Everyone’s been asking the question. The New York Times: “Are Same-Sex Couples Better Parents?” The Advocate: “Gay Parents Better than Straight?” SF Gate: “Are same-sex couples better parents?” The Dallas Voice: “Do gays and lesbians make better parents?”
All were talking about the research in Lesbian and Gay Parents and Their Children: Research on the Family Life Cycle, by Dr. Abbie Goldberg, which I discuss in my latest newspaper column.
Much as the competitive part of me would like to believe lesbians and gay men are better parents, it’s just not true. Goldberg clarified for me in an e-mail:
It is interesting that the media has suggested that the “take-home message” of my book is that gay parents are “better.” In fact, I would not make such a generalized statement – just as I would never say that heterosexual parents are ‘better’ (and nor should anyone else, in my opinion). Rather, the take-home message is that sexual orientation per se does not have much to do with one’s ability to parent, and the similarities between lesbian/gay and heterosexual parents outweigh the differences. Yes, there are some differences, and some could be interpreted as favoring same-sex couples ON AVERAGE – but it is important to emphasize that many of the characteristics that make (some) same-sex parents “special” (e.g., encouraging flexibility with regards to gender roles; engaging in a great deal of thoughtful preparation before becoming parents) also occur in some heterosexual parents.
Now, I know how media coverage works. Sometimes an editor adds an edgier title to a writer’s piece. Not all of the authors above interpret Goldberg’s work to mean that lesbian and gay parents are better. The casual reader might, however, assume so from the headlines.
On top of those articles come additional ones this week from the U.K.: “Lesbians make ‘better parents’, says senior parenting official,” according to the Telegraph. “Lesbians parents better at raising children,” states Times Online. In both cases, it is more than just the headlines that make the claim. Here is Times Online:
Stephen Scott, director of research at the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners, told a meeting last week that the latest research showed that children of such couples did better in life.
Speaking at the launch at the think tank Demos of a report on the influence of character on life, Scott said: “Lesbians make better parents than a man and a woman.”
I looked at the National Academy for Parenting Practitioners’ press release about the Demos report on character, and followed it to the Demos report (PDF). Much of the report was based on a new statistical analysis of the Millenium Cohort Study (MCS). The only reference to lesbian or gay parents in the report? This footnote:
In the case of same-sex partnerships, the MCS only contains eight same-sex partnerships at wave 2. This is not enough to estimate any reliable statistical information on the effects of being brought-up by two parents of the same sex on child behaviour (if any).
It’s time to stop the nonsense, folks.
No one has proven lesbian and gay parents are better, so let’s not imply that we are. That means you, parenting experts, journalists, and editors. At best, we can say that there are certain areas in which, on average (but not exclusively), we tend to have strengths. While it very much behooves us to repeat—loudly—the findings that show our parenting is no worse than that of any other parents, and is in many ways very similar, there are two very good reasons not to overstate matters:
Number one, LGBT-rights supporters often, and with good cause, bash the right for their sketchy science about LGBT families, or the sketchy conclusions they draw from good science. We need our science and our conclusions to be rock solid.
Number two, it is a waste of time to ponder the question, “Who makes better parents, LGBT or non-LGBT people”? It sets us up as competitors rather than seeing us as fellow travelers on this grand journey of parenting.
A better question than “Who is better?” might be, “Where are the strengths of different groups of parents, and what can we learn from each other?” That question, unlike the first, has the potential to benefit our children—and that’s really what it’s all about.
Addendum: The U.K. articles also reference research from Birkbeck College. I do not have access to the full article, but based on the abstract, it is impossible to say that one of its main conclusions is that lesbian parents are “better” than others. It says only that “Research on non-clinical samples of children raised in lesbian-led families formed after parental divorce, together with studies of children raised in families planned by a single lesbian mother or lesbian couple, suggest that growing up in a lesbian-led family does not have negative effects on key developmental outcomes. In many ways family life for children growing up in lesbian-led families is similar to that experienced by children in heterosexual families.