For decades, children have been born to or adopted by same-sex couples. Before the advent of legal marriage beginning 10 years ago in Massachusetts, many same-sex couples built families on a rickety legal foundation and by careful navigation of adoption agencies, fertility clinics, supportive or unsupportive family members, and limited social acceptance of our “alternative” families. Why would so many same-sex couples—as well as single LGBT people, choose this often complicated and stressful path to parenthood? It’s simple: our desire to be parents and to experience the life-altering journey of raising a child is greater than our fear of the backlash of bias, bad attitudes, and outright discrimination that so many of our families have endured.
While the recent SCOTUS ruling changes the legal landscape for same-sex parents, it does not erase the myths and misperceptions about our families. Some of these myths are veiled in “concerns for the children,” for example the worry that our children are more likely to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, or that they will experience higher levels of bullying, confusion about gender roles, or somehow end up unhappy. We appreciate the concern for our children – we are concerned about them too, but our concerns are those more typical of all parents – keeping them safe at the playground, helping them make friends easily, providing them with good teachers, and teaching them to be kind and generous.
(excerpt): Some of these myths are veiled in “concerns for the children,” for example the worry that our children are more likely to be gay, lesbian or bisexual, or that they will experience higher levels of bullying, confusion about gender roles, or somehow end up unhappy.
Having two moms or two dads does no harm to children; what does harm them, however, is the homophobia and bullying which they can sometimes face. To date, thirty years of peer-reviewed social science research concludes that children raised by lesbian and gay parents do just as well in key areas of development – social relationships, emotional well-being, academic performance, and connection to family – as do children raised by heterosexual parents.
Yet, with all of this research along with hundreds of thousands of thriving children with same-sex parents living among us, there still persists the belief that children do best with a married mother and father, and that children lose something if they are raised in other family structures.
Let me put to rest some of the myths and misinformation that, in fact, are the very thing that chip away at our children’s optimal well-being.
My two daughters have two moms. We are intentional parents—our children were wanted and planned; in fact, we joke that our children are “more processed than Velveeta cheese.” We did not have the option of getting pregnant the old fashioned way—we had to find a donor, track ovulation, time the inseminations just right, lay out a lot of money, and put legal documents in place (this was well before marriage equality in Maryland, where we live); whether pursuing adoption or assisted reproduction, our paths to building families takes time, money, and will. I am well aware that many heterosexual couples and single people face fertility and financial challenges as well, which I am in no way diminishing. I’m simply making the point that LGBT people only have alternative options to consider from day one of their family planning experience. The foundation for our families is strong in that our children are wanted, planned, and our intention to parent is clear. I would think this is a foundation we would ideally want for all of our children, regardless of family structure; when families are ready, willing and able to parent to the best of their ability. In these scenarios, children do better, getting the attention, nurturing, and support they need in order to thrive.
It is a myth that our children are more likely to be gay or lesbian, or confused about their gender. If you ask a roomful of gay people whether they have gay parents, typically not one person will raise their hand. In other words, it’s statistically more likely that children who are lesbian, gay or bisexual will be born to straight parents, because straight individuals are a higher percentage of the total population. Sure, some LGBT parents will have LGBT kids, but not at any higher a rate than those raised by non-LGBT parents. Research on adolescents and young adults with LGBT parents suggests that those who are same-sex attracted feel safer “coming out” to their family, which is good for their mental health. On the contrary, many LGBT children and teens are terrified to come out or express these feelings to their straight parents for fear of being rejected. In terms of child well-being, it is essential that parents are supportive and accepting of their LGBT children even if it’s hard for them personally, since the impact of parental rejection can be as severe, but not limited to suicide. Sexual orientation—who you are attracted to—is wired and can’t be changed, and children with same-sex parents have the same statistical potential as all children of being something other than heterosexual.
Those same studies that found that having same-sex parents does not increase a child’s likelihood of being gay also found that having same-sex parents does not cause gender confusion. There are all types of modern families which are breaking traditional gender roles, including those with “stay at home” dads and working mothers, ones in which the mother and father more equally divide household chores according to what they enjoy, versus what a 1950s version of Good Housekeeping magazine endorses. Some men cook, some women mow the lawn; it is good for children to see equity in household management and the full range of what is possible for girls and boys to do rather than live with prescriptive, limiting gender expectations. Our sons and daughters will see that there are many different ways to be men or women, that there are no hard and fast rules about how they parent or how they help around the house. They are not confused about gender roles– they are simply learning the expansive nature of what it means to be male or female in a modern society.
The most important myth to counter, in my mind, is that our children will be unhappy. To my earlier point, the greatest harm to our children’s emotional well-being comes from bias and discrimination toward our families. What children need is one, two, or more parents or guardians who are consistent caregivers, unconditionally supportive, and invested in helping them become the best people they can be. Whether those parents are straight, gay, transgender, rich, poor, or married has little to do with their capacity to be good parents. When children face discrimination, bullying, or rejection, they are more likely to be depressed, anxious, and to struggle with their emotional well-being. There is no evidence in any research on LGBT families to support this notion that our children will suffer, but there is research that shows the impact of trauma on children, and it’s the trauma of homophobia and rejection on the part of people outside of our families that is of greatest concern to us, and to our children.
My daughters have two loving parents, an extended support network of family, friends and neighbors, and are being raised in a community that is generally LGBT-inclusive and where there are many other visible families headed by same-sex couples. They know their family structure is in the minority and that there are still people out there who don’t like the idea of two men or two women raising children, and they will be the first to tell you that they are all right—beyond all right, in fact. For too many of our families across the country, feeling isolated and marginalized on the soccer field, at the PTA meeting, or at the local playground is still a reality–marriage equality or not. All of us can have a role in creating a community that embraces family diversity, that recognizes the many ways in which my family is like so many others—doing the best we can to raise happy, healthy children. Letting go of myths and getting to know LGBT parents and their children is the best thing you can do to support our families and your own – Edited by Julia Bennett + Leslie Waghorn