April 5th, 2007

Haring Family

Gay Parenting 101: Don't Children Need Opposite Sex Role Models?

An acquaintance of mine is the proud parent of an adorable baby boy whom she and her wife adopted. They are starting to get people asking them whether they're worried about their son lacking a male role model. There are lots of ways to answer that question.

One can point out that children of lesbians and gay men have been shown in study after study to do just as well psychologically as children of heterosexual parents. A good summary of the research on the topic is available from the American Psychological Association. The 88-page booklet on the topic, "Lesbian and Gay Parenting," can be downloaded at http://www.apa.org/pi/parent.html. The summary of findings says:

   "Results of research to date suggest that children of lesbian and 
        gay parents have positive relationships with peers and that their
        relationships with adults of both sexes are also satisfactory. 
        The picture of lesbian mothers' children that emerges is one of general
        engagement in social life with peers, with fathers, with grandparents,
        and with mothers' adult friends-both male and female, both heterosexual
        and homosexual. Fears about children of lesbians and gay men being 
        sexually abused by adults, ostracized by peers, or isolated in single-sex
        lesbian or gay communities have received no support from the results of
        existing research."

If you want to just look at an annotated bibliography of research studies, it's at http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/lgpannotated.html.

A second way to answer the question - and one I find a lot of lesbians go for - is to eschew references to research and just explain that our children know lots of men even though they don't have fathers. Lesbian couples with sons are not generally raising them in a women-only commune and without access to the outside world. Our kids know men because there are men among our relatives and friends and among their teachers and coaches and pediatricians and neighbors. If male role modeling is important, it's not hard to find men to do the modeling.

I tended to answer a third way. If someone asked me if I was worried about my son lacking male role models, I answered honestly that I was not. I don't believe in fostering a male role, so I don't feel a need for male role models. I want to raise my children without the constraints of gender roles. I want them to feel free to model themselves on various people - male and female - and not limit themselves to the expected behavior of one gender. So, male role models were not something I worried about.

I did - and still do - think role modeling is important, though, in a variety of ways unrelated to gender. Two hobbies ago I used to write and publish essays on lesbian and gay parenting. One of them was on the whole role model issue. A lot has changed in my family and in the world since 1994, but I stand by every word I said in the essay behind the cut.

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