that the importance of child-rearing, and the investment one is willing to put into child rearing (not monetary - emotional, psychological, etc), is what matters. They found that children fair better with TWO parents involved in their upbringing, but that gender did not feature. By not controlling for the number of parents, gender, marital status and biogenetic relationship to the child - there was a failure to isolate a real impact of gender on effective parenting.
They found that either gender was suited to child rearing, being single fathers, single mothers, or gay and lesbian parents. But the main conclusion was that the gender did not matter - the investment, the importance, and willingness to give to child rearing were the factors that mattered.
ABC Fact Check recently (July 2015) compared a number of studies into parenting - both heterosexual two parent families, and same sex two parent families. What they found was also very similar to the previous studies mentioned.
There seems to be a lot of information on lesbian parenting, and the final study found that as more research into gay parenting comes around, it may find that gay men are the best parents - given the deep commitment required for them to become legally fathers to children. However, in the studies reviewed for this article, lesbian parents featured more - hopefully in the future this will change
Conversely, there is a dearth (meaning "lack of") evidence or studies out there that confirm the opposite - therefore those who use the "Children need a mother and a father" have little to no research backing them up.
Overall, the conclusion from analysis of multiple studies, by several different professionals, all have come to the same conclusion:
The gender of one's parents does not affect normal development - psychologically, emotionally, physically, or otherwise. A warm, satisfying relationship with one's parents is what really matters.
NOTE: Before anyone mentions the New Family Structure study - unfortunately used by opponents in lawsuits about DOMA, and other law suits, and unfortunately widely cited in cases against gay parenting etc - has not been included as it has been debunked, and been proven to have been a deliberate attempt to sway SCOTUS etc through flawed methodology, funding (by the Witherspoon Institute...look em up), and academic integrity. Before you have a go in the comments - read this: New Family Structure Study intended to sway Supreme Court on Gay Marriage, Documents Show (Huffington Post, in conjunction with The American Independent).
Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents - C.J Patterson
US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents - Pediatrics (Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics)
Does a Parent's Gender Impact a child's success? - Discovery News
How Does the Gender of Parent's Matter? - Timothy Bilbarz and Judith Stacey, in the Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2010 (Vol 72, Issue 1, pg 3-22) - DOI:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00678.x
Fact or Fiction: A mother and a father is better than same sex parent - ABC Fact Check Australia July 2015