Same-sex Parenting

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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Traditionally, people have viewed same-sex parents as incapable of raising children. There was a common belief that they would raise children who would be suffer socially and struggle academically. However, recent research has shown that this is a misconception. Children are equally well adjusted in school as children from heterosexual parents. (Farr, 2016) Gay and Lesbian parents tend to express more flexible gender attitudes than heterosexual parents and their children develop more flexible gender attitudes as well (Sumontha, Farr, & Patterson, 2017).

Low-conflict parental relationships, lower levels of depression symptoms, and high levels of adoptive preparedness contributed more to a child’s behavioral and emotional adjustment than family type (Goldberg & Smith, 2013).

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More research shows that the bonding process for same-sex couples to their adopted children appears to be more similar to than different from that of heterosexual parents.

There is also evidence that the quality of children’s relationships with adopted mothers is comparable to that with biological mothers (Vanfraussen, Ponjaert-Kristoffersen, & Brewaeys, 2003). This research, as well as other research, demonstrates that same-sex parenting does not have a negative effect on children’s social and cognitive development.

Many people claim that same-sex parenting negatively impacts children’s cognitive and social development. This claim stems from societal gender roles and the belief that a child needs both a mother’s love and a father’s love to develop cognitively and socially. Also involved in this claim are implications that same-sex couples are treated poorly in modern society, and that this poor judgement is reflected upon their children through bullying and other harmful external interactions. It’s important to study this claim because it has impacted legislation that, historically, blocked same-sex couples from being able to adopt. We hope to determine the validity of the claim by examining the results of peer-reviewed research on this topic.

Empirical Evidence

Farr, Oakley, & Ollen (2016) conducted a correlational study that examined school-aged children’s behavior and experiences in school. The sample was 96 Lesbian and Gay (LG) adoptive parents, their 50 children, and 48 of the children’s teachers. The researchers’ hypothesis was that LG parents and children’s teachers would report typical levels of child behavior issues. They expected that the parents would, in general, feel supported by the school and that the children adjusted well in school.

They also hypothesized that some of the children would report bullying from peers due to their family structure and that bullying would lead to those children developing microaggressions that resulted in behavioral issues. The children in the study had been placed with the parents at birth or a few weeks following birth and the households had two parents. The researchers used the Child Behavior Checklist and Teacher Report Form to assess children’s behavioral adjustment.

They also conducted individual interviews to assess children’s and parent’s school experiences and to see if the children were being bullied on the basis of their parents’sexuality. The researchers found that children from LG parents were well-adjusted and developed few behavioral issues. The parents often felt supported by the schools, teachers, and administrators. A few of the children did experience teasing and bullying due to their family structure and those children did develop more microaggressions from peers and had more behavioral challenges.

Also, in general, children were not more at risk for bullying or teasing than their peers. These findings demonstrate the need for educators to be aware of the school experiences of sexual minority parent families. It also demonstrates the need for more inclusive curriculum, policies, and procedures toward LGBT-parent families. The findings could also lead to more teacher training on family diversity and peer relationships. It also result in better educational policy that counteracts bullying.

Farr conducted another study on this topic in 2017. This longitudinal study compared Lesbian and Gay (LG) adopted children, parents, and the overall family structure to adoptive heterosexual families at the time when the children were preschoolers (wave 1) and when they were in middle childhood (wave 2). Child outcomes were assessed by parent and teacher report of behavior of the children. Parent outcomes were assessed by self-report of parenting stress levels. Couple and family system adjustment were self-reported by the parents.

The researchers had two main research questions: “How do child behavioral adjustment, parenting stress, and couple adjustment change over time from W1 to W2, and do any changes differ by family type (same-sex or other-sex parents)?” (Farr, 2017, p. 254). And secondly “What factors (i.e., child behavior problems, parenting stress, or couple adjustment) assessed at an earlier time point (W1) longitudinally predict child behavioral adjustment and family functioning at W2?” (Farr, 2017, p. 254).

Farr expected associated between the variables at W1 and W2 for all families. Most of the children had been placed with their adoptive families at or shortly following birth. They assessed child behavioral adjustment by using the Child Behavior Checklist and teacher’s used the Teacher Report Form. Parenting stress was measured with the Parenting Stress Index-Short Form. Couple relationship adjustment was assessed using the Dyadic Adjustment Scale.

All of these scales were used at waves 1 and 2. However, to measure family functioning they used the Family Assessment Device and only administered that during wave 2. This study found that adopted children from same-sex and other-sex parent family structures seem to be “… equally well-adjusted, on average, across development from preschool-age to middle childhood. Parents also showed positive outcomes related to parenting stress and couple satisfaction over time.” (Farr, 2017, 259). There was no significant difference in child, parent, family, or couple outcome variables based on parental sexual orientation. These results are important because it demonstrates that,

“across children’s development from preschool to school-age, adoptive parents demonstrate generally low (but somewhat increased) parenting stress and generally high (and somewhat improved) couple adjustment. Overall, and regardless of family structure, these adoptive families appear to be functioning in healthy ways, with children who show positive behavioral adjustment.” (Farr, 2017, 260).

This study also showed that parenting stress was relatively low when the children were school-age and there was no difference by parental sexual orientation. The study also showed that child adjustment scores were more related to parental stress than parental sexual orientation. Finally, family functioning “was predicted by earlier child behavioral problems and parenting stress” (Farr, 2017, 261).

Social Implications

This longitudinal study was designed to examine predictors of gender-typed play behavior across early childhood in a sample of adopted children in lesbian, gay, and hetersosexual parent famillies. A sample of 181 couples were used and they examined parent reports of their children’s play at Pre-School and an inventory was taken at three different ages (2.82, 3.93, 6.06). These researchers found that boys with lesbian parents were significantly less masculine in their play than boys with heterosexual parents.

Girls with lesbian parents were significantly less feminine in their play than girls with heterosexual parents. There was no significant change in parent reported play behavior of girls across early childhood, whereas boys’ play became increasingly masculine over time. This finding held up across family types, suggesting the possibility that, as they grow older, boys face stronger—and increasingly intense—pressure to conform to gender norms, regardless of family structure.

Family plays a key role in many aspects of life. One aspect examined during this study was the social life of the children from all different parenting types. This study was used to find the relationship between gender development and parents’ gender associations and attitudes. They would also determine whether these changed with family type. It is thought that the same-sex parents are more open to breaking social norms of society.

The children studied are adopted, school-aged children of both same-sex parents and heterosexual parents. Lesbian mothers compared to heterosexual mothers were significantly more flexible in gender attitudes. Gay fathers were also compared with heterosexual fathers as being more flexible to gender attitudes. Overall, lesbian mothers had the most flexible gender attitudes of all parenting genders. Daughters with lesbian mothers showed more flexible gender attitudes.

All in all, parents’ sexual orientation was significantly associated with children’s gender attitudes, but not with children’s sex-typing. Same sex couples’ parents showed more flexible gender attitudes than heterosexual parents. Children of both gay and lesbian parents showed equality gender beliefs about “occupation, activities, and traits.” Child’s attitudes regarding gender were best predicted by the parents’ division of childcare labor.

This study assessed children that shared demographic characteristics, but differed in family type. 44 adolescents with same sex parents, while the other 44 had opposite sex parents. Peers reported feedback from both parenting types, but showed no significant difference. Parents that reported having closer relationships with their children received higher rating on peer relations. They also reported having more friends in school as well as being “more central” within their friend group.

Child adjustment results were based on external and internal problems. External problems include conduct problems and hyperactivity, while internal problems include emotional and peer problems. Children in heterosexual families showed highest levels of hyperactivity. There was a significant difference between gender of children, but there was no significant difference with family type and the interaction between the gender of the children.

Different variables that affect results, were assessed. One examined was stress levels compared to external problems. The parenting stress demonstrated, was reflective on the external behavior of the child. Although, family type did not show a relationship with child external behavioral problems. Overall, Gay fathers showed higher levels of warmth, lower levels of stress and depression, and lower levels of aggression.

In this qualitative and quantitative study, the researchers attempted to investigate whether the lack of a biological connection influences the social parent-child interaction. Basically, they wanted to learn more about the child rearing behaviors (the behavior that primary caretakers exhibit in daily contact with their child) and if they differ among same or opposite sex couples. A total of 24 lesbian families and 24 heterosexual families participated with children with ages ranging around 10 years old. The study revealed that according to both parents and children, the quality of children’s relationships with the adopting mother is comparable to that with the biological mother.

Conclusions and Implications

The research on this topic shows that parental sexual orientation does not negatively impact the child’s cognitive development and for the most part it does not negatively impact their social development. There is research that says that some children are teased and bullied due to their parents’ sexual orientation, which can lead to microaggressions against heterosexual people. However, the children were not more likely to be teased or bullied than their peers whose parents are heterosexual.

The Farr, Oakley, and Ollen 2016 study found that children from lesbian and gay parents were well-adjusted and developed few behavioral issues. In the Farr 2017 study she found that there was no significant difference in child, parent, family, or couple outcome variables based on parental sexual orientation. Meanwhile, both Goldberg studies found no link between parent sexuality and adoption psychological adjustment or parental stress, which both have the potential to impact child-parental relationships.

This claim is busted because the research does not support the claim that same-sex parenting negatively impacts children’s cognitive and social development. The overall research quality appears to be valid, but it should be expanded to include children who were conceived via artificial insemination, or to include measures of factors such as parental gender role performance to see if there are differences between same-sex couples, and if such a difference is associated with any traits in the relationship between parents and children.

This research has implications regarding the legislation allowing same-sex marriage and same-sex adoptions in the United States. Despite all this research, legislators are still passing bills that allow adoption agencies to block same-sex parents from adopting. Just last week, a bill was passed in Tennessee, that “declares that no licensed adoption agency would be required to participate in a child placement if doing so would ‘violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies’” (Allison, 2019).

This research can continue to be used to open doors for same-sex couples to receive more equal treatment from private adoption agencies, children’s schools, and day-care centers. This research can help to educate people who believe that same-sex parents will not be able to provide the same parenting skills of a heterosexual couple, as well as encourage broader positive societal treatment of same-sex families.

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Same-sex Parenting. (2019, Apr 26). Retrieved from