On lesbian parents

Do lesbian mums make the best parents? According to research released earlier this year, children raised by two mothers do better academically, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to have behavioural problems than peers who have been brought up in a family with two heterosexual parents.

That might indeed be true. Could be, certainly.

But that research didn\’t show that it was or is.

The research worked by asking the parents (or whatever gender or sexuality) what they thought about their children\’s self-esteem etc.

So what it showed was that lesbian mothers thought their children had higher self-esteem etc.

An interesting finding but not quite the one that it\’s being portrayed as.

9 thoughts on “On lesbian parents”

  1. To be fair, Tim, there are a couple of other studies that have demonstrated similar results using more empirical methods of assessing the children’s development.

    The key thing to note is that kids brought up in lesbian households, once you control for all the usual confounding factors (household income, social class, etc.) show much the same development as kids brought up in two parent heterosexual households. The evidence for them having a slight edge on the development of some social skills is modest and nothing to get too caught up in.

    What this is telling us is that having two parents is beneficial, but that most of benefit comes from the division of labour in the household and the additional attention the child receives, over and above that they might expect to get in a single parent household.

    There is, therefore, nothing ‘magical’ about fatherhood and the presence of a male role model in the family – although this is, and will remain, the norm because the vast majority of families arise out of heterosexual relationships.

    To be honest, you’d have got much the same results had this research been done on working class families in the first half of the 20th century, where it was fairly common for fathers to take little or no active part in parenting, because they were working 10-12 hours a day, leaving the job of bringing up the kids to a matriarchal extended family network.

    All rather common sense, then, unless you’re the kind of Christian bigot that hates the idea of lesbians bringing up children.

  2. Tom – from what I understand of social policy, the most likely reason for not using the children’s responses is that they did not lead to any statistically-significant results. If the children’s responses had lead to statistically-significant results and the parents had not, the parents’ responses would have been dropped and the children’s noted.

    Unity – have you read Judith Harris’s The Nurture Assumption? Based on results like you describe (eg the sons of lesbian couples not being any less masculine as adults, the continued passing down of upper-class British culture despite British aristocrats having very little to do with their sons) is because normally children are socialised by their peers, not their parents. We all know that immigrant children will normally pick up the accents of their peers, not their parents if the two are different.

  3. I suspect lesbian parents often make better parents because their status is a signal of their commitment ot the job.

    Most anyone who has to try that hard to become a parent (lesbians, adopters, etc) puts more into it and therefore more likely to get more out of it.

  4. And, of course, the two lesbians cannot in fact have been the parents.

    One of them could have been, but that’s as far as it could go.

    Or is it bad manners to point this out?

  5. So it should be true of male homosexual parents as well as female homosexual parents.

    All its really showing (after taking away any hidden agenda stuff) is that two parents are better than one.

    Unity mentions the extended family of working class families helping in the upbringing of children. In other cultures the family unit is more than just parents and children, it includes the extended family too. I suspect that if research was carried out into three or more parent families (extended families that included grandparens for instance) that it would show that the children has better self-esteem than one parent families.

    The more the merrier basically.

    TraceyW – While it’s true that peer pressure is a main driving force for children’s development especially after five years old, the parents are still significant in the early years. The lack of a father figure in the upper classes didn’t stop the children from picking up their cues from the nurses and nannie who would have instilled in them what they thought the upper class should be.

  6. @ Tim and Unity
    The American study shows that a selected group of only children (plus one pair of twins) with two parents do better in terms of self-esteem and are marginally less likely to get into trouble at school than children in large families.
    What one may deduce is that, in terms of self-esteem, the advantage of being an only child marginally outweighs the disadvantage of having two lesbian parents, and in other categories tested the two roughly cancelled out.
    An honest and competent survey would have measured the selected group against a group of only children (plus the odd pair of twins) with two heterosexual parents. If the US Survey was honest it was not competent and vice versa – at first glance it looks to be honest but incompetent.

  7. SadButMadLad – firstly, Judith Harris’s hypothesis is only that peers, not parents, are important for socialisation. She is quite explicit in her book that parents are important for other aspects of development.
    Secondly, how do you know that the British nannies and nurses managed to install in their charges what they thought the British upper class should be? Parents aren’t noticeably successful at installing such things in their own children, except by choosing where to send their kids to school. Those cultures that maintain distinct identities in a modern society, such as the Amish, or some Orthodox Jews, attribute it to sending their kids to specialised schools.
    (I’m only talking about what normally happens, clearly there is neurological diversity, for example tales of children choosing not to change their accents, and apparently autistic immigrant children who talk are far less likely to change their accents to match their peers.)

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