This election cycle we have been subjected to a parade of Republican Presidential candidates spouting off about the ideal family and how the gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry because kids need a mom and a dad to be awesome. I’m paraphrasing, but you get the idea. We listen and we shake our heads and we talk about how moronic they are. We joke about it, get angry about it, we donate money or time or homemade, organic, kale chips to causes or candidates that fight against what they are trying to do. Those of us with kids do something else; we worry.
Now, worrying comes standard with every new baby, like the smell in a new car. The worry starts before you even meet that child who is going rock your life to its foundation. You worry about the right bottles, the right clothes, even the right detergent in which to wash the clothes. You worry about breast-feeding and sleeping. You worry about childcare and struggle with the decision, if you have the luxury of having a decision at all, to go back to work or to stay home with the baby. All this happens before they hand you that screaming bundle and all those worries are dwarfed by the thought that you are responsible for this small, helpless person. You see every danger everywhere. Suddenly cars go way too fast, people are way too careless, and you think “Dear God, what is my mother doing with my child hasn’t she ever held a baby before” before remembering that she raised you and you turned out fine.
When you are in a lesbian family you worry about other things, too. You worry that someone is going to hurt your child, with words or worse, because of you. You know the world can be a cruel and unforgiving place because, at times, it has been for you. You wonder if it’s fair to make your child endure that because of you. Ultimately, we put it aside and reassure ourselves that the world will be better. We tell ourselves that our children will have us and that we’ll teach them to deal with it. We comfort ourselves with the idea that being teased is something that happens to all kids and that we’ll be there to help. But in the back of our minds the thoughts creep in; we can’t always be there. There will come a time when we can’t be there to protect them from the kid who swipes their toy or calls them a name. On top of that you add grown-ups, talking on a national stage about how their homes, their parents, their families, and their lives are somehow worse than everyone else’s. You know those words trickle-down and you worry that someday they will trickle-down onto your child and you know you can’t be there every time to protect her.
Into this context comes a new study about our kids that offers hope of soothing those worries. The U.S National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) has been tracking since birth children who were born to lesbian mothers via artificial insemination. The study started in 1986 and tracked families with children who were born between 1986 and 1992. The study has provided valuable research data as it was collected at set points over the years. The findings have revealed, among other things, that adolescents in lesbian-parented families have higher levels of social, school/academic, and total competence, and lower levels of social problems, and rule-breaking behaviors than the adolescents in a normative sample. A new study of the children involved in the NLLFS targeted the issue of whether the children were stigmatized by virtue of having lesbian parents and if so, how they dealt with the homophobia they encountered.
Other studies have shown that stigmatization of children, including those stigmatized for having lesbian parents, can result in lower self-esteem, higher levels of problem behaviors, and that stigmatization can be a risk factor during psychological development. However, and here is the great part, studies also show that children and adolescents in lesbian families scored just as highly on psychological adjustment tests than kids from heterosexual families in spite of being subject to homophobic stigmatization. So in plain English, people mess with our kids because they have lesbian moms but our kids do just as well as the kids next door anyway.
This new study surveyed 78 17-year-olds from the NLLFS about whether they had ever been treated unfairly because they had lesbian moms. The adolescents were given a chance to recount instances of unfair treatment and were also asked how they coped with stigmatizing behavior. The result was that half of the adolescents had been stigmatized for having lesbian moms. The adolescents most often experienced homophobia from their peers but most had also been confronted by strangers with disapproving comments about their families. That’s the bad news.
The good news was that more than half the adolescents used adaptive coping mechanisms rather than maladaptive coping mechanisms to deal with the homophobia. These included optimism (“I just tell myself that kids are jealous that I have two moms and they don’t”) or confrontational strategies (“I let people know when they have said or done something that I do not believe is acceptable or appropriate, and I make sure they know why I think so”). The most common maladaptive coping mechanism was avoidance, such as not telling their friends that they had lesbian moms or using the term “parents” instead of “moms.” The study already noted that kids from lesbian families did just as well as their peers on measures of psychological adjustment, and now it has shown that our kids cope really well and that they use good strategies to deal with people who don’t like or don’t understand their families. It saddens me to think of my own kids having to deal with defending their moms and their family to the outside world. However, this study gives me hope that even if politicians keep talking about how bad our families are, in spite of the science, our kids will keep showing them they are wrong.
The kids aren’t just all right — they are fantastic.