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TORONTO: July 29, 2010 -- Melanie Chamberland (right) and her wife Ruthanne Price do a puzzle with their three-year-old son Ezra Chamberland Price. (Della Rollins/Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail)
TORONTO: July 29, 2010 -- Melanie Chamberland (right) and her wife Ruthanne Price do a puzzle with their three-year-old son Ezra Chamberland Price. (Della Rollins/Della Rollins for The Globe and Mail)

Family

With two moms, the kids are all right Add to ...

At summer pride parades across the country, queer parents have had plenty to celebrate: So far, it's been a banner year for lesbian moms.

Lisa Cholodenko's ode to lesbian families - The Kids Are All Right - opened last month with the highest per-theatre box office average of the year. Gushy scenes notwithstanding, it's got Oscar buzz. Not bad for a movie about two kids who yearn to meet their sperm-donor dad.

In June, lesbian moms got a nod from Stephen Colbert after a 25-year-long study found that kids raised by lesbian parents have fewer behavioral problems and rate higher in social and academic competence than their peers.

"Yes, lesbians raise well-adjusted teens who don't misbehave - and that proves it's unnatural," he quipped on The Colbert Report.

The mock news anchor was referring to the first conception-to-adolescence study of children raised in lesbian families, led by Nanette Gartrell, a psychiatrist who teaches at the UCLA School of Law.

The study, along with other recently published research, suggests that lesbian parents may have an edge.

Ruthanne Price (right) and her wife Melanie Chamberland play with their three-year-old son Ezra Chamberland Price.

But there's nothing stopping straight parents from following their lead.

Lesbian mothers tend to be authoritative rather than authoritarian, and combine verbal limit-setting with empathy, consistency and affection, notes Judith Stacey, a sociologist at New York University who co-authored a review of studies on lesbian parents published earlier this year.

It's the kind of parenting that research has shown to be best for kids, Dr. Stacey says. "It doesn't require being a lesbian."

But it can't hurt to have two moms.

According to Dr. Stacey, the non-biological mother in a lesbian family tends to be more engaged in her children's lives than the average heterosexual father.

Straight parents may bicker because the mother feels overburdened by childcare, Dr. Gartrell says, whereas "lesbian moms argue about not getting enough time with the kids."

In general, lesbians take an egalitarian approach to parenting and housework, which may increase harmony in the home, Dr. Stacey suggests. When two parents get along, she adds, "it's a great advantage for kids."

Melanie Chamberland of Richmond Hill, Ont., says her whole family benefited when her partner, Ruthanne Price, took a four-month unpaid leave from her job as a librarian after the birth of their son Ezra.

"That really allowed us to get our parenting groove on."

Although Ms. Chamberland, a former librarian, chose to stay home with their son, now 3, her partner continues to do a "great amount" of domestic work according to the family "chore chart," she says.

"Our vision was really that things would be shared 50-50."

TORONTO: July 29, 2010 -- Melanie Chamberland (left) and her wife Ruthanne Price read to their three-year-old son Ezra Chamberland Price.

The majority of lesbian mothers continue to co-parent after a relationship breaks down, says Dr. Gartrell. In the longitudinal study she oversees, 56 per cent of couples separated after being together for an average of 12 years. Among them, more than 70 per cent share custody of their kids.

Children with two actively involved parents are more likely to thrive, Dr. Stacey says. But she cautions against exaggerating the role of parents' gender.

The childrearing advantages specific to lesbian mothers - if they exist - are "mild," she says.

She notes that mothers in the study led by Dr. Gartrell are not a representative sample of lesbian parents (they were volunteers) and the study doesn't include a comparison group of heterosexual parents.

The well-being of the children in the study may be due to "selection effects" - the qualities of lesbian women who choose to become parents, Dr. Stacey adds.

Lesbian mothers tend to be older, well-educated and committed to raising children together, she explains. And unlike the "oops" babies conceived by straight couples, "there are no accidental children."

Finding a sperm donor takes time and thought, and fertility treatments require adequate income, Dr. Stacey points out.

"In order to become a lesbian parent - and a gay male parent, even more so - you have to jump through so many hoops that it selects for better parenting."

Lesbian parents often live in urban and progressive neighbourhoods, she adds.

Boys raised by lesbians don't necessarily lack male role models, since their mothers tend to involve a wide range of adults in their kids' lives - including the sperm donor, who is often a relative. For the children of lesbians, Dr. Stacey explains, these unconventional family groups may create a village effect.

Ms. Chamberland says she hopes her "intentional community" of gay and straight friends, with and without kids, will give her son Ezra an appreciation for diversity in families and sexual orientation as he grows up.

But she shies away from the idea that lesbian moms have a leg-up in the parenting department.

"We're just a family like any other," she says. "Ezra just happens to have two moms."

Follow on Twitter: @AdrianaBarton

 

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