Sunday, July 11, 2010

Extra! Extra! It's Not Only Healthy To Be Born To A Lesbian Couple, It's Better than Healthy

In case you have been living under a rock, the big news this week in Gaylesboland is that a federal judge in Massachusetts (otherwise known as the San Francisco of the East) has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the right of the states to regulate marriage. The second biggest news is that the children of lesbian couples are not only as successful as the children of straight people -- they are more successful! Whatever that means. According to Time magazine, a longitudinal study out of UC-San Francisco, published in the journal Pediatrics,

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.

According to one of the lead researchers, Nanette Gartrelle, although 41% of children reported the teasing at school that is supposed to persuade gay and lesbian people not to parent (for the sake of the children), the home environments in lesbian households make up for it with higher levels of nurturing and by making their children "a priority." The outcomes do not change for children whose two mothers separate (lesbians split up at about the same rate as straight people, which is 43% within 15 years, although this is harder to track since in most states same-sex couples have no right to marry or divorce.)

Are the children of lesbians better adjusted because the parents are all women? Probably not, because all of our mothers were women at some point. Is it because there are no men in the children's lives? Also probably not: all the lesbian moms I know (particularly those with sons, which is about 90% of 'em) are super-fanatical about bringing daddy-types into the picture lest Junior spend his whole life without ever meeting another penis or learning to urinate mannishly. More likely lesbians treat their children better because if you are a lesbian, you really have to want children a lot, and you really plan, and you have to put up with a lot of crap from the law to actually get and keep them. You also need a lot of money, and although children raised with money are not automatically successful, it sure greases the wheels: money + making child rearing a priority is one sure-fire recipe for success. This means, of course, that gay men are probably raising children who are just fanatically successful, since they have to have even more money to get children in the first place by adoption or surrogacy, and have to be highly educated besides to navigate the homophobic legal hoops they must jump through.

It also means that the whole idea that we should have gay marriage because it's better for the children in lesbian relationships is a lot of hooey. The children in this study were raised by committed and unmarried lesbians, married as they surely might have been in their hearts.

In case you want a little fictionalized peek at lesbian life with children, the summer's hot movie for the gay and gay-friendly moving goer will be Lisa Cholodenko's The Kid's Are All Right: read the review by A.O. Scott here. Annette Bening and Julianne Moore as lesbians? I'm lovin' it, and it's rumored that all the babies in that relationship are named Oscar.


shaz said...

Shouldn't it be the Iowa of the East?

I agree with your analysis, but I still wonder if there is also something to the all-female household; yes, there might be lots of male figures, but there isn't a patriarchal household head.

Of course, all this is essentializing hooey, but what the heck.

Historiann said...

I'm with Shaz. We both have men in our households (if Shaz is the Shaz I know, that is), but I think it's clear that men (whether natural fathers or stepfathers) are liklier to introduce violence and sexual abuse into their families' lives than female partners. (And that's just the crime stats, not essentializing hooey.)

Straight women should understand the risks that their heterosexuality poses to their children. (This should be a required element in pre-marital counseling, I think.)

Tenured Radical said...

I get your point about the menz, although here we verge on forms of essentialism that I also have doubts about.

I guess one of the things I wonder is whether the equality agenda will make gay people mroe f***ked up too. As it becomes more common, easier, and cheaper for lesbians to have and keep babies, will lesbian motherhood give way to dominant ideas about what women should want, and become less chosen?

A lot of heterosexual women I know enter into child-bearing with some ambivalence about why they are doing it, and for whom (parents, in-laws, partners, social expectations), and I see younger lesbians doing that now too. Lesbians of my age had to really want it to do it, and had to have a lot of money or grit to overcome the structural and legal barriers to motherhood. They often had children at the cost of parental/social disapproval; it wasn't infrequent for a couple to break up over one woman's belief that she had become a lesbian in part because it lifted the pressure for traditional forms of female forms of domesticity.

Am I selling straight girls short on this one?

Historiann said...

I've heard John Waters express some of the same concerns about the younger (gay) generation's interest in marriage and childrearing. I heard him interviewed 5 or so years ago, and he said, "Man, that used to be the big advantage of being gay! No one nagged you about when you were getting married or having kids."

I don't think you're selling straights short. As a straight, I'm usually appalled by how little thought most other straights give to reproduction, or perhaps I should say, to the natural consequences of heterosex. (And we have the child abuse and neglect stats to prove it.)

I agree with you that lesbians should be wary of the totalizing discourses of motherhood that are fashionable these days, even among so-called feminists.

FrauTech said...

TR - I think you're exactly right. A lesbian couple is more likely to have wanted kids, planned and made kids a priority. While this is true for plenty of single parents and heterosexual couples, there are enough "below average" in these categories (people who didn't plan for kids, people for whom having kids was an expectation/the norm and not a lot of thought went into it) that it's going to bring it down as a category. If I had to guess, I'd assume a similar study of gay men as parents would show the same slightly-above-average results as lesbians for the same reasons; they really had to want kids, it had to be a priority. And maybe as it gets more "normal" or "expected" for these parents to have kids or adopt it'll get a lot closer to average. I know The Menz can be negative influences in a lot of families, but so can The Wimminz.

Anonymous said...


To put a hopefully slightly less essentialist spin on the Menz/Wimminz question (full disclosure, I'm both a man and a dad) there are also studies demonstrating that single women households in the 70's often had better emotionally balanced children. What men do bring to parenting (like anyone) is much of what they were raised with, and in the US, that means more stoicism, violence as a means of problem solving and stricter "rules." Who hasn't heard the traditional strict dad, nurturing but lenient (read weak, right?) mom. It turns out that strictness and rules and stoicism are basically bad for kids (more and more studies of a variety of kinds are proving this - see someone like Alfie Kohn), so the traditional American male is basically not well socialized. As a parent, even doing my darndest to fight this, I find it incredibly difficult and doubly irksome when people look to me rather than my wife to put the lid on what they think is inappropriate behavior.

Basically, men have not traditionally been raised to be emotionally competent and balanced, and hence are not as good at raising emotionally competent little's with good resources are often better (good resources make a big difference as TR notes - that whole single mom thing doesn't work if one is, say, poor and black). It also turns out that both gay men and lesbians have better argument skills (meaning arguments don't get out of hand, are more emotionally constructive) which probably translates to their kids. Lastly (and I'll stop - this is long), men chosen to be in the lives of the children of lesbian couples are more likely, it would seem to me, to be emotionally stable and, not being the main parent, will never run the risk of become the law giver, thereby alleviating some of the traditional "dad" pitfalls.

Cool post - as so many are.