Dana Rudolph

Teens With Lesbian Parents Better Adjusted than Most

Filed By Dana Rudolph | June 07, 2010 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living
Tags: Nanette Gartrell, National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study, nllfs

A new report from the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), the longest-running and largest study of American lesbian families, has found that the 17-year-old children of lesbian mothers, all conceived through donor insemination, "were rated higher than their peers in social, academic, and overall competence, and lower in aggressive behavior, rule-breaking, and social problems, on standardized assessments of psychological adjustment." The results were published today in the prestigious journal Pediatrics.

The long-term, "longitudinal" study of the same group over many years offers a picture of lesbian families few other studies can match. The NLLFS began interviewing the mothers in 1986, when they were inseminating or pregnant, then again when the children were a year and a half to two years old, five, and ten. They directly questioned the 10-year-olds and the 17-year-olds.

I had the pleasure in 2008 of interviewing principal investigator Dr. Nanette Gartrell, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, and a 2010 Williams Distinguished Scholar at the UCLA School of Law. Here are a couple of key excerpts about some of the preliminary findings from this phase of the study:

One finding from the teen phase that "knocked my socks off," she [Dr. Gartrell] observes, was that, "in terms of overall quality of life, almost 80% say they enjoy, are satisfied with, and find life worthwhile." She reflects, "I don't know how your teenage years were, but I wouldn't have given mine a rating anywhere close to that. That says something pretty remarkable about what the moms are doing in terms of helping these kids navigate adolescence." . . .

The mothers have also been educating their children about a range of diversity issues, including racism, sexism, and antisemitism, as well as homophobia. "It's the whole spectrum," Gartrell says. "That's a really promising and needed transformation in our culture and in future generations."

It is a great sign that these findings have now appeared in a major, peer-reviewed academic publication. Pediatrics is the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (not to be confused with the homophobic American College of Pediatricians).

I should also, however, point out an earlier paper by Dr. Gartrell and Dr. Henny Bos of the University of Amsterdam, who is conducting a similar study in the Netherlands. The paper, in the Journal of Orthopsychiatry compares children of lesbian families in the U.S. and the Netherlands. Results showed that Dutch children were more open about growing up in a lesbian family, experienced less homophobia, and demonstrated fewer emotional and behavioral problems than American children (even though the emotional and behavioral problems of the American children were low on an overall scale). Homophobia was found to account for part of the difference in psychosocial adjustment between the Dutch and the American children.

There is much more work to be done to provide a full picture of lesbian families--if such a thing is even possible. Adoptive families, families of color,  interracial families, lesbian families with children from a previous heterosexual relationship, divorced families, blended families, families in different economic groups, not to mention the various permutations of families with gay, bisexual, and transgender parents, and combinations of all of the above--each deserve further study. The NLLFS findings are still of great significance, however. The NLLFS has been studying one wavelength of the great LGBT family spectrum longer than anyone else, and continues to inform our understanding of ourselves--and with luck, the understanding of others as well.


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polargirl360 | June 7, 2010 2:30 PM

I read about something like this almost a year ago. It was definately true about girls but the jury was out on boys.

Is there any gender specific data about the children of lesbian parents? It is important to show that boys are at least equal or greater as well or this will just become another culture war point of malcontention.

Thanks for bringing this out, Dana. I'm sure like other studies of its ilk, it will be ignored or twisted by the hate-filled right.

Since all of the children were born from artificial insemination, I wonder if that had any correlating influence since moms are able to screen out possible fathers to pick the qualities and traits they consider most desirable.

That's a good question, Bil. I will say that, having used an anonymous donor for my own family, that while most donor profiles seem earnest and accurate, they are only that--profiles, not complete pictures of a person. They're sort of like Facebook profiles of your background, habits, and interests (plus medical history). One can't include one's whole life--which means the reader gets a necessarily limited picture, no matter how honest the donor.

I also think that vague qualities--like social adjustment--are the hardest to capture in donor profiles, but those are exactly the traits that the NLLFS has identified in the kids. I wouldn't discount some correlation between being able to screen donors and getting good kids, but I don't think it's the complete answer.

My sister and her girlfriend have raised two sons (they each had a son when they got together, more than a decade ago), and the boys have done remarkably well. My sister got the boys involved in the Boy Scouts, and was involved in the troop herself. My nephew was an Eagle Scout at thirteen, and will be entering the Air Force Academy this Fall. His brother is out on his own now, and doing well. I love to brag on these boys and their lesbian moms, because these women have done a fabulous job of bringing up two happy, healthy young men of fine character, in spite of predictions to the contrary.

Good to hear! Now let's see if judges pay more attention to this than they do the other side's pseudo science.