Dr Abbie Goldberg is the author of Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle published by The American Psychological Association. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Clark University. Her book is an overview of the many studies that have been done on gay and lesbian families and she hopes it will be used to influence public policy.
What almost all of the studies have found is that same-sex parents do just as good a job as opposite sex parents. I had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Abbie Goldberg about her book and the key findings in studies about gay and lesbian parents.
Lesbian Life: First of all, I am very impressed with your book. It seems like there is nothing you didn't cover. Dr. Abbie Goldberg: People have said that. Other experts in the field have said they couldn't think of any studies that I left out.
So, how did you go about research for this book?
The benefit is, I've been doing research for ten years, so I have a pretty good sense of most of the parenting and family literature related to lesbian and gay families and parenting. Since I've worked in this area for ten years, I've kept on top of what research is coming out.
What are the key findings of the research?
Well, because the book reviews all of the research, including my own, the fact that it's all in one place and that we can draw some conclusions is a new thing. Most media coverage will report on one study. This is taking a much broader scope of the field. What I concluded is what a lot of the individual studies concluded, but it's a lot heftier when you have 100 studies to back you up.
Children Raised in LGBT FamiliesPsychological adjustment of children raised lesbian and gay families is really no different than children in straight families. All the studies, no matter how people did the research found the same thing, which is that kids are not disadvantaged by being raised in lesbian and gay parent families. There might even be particular areas where they have strengths, it just depends on how you look at the research.
Children Raised in Gay & Lesbian Families and Gender NormsLesbian and gay parents are less conventional in terms of gender norms, so they're more likely to encourage their kids to not be limited by their own gender for certain interests, activities, toys, the way that they dress. Conservative might look at that as a negative thing, gender norms are important, but I think most of us would say there's something really positive about little girls of lesbian moms who want to be doctors and lawyers instead of nurses and social workers. In terms of having higher aspiration for careers.
Are Children Raised in Gay and Lesbian Families More Likely to be Gay?People always want to know if children are more likely to be gay, and of course there is really no evidence children are more likely to be gay if they are raised by gay and lesbian parents. But I have to give the caveat, so what if they were. There's nothing wrong with being gay, so why do we care?
I don't think that's an appropriate index of whether kids are doing okay. I argue diligently that we need to remove that as an indicator of mental health.
Don't you also point out some studies of children of gay and lesbian parents who feel a pressure to be straight so there's not the stigma?
There is an added pressure, whereby children of gay and lesbian parents feel that their parents are okay. They feel like maybe they can't acknowledge the general problems that we all experience growing up as adolescents. You don't like your parents sometimes. Or you do drugs. Or you don't do well in school. Kids are very sensitive about those things being attributed to having gay parents. They feel additionally protective of their parents. In a very unique way, that I don't necessarily think is to their benefit. I think it's actually detrimental to their well-being.
What are some differences between gay and lesbian parents and straight parents aside from the gender role things?
Yes, there are studies that suggest, maybe not surprisingly, lesbian and gay parents divide up housework, paid work and child care more evenly. So they're modeling less traditional gender norms, more egalitarian. There is some evidence that they're less likely to encourage their children to be conforming. So in terms of their parenting values, they place a lot less value on their kids being like other kids, where straight parents are more likely to want that for their children.
Tolerate Differences BetterChildren of gay and lesbian parents, there is evidence that they might be more tolerant of differences in other children. So they are less likely to stigmatize another child based on their race or ethnicity or any other perceived difference. Because they grew up knowing what it is like to be different.
Did you find any difference between gay men parents and lesbian parents? That's a great question, but there is just not enough data. There are so few studies that have compared lesbian and gay parents. There are a couple that are coming out right now and they don't find many differences. But the research is so new. And there is not much research on gay fathers.
Well, there are less gay fathers, aren't there?
There are, but more than what you might assume. I think its' now one in five gay male couples is parenting, compared to one in three female same-sex couples.