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Denise Balkissoon (Kevin Gonsalves)

Denise Balkissoon

(Kevin Gonsalves)

The 7 habits of highly effective lesbian families Add to ...

“Fathers tend to be more strict and authoritarian,” Prof. Hastings says, though how much that applies to gay dads isn't yet known.

Canada's Criminal Code allows the use of “reasonable force” in disciplining children. But if parents are following the lesbian example, it just isn't done.

3. Tell them where they came from

“Oh, I've known that for years,” 12-year-old Caleb Foster says when asked how he came into the world. “My uncle gave sperm and Mommy had me.”

Mommy is his birth mother, Beth Foster; Mama is her partner, Lesley Fellows (moms who aren't biologically related to their children often use the term “co-mother”). His DNA-donor “uncle” is a close family friend, but for Caleb, the word “parents” refers to his moms.

“I've got my family and I'm going to keep it,” says the Montreal karate blue belt, who enjoys playing Dungeons and Dragons.

For such families, the story of conception is rarely simple. Athabasca University's Deborah Foster and other researchers have noted that children are less anxious about their uncommon family structures when they're told early about divorce, adoption, donors or the other ways they might have been conceived.

“Most children of lesbians know at a very young age,” Prof. Hastings says.

His research found that in cases of assisted conception, lesbians were less secretive with their children than straight parents were, with positive effects on family relationships. “Offspring who don't find out until adolescence or adulthood feel more negatively.”

Mikaela Graham-Radford, 21, and her twin sister, Zoë, were adopted from Romania as infants. Through their childhoods, their mothers, Jan Radford and Lindsey Graham, were frank, welcoming questions and encouraging them to write to their biological relatives. When the twins were about 11, the foursome travelled from Burnaby, B.C., to Romania. The families still exchange photos and e-mails.

This “helped me accept who I am and not be afraid or not be shy,” Mikaela says.

Families who conceive the more conventional way also have opportunities to ground kids in their backgrounds and identities. Prof. Hastings says African-American parents, for example, who share honest history with their kids – even the painful parts – tend to raise resilient offspring who confront prejudice with education and don't let it affect their self-esteem.

4. Stand up for them – and teach them to stand up for themselves

Children with same-sex parents are undoubtedly bullied. A recent survey by the legal rights group Equality for Gays And Lesbians Everywhere found that 37 per cent of these teens reported verbal harassment, and 27 per cent reported physical harassment.

When Ms. Radford and Ms. Graham enrolled their twins in school, the couple decided to be pro-active about heading off curiosity and prejudice. “We went down to the school and met the principal beforehand and said, ‘This is who we are, this is our story and this is how we expect to be treated,'” Ms. Radford says.

The couple's two younger adoptive children, Heather and Hunter, 8 and 5, now attend the same school their older sisters once went to. None of the four ever had major problems with teachers or fellow students. “We've had a terrific time,” Ms. Radford says. “I think because we were really out there with who we were. People knew – they weren't guessing.”

Heather is at once nonchalant and frustrated when asked how she deals with classmates who wonder why she has two moms. “I say, ‘I just do,'” the third-grader says. “But they think I have a bigger story than that.”

This grade-school observation is at the root of the LGBT Family Coalition of Montreal's program giving seminars to child-care professionals – everyone from teachers and daycare workers to janitorial staff and the school principal. The classes aren't strictly about gay-led families, but focus on how to make the whole community comfortable with a variety of family types. The group is booked solid until next February.

“It shouldn't be on our children's backs to change the culture,” says the group's executive director, Mona Greenbaum. “It's up to the professionals that work with our kids.”

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