Study: Parents’ Relationship More Important to Kids’ Development than Sexual Orientation

Charlotte Patterson

Charlotte Patterson

second study published within the past week has concluded that how adoptive parents relate to each other is more important to their children’s development than their sexual orientation is.

Rachel H. Farr at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and Charlotte J. Patterson at the University of Virginia found that “whether parents are gay, lesbian or straight, how well they work together as a couple and support each other in parenting is linked to fewer behavior problems among their adopted children and is more important than their sexual orientation,” according to a press release. The study also “suggests that lesbian and gay couples may be creating new ways to live together and raise children outside of traditional gender roles.” The results appear in the July/August issue of Child Development

Farr and Patterson studied 104 families: 25 headed by lesbian couples, 29 by gay male couples, and 50 by different-sex couples. As in a study published last week by Abbie Goldberg and JuliAnnaSmith, the couples each had adoptive children who had been placed with them as babies—in Farr and Patterson’s sample, at birth or within the first few weeks of life. The children here were all around three years old at the time of the study.

Farr explained, “While actual divisions of childcare tasks such as feeding, dressing and taking time to play with kids were unrelated to children’s adjustment, it was the parents who were most satisfied with their arrangements with each other who had children with fewer behavior problems, such as acting out or showing aggressive behavior.”

The press release adds:

The researchers discovered that lesbian and gay couples were more likely to equally share childcare tasks, while heterosexual couples were likely to specialize, with mothers doing more work than fathers in these families. In addition, Farr says, from the videotaped observations of family interactions, “it was clear that other aspects of co-parenting, such as how supportive parents were of each other, or how much they competed, were connected with children’s behavioral problems.”

Overall, whether parents shared childcare tasks or had a more specialized division of this work was not related to children’s adjustment. The best predictor of child behavior problems was competition between the parents and dissatisfaction with childcare labor divisions, which were not related to parents’ sexual orientation.

Last week, Goldberg and Smith’s study similarly concluded that “greater conflict in the parent’s relationship,” not sexual orientation, has a negative impact on child adjustment. Previous work by Patterson, Farr, and Stephen Forssell determined that adoptive children of same-sex parents were on average “developing in typical ways” and “regardless of their parents’ sexual orientation, how well children were adjusted was significantly associated with how warmly their parents were oriented to them.”
So raising well-adjusted kids depends on parents’ support of each other, low conflict in their relationship, and warmth towards their kids? Same-sex parents aren’t redefining family. We’re reminding everyone what the definition was in the first place.