Advantages and Disadvantages of Growing Up in a Same-Sex Family

Published : Jun 06, 2024
By Dr. Ana Aznar

June is Pride month. We would like to take the opportunity to talk about the development of children living in LGBTQ+ families.   

To do this, we are lucky to have Professor Susan Golombok as a REC Parenting expert. A pioneer in the subject, Professor Golombok has been studying same-sex families since the 1970s. More recently, she has also been studying children living in trans families.   

 Let’s have a look at what the research says.   

 Children of Lesbian Mother Families  

Lesbian mother families are created in two ways:   

  • Women who have a child with a heterosexual partner and start a lesbian relationship later on.  

  • Lesbian couples who have a child by donor insemination or adoption.   

 Forty years of research (1) have compared children of lesbian mother families, children of gay fathers, and children of heterosexual couples. Findings suggest that children raised by lesbian mothers are as well-adjusted as children of heterosexual families and gay father families.   

 Children of Gay Father Families  

There has been little research on gay male parents.  

Gay father families are created through adoption or surrogacy.   

When a gay couple has a child with the help of a surrogate, the child is conceived through IVF using one father’s sperm and a donor’s egg. The resulting embryo is implanted in a surrogate woman, who carries the pregnancy but has no genetic connection to the baby. In some cases, the same woman provides the egg and carries the pregnancy to avoid the use of IVF. This is less common because the use of different women is usually encouraged. Therefore, children have two fathers (a non-genetic and a genetic) and two biological ‘mothers’ (a gestational and a genetic).   

Research (2) examining children born through surrogacy to gay fathers shows that: 

  •  Gay fathers tend to be very  positive in their parenting. 

  • Children born through surrogacy to gay fathers do as well, and sometimes better, than children of lesbian and heterosexual couples.   

Another option for gay father couples is to create a family through adoption. Adopted children of gay couples (3) tend to be as well adjusted as children of lesbian couples and children of heterosexual families.  

When examining adopted children is important to keep in mind that factors such as their age when they were adopted and their living conditions before the adoption, may influence their development. In general, the sooner a child is adopted, the better. The harsher their living conditions before being adopted, the more issues they may face growing up (4).  

Children of Transgender Families  

This is a very new area of research and we need to be careful when interpreting the findings. The main issue is children’s experience of their parent’s transition. It is not the same for a child if their parent transitions when they are a few months old than when they are a teenager.   

A study (5) conducted in the UK in 2017 asked 35 children to talk about their parents’ transition. What did the study show?  

  • Some children were OK with the situation, whereas for others it was challenging.   

  • Some children found difficult getting used to their parent’s new name and pronoun.   

  • Children did not like having to explain their new situation to their friends.  

  • Some children experienced bullying and teasing. They found tricky being out in public with their parent after they have transitioned.   

  • Other children were rejected by their extended family because they did not accept their parent’s transition.   

The study also examined children’s development. They were no more likely than other children to show behavioural or emotional problems. Children who experienced issues were those whose parents were depressed, stressed, or lacked support.   

 

Do Children in Same-Sex Families Grow Up to be Gay?  

A question that often arises is whether children living in same-sex families will grow up to be gay or lesbian because they will identify with their parents. Evidence (6) shows that children growing up in same-sex families are not more likely to be gay than children living in heterosexual families or those living in single-parent households.  

 Is There Any Disadvantage to Living in a Same-Sex Family?  

Yes. There is one important risk for children living in a gay family: social stigmatisation (7). Although in the Western world bullying towards children of gay couples has decreased, low-level stigmatisation is still quite common. For example, using the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory way can be upsetting and harm children.  

Stigmatisation is also negative for gay parents’ parenting skills. Gay fathers who suffered more antigay prejudice had less positive parenting (8).  

It is important to keep in mind that the research we have discussed has been conducted in countries where attitudes towards gay couples and same-sex marriage are more positive. The experience of children growing up in a LGBTQ+ family in countries where attitudes are still  negative is likely to be more difficult. For example, the experience of a child growing up with gay fathers in Sweden cannot be compared with the experience of a child growing up with gay fathers in Abu Dhabi. Research in this area may not be universally applicable. 

What is the message to take home?  

Children living in same-sex families do as well (and sometimes even better) than children living in different-sex families on a wide range of health, social, emotional, and academic outcomes. Children living in trans families tend to show the same outcomes, although there is still not much research on these families.  

Why might children living in same-sex families sometimes do better than children living in heterosexual families? The path to become a parent is usually more difficult for gay parents because they often must go through IVF, surrogacy, or adoption. The process is long and hard, and couples must be very determined to have a child to persevere. Consequently, researchers believe that these parents tend to be very invested in their children. They give them a lot of time, dedication, and love. These are the ingredients necessary for a child to thrive.   

 It seems that a child’s development has little to do with family type, parents’ gender identity or sexual orientation. What matters then? What matters is what happens within the family: Children need stable, loving, and harmonious families. Whether they are gay, transgender, or heterosexual.   

 If you are interested in this topic, have a look at Professor Susan Golombok’s REC Parenting Masterclass, which gives lots of useful tips and information. If you have any comments, do not hesitate to drop me an email. I love hearing from you!   

Love,

Ana

Dr Ana Aznar

References  

(1)Stevens, M., Perry, B., Burston, A., Golombok, S., & Golding, J. (2003). Openness in lesbian-mother families regarding mother’s sexual orientation and child’s conception by donor insemination. Journal of reproductive and infant psychology, 21(4), 347-362. https://doi.org/10.1080/02646830310001622141  

(2)Golombok, S., Blake, L., Slutsky, J., Raffanello, E., Roman, G. D., & Ehrhardt, A. (2018). Parenting and the adjustment of children born to gay fathers through surrogacy. Child Development, 89(4), 1223-1233. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12728  

(3)Golombok, S., Mellish, L., Jennings, S., Casey, P., Tasker, F., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Adoptive gay father families: Parent–child relationships and children’s psychological adjustment. Child development, 85(2), 456-468. DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12155  

(4)Farr, R. H., Bruun, S. T., & Patterson, C. J. (2019). Longitudinal associations between coparenting and child adjustment among lesbian, gay, and heterosexual adoptive parent families. Developmental psychology, 55(12), 2547. https://doi.org/10.1037/dev0000828  

(5)Imrie, S., Zadeh, S., Wylie, K., & Golombok, S. (2020). Children with Trans Parents: Parent–Child Relationship Quality and Psychological Well-being. Parenting, 21(3), 185–215. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295192.2020.1792194  

(6)Patterson, C. J. (2017). Parents’ sexual orientation and children’s development. Child Development Perspectives, 11(1), 45-49. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12207  

(7)Imrie, S., & Golombok, S. (2020). Impact of new family forms on parenting and child development. Annual Review of Developmental Psychology, 2, 295-316. https://doi.o 

(8)Green, R. J., Rubio, R. J., Rothblum, E. D., Bergman, K., & Katuzny, K. E. (2019). Gay fathers by surrogacy: Prejudice, parenting, and well-being of female and male children. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 6(3), 269. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/sgd0000325

Photo credit: Vanessa Nunes via Istock

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Dr. Ana Aznar
2024-05-17 09:55:58
Hi Donna,
sO great to have you here! Totally agree that Zara is great! What other topics would you like us to discuss?
Ana
Donna
2024-05-17 09:49:36
Love Zara’s ways of teaching for both parents & kids! Also so helpful. We want more!! (Please!) :D
Ana Aznar
2024-05-08 07:24:31
We are glad you found the content useful! Many thanks for being here.
Ana
https://WWW.Waste-Ndc.pro/community/profile/tressa79906983/
2024-05-04 14:40:38
I couldn't resist commenting. Very well written! https://WWW.Waste-Ndc.pro/community/profile/tressa79906983/
Cristoj
2024-04-09 18:20:19
Great article!!!

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