Every parent wants their child to become a self-confident, self-aware being who deals well with challenges and can get the most out of life. What if female couples have found the secret?
A series of studies in Canada and elsewhere over the past decade has found that the children of lesbians aren't just well-adjusted – they excel. On average, kids with two moms seem to be more confident and less aggressive than those raised by a mom and a dad. They are open-minded, affectionate and less susceptible to anxiety and depression.
The research is still very new, and there aren't yet any definitive long-term, single-study comparisons of kids raised by lesbian and heterosexual couples. There is even less data on children of gay dads: In Canada, almost a quarter of married lesbians live with children, while only 9 per cent of married gay men do. But the signs seem to indicate their kids, too, are at least as successful as those with heterosexual parents.
It's quite a switch from the many accusations made against gay parents, warnings that their children would be raised in household instability and into gender confusion. Just a few decades ago, a parent who left a heterosexual marriage and came out would most likely lose custody.
Legal recognition has been piecemeal by province: It was in 1999 that Alberta courts first agreed to let same-sex partners adopt each other's biological children. Gays and lesbians in New Brunswick have been able to adopt legally only since 2004.
Considering all that, and the fact that women on average earn lower salaries, one might assume that kids raised by lesbian couples would have tougher lives. And yet it seems it is not so.
What do female couples know or do that some others don't? Here are seven lesbian lessons in raising happy, healthy kids.
1. Have an equal, loving partner
Two-parent families, regardless of parents' orientations, tend to raise happier children. Two adults bring more financial resources into the house and can trade off duties to recharge.
“There's a greater demand on single mothers and single fathers,” says Paul Hastings, a psychologist at the University of California Davis. “It's more challenging to accomplish.”
He adds: “The caveat is that if the two partners are in a highly conflicted, dysfunctional relationship, that's not better for the kids. … But in a good marital relationship, there are lower rates of child stress and conflict.”
And there, same-sex female couples may have at least one advantage: While straight men are getting better at doing unpaid housework and child care, the division of labour is still far from equal. The 2006 Canadian census found that only 21.8 per cent of men did 30 or more hours of child care a week, compared with 47.3 per cent of women.
Deborah Foster, a women and gender studies scholar at Alberta's Athabasca University, has found that two-mother families are happier with the emotional support and chore-sharing in their families than are moms in straight couples.
And when things don't work out, most put the kids first: The 25-year report of the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), released in 2010, found that while just over half the couples separated (after an average of 12 years together), the vast majority – more than 70 per cent – went on to share custody.
2. Don't hit them
Zero. That's the risk of child abuse in lesbian households, according to the NLLFS, led by the Williams Institute, an affiliate of the University of California at Los Angeles. Granted, the sample size was small, and the 79 adolescents interviewed could have been reluctant to cast their families in a negative light. Still, it does seem likely the real level of abuse is very low.
“Lesbian mothers spank less than heterosexual parents,” says Prof. Hastings, who was enlisted in 2004 (while teaching at Concordia University in Montreal) to write a Department of Justice report comparing children from homosexual- and heterosexual-led families. “It's a pretty consistent finding.”
In heterosexual families, it is fathers who most often use physical discipline.
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