Clearly, there is a need for more research in this country regarding the experience of the children of gay and lesbian parents with their peers in school and other social settings. This research can inform policy decisions and practices in many settings, allowing for the children of gay and lesbian parents to be better supported and not subjected to discrimi- nation and harassment. The need for social/support networks for these children to combat their feelings of isolation and dif- ference are clearly indicated (Ray & Gregory, 2001).
Research has also been directed toward describing the relationships between the children of lesbian and gay parents and adults. Studies from the early 1980s indicate that children of lesbian mothers were more likely to have contact with their fathers than children of heterosexual mothers. The majority of children of lesbian mothers had contact with their father in the year proceeding one study, with one third of them visiting with their father weekly. Conversely, most children of hetero- sexual mothers had not had contact with their father in the year preceding the study and only 1 out of 20 children had weekly contact with their fathers. In addition, the social net- works of lesbian mothers have been found to include both men and women, providing their children with opportunities to socialize with adults of both genders (Patterson, 1992).
Children Born to Lesbian Mothers
The increase in lesbian parenting in recent years due to artificial or donor insemination procedures has been noted by many authors, even being referred to as the “lesbian baby boom” (Flaks, Ficher, Masterpasqua, & Joseph, 1995; Patterson, 1992, 1995; Patterson, Hurt, & Mason, 1998), yet research in this area remains relatively new. Although some gay men are also becoming parents after coming out, no re- search has yet been published on their children. Also scarce in the current body of literature are studies involving gay male and lesbian adoptions, quite possibly due to widespread pub- lic policy excluding gay men and lesbians from adopting chil- dren in the United States. Because this direction of study has been the predominant focus of recent research, a more de- tailed review of the research follows.
Early studies examined psychosocial development among preschool and school-aged children born to lesbian mothers. Patterson (1994, as cited in Patterson, 2000), studied this pop- ulation (including some children adopted by lesbian mothers) on a wide range of measures, providing an overview of child development. Patterson found that children of lesbian moth- ers scored in the normal range for all of the measures. On two of the subscales of the self-concept measure, scores indicated that children of lesbian mothers reported more emotional reactions to stress (feeling angry, scared, or upset) but an increased sense of well-being (feeling joyful, content, and comfortable with themselves) than did same-aged children of heterosexual mothers (Patterson, 1994, as cited in Patterson, 2000). Researchers report that it is possible that these chil- dren did experience more stress in their daily lives or equally
possible that children of lesbian mothers more easily acknowledged both positive and negative aspects of their emotional experience.
Additional research has emphasized the inclusion of extended family members in families headed by lesbian cou- ples, with the inclusion of grandparents and adult friends and relatives (Patterson et al., 1998). Researchers also found that lesbian parents were likely to maintain egalitarian divisions of labor, with biological mothers more likely to do more of the child care, whereas co-parents spent more time at work when differences did occur. Patterson (2000) also found that in lesbian families in which child care was more evenly divided, children exhibited the most favorable adjustment.
In a comparison of children conceived through DI to les- bian parents and children of heterosexual parents conceived through conventional methods, Flaks et al. (1995) studied the development of the children and the quality of the parenting relationship. The researchers found results that were “entirely consistent with prior research on planned lesbian-mother families” (Flaks et al., 1995, p. 112) on measures of child intellectual and behavioral functioning that included teacher reports. This study also investigated possible gender dif- ferences among the children and found no significant differ- ences across or within family structures; in fact, boys and girls in the lesbian- and heterosexual-parent households were found to be “extremely similar” (Flaks et al., 1995, p. 112). In the area of relationship quality, no differences were found between heterosexual parenting couples and lesbian parent- ing couples, although lesbian couples scored higher “in every area of dyadic adjustment” (Flaks et al., 1995, p. 112). The study also indicated that lesbian couples were more aware of the parenting skills necessary for effective parenting than their heterosexual counterparts as measured by Briklin’s Par- ent Awareness Skills Survey (PASS) (as cited in Flaks et al., 1995). However, this difference is believed to represent dif- ferences due to gender rather than sexual orientation. Both lesbian and heterosexual mothers were found to be more aware of effective parenting skills than heterosexual fathers (Flaks et al., 1995). The authors concluded that the data indi- cated that lesbian parents can possess the necessary parenting skills and maintain intimate relationships of ample quality to raise psychologically healthy children (Flaks et al., 1995).
More recently, Chan, Raboy, and Patterson (1998) studied 80 families formed by lesbian (single and partnered) and het- erosexual (single and married) parents by means of DI. Simi- lar to previous research comparing the children of lesbian mothers to children of heterosexual mothers, Chan and his colleagues found no differences in social competence or be- havioral problems, and both groups of children were regarded as “well adjusted” by both parents and teachers (Chan et al., 1998, p. 453). By comparing single parents and two-parent families headed by lesbians and heterosexuals, the research- ers were able to compare family process components in ad- dition to looking at family structure. Chan et al. found that
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similar to research on heterosexual families alone, children exhibited increased behavioral difficulties in relation to the amount of parenting stress reported by lesbian and heterosex- ual parents. Associations were also found between parents’ relationship satisfaction and children’s well-being. Regard- less of family structure, children in less happy or conflict- ridden homes had less positive outcomes as reported by their parents and teachers. Chan and his colleagues concluded that “our results are consistent with the view that qualities of re- lationships within families are more important than parental sexual orientation as predictors of children’s adjustment” (p. 455).
In a European study, Golombok, Tasker, and Murray (1997) similarly studied the adjustment of children conceived through DI to both heterosexual and lesbian parents and com- pared them to children who were conceived by heterosexual parents the conventional way. All of the children reported positive feelings about their parents, representing no differ- ences in parent-child relationships across the different types of family structure. Measures of child behavior and emo- tional adjustment indicated that children conceived of DI methods in heterosexual families exhibited more behavioral problems than children in heterosexual families conceived through conventional means. These results were particularly salient among girls, with girls conceived via DI in heterosex- ual families displaying more behavioral difficulties than girls from any other parenting group. Researchers believed that this finding may have been attributable to the level of secrecy regarding the use of DI in heterosexual families. These find- ings were not particularly relevant for lesbian-mother fami- lies whose use of artificial insemination methods did not reflect on their own fertility and who typically disclosed use of DI openly (Golombok et al., 1997).
In another, similar study comparing the well-being of chil- dren raised from birth by lesbian mothers and heterosexual single mothers with children raised in heterosexual two- parent families, no differences were found as a function of family type (Golombok et al., 1997). The results did indicate that children of mother-only families had more secure attach- ment relationships with their parents than children with two heterosexual parents. On measures of perceived compe- tence, children of mother-only families indicated lower per- ceptions of cognitive and physical competence than did chil- dren with fathers. The authors concluded that these findings indicate a dependence on parents’ gender, rather than sexual orientation.
Citing limits to existing research based on reliance on vol- untary samples of lesbian mothers, Golombok et al. (2003) studied lesbian-mother families from a general population sample obtained through an existing community clinic–based longitudinal study of parents. Lesbian-mother families were then matched with single heterosexual-mother families for comparison. The lesbian-mother families represented single- parent as well as co-parenting families and children con-