A nearly 25-year study concluded that children raised in lesbian households were psychologically well-adjusted and had fewer behavioral problems than their peers. The study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, followed 78 lesbian couples who conceived through sperm donations and assessed their children’s well-being through a series of questionnaires and interviews.
Gay parenting remains a controversial issue, with debates about topics including the children’s psychological adjustment, their parents’ sexual orientation and adoption restrictions.
The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy or the insemination process, and additionally when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17 years old. Those children are now 18 to 23 years old. They were interviewed four times as they matured and also completed an online questionnaire at age 17, focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships and academic progress. To assess their well-being, Gartrell used the Child Behavior Checklist, a commonly used standard to measure children’s behavioral and social problems, such as anxiety, depression, aggressive behavior and social competence. The answers were coded into a computer and then analyzed. This data was compared with data from children of nonlesbian families.
“I would have anticipated the kids would be doing as well as the normative sample,” she said. “I didn’t expect better.” Children from lesbian families rated higher in social, academic and total competence. They also showed lower rates in social, rule-breaking, aggressive problem behavior. The involvement of mothers may be a contributing factor, in addition to the fact that the pregnancies were planned, Gartrell said. The children “didn’t arrive by accident,” she said. “The mothers were older… they were waiting for an opportunity to have children and age brings maturity and better parenting.”
This also could have occurred because “growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment,” Gartrell wrote in the study. Some of the teenagers reported being stigmatized by peers because of their parents’ sexuality. Researchers compared the figures in terms of the psychological adjustment between children who had experienced stigma versus those who did not. “We found no differences,” Gartrell said. “That leads us to asking why and how are young people managing discrimination? That will be the topic of future papers. We’ll look into what the ingredients are to allow them to cope despite adversity.”
Gartrell studied only lesbian families, because circumstances surrounding gay male families are different. Gay men becoming fathers is newer in comparison with lesbians, because their options have been limited to adoption or surrogacy. Lesbians often conceive through donor insemination.