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Do Lesbians Make Better Parents?

By Merline St. John

Its a fact of life that every good parent wants their child to become a self-confident, self-aware being who deals well with challenges in the best way and can get the best that life has to offer.

A series of studies in Canada and elsewhere asked what if lesbian couples have found the secret?

The studies over the past decade has found that the children of lesbians aren't just well-adjusted – they excel. On average, kids with two moms seem to be more confident and less aggressive than those raised by a mom and a dad. They are open-minded, affectionate and less susceptible to anxiety and depression.

Although the research is still very curent and ongoing, there aren't yet any definitive long-term, single-study comparisons of kids raised by lesbian and heterosexual couples. There is even less data on children of gay dads: In Canada for example, almost a quarter of married lesbians live with children, while only 9 per cent of married gay men do. But the signs seem to indicate their kids, too, are at least as successful as those with heterosexual parents.

There goes the arguments from far right groups like "Focus on the Family" right? Accusations made against gay parents which include children of gay parents would be raised in household instability and gender confusion. Just a few decades ago, a parent who left a heterosexual marriage and came out would most likely lose custody.

Considering the fact that women on average earn lower salaries, one might assume that kids raised by lesbian couples would have tougher lives. And yet it seems it is not so.

What do lesbian couples know or do that some others don't? Here are seven lesbian mom tips in raising well adjusted kids.

1. Have an equal, loving partner
Two-parent families, regardless of parents' orientations, tend to raise happier children. Two adults bring more financial resources into the house and can trade off duties to recharge.

Deborah Foster, a women and gender studies scholar at Alberta's Athabasca University, has found that two-mother families are happier with the emotional support and chore-sharing in their families than are moms in straight couples.

And when things don't work out, most put the kids first: The 25-year report of the U.S. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS), released in 2010, found that while just over half the couples separated (after an average of 12 years together), the vast majority – more than 70 per cent – went on to share custody.

2. Don't hit them
“Lesbian mothers spank less than heterosexual parents,” says Prof. Hastings, who was enlisted in 2004 (while teaching at Concordia University in Montreal) to write a Canadian Department of Justice report comparing children from homosexual- and heterosexual-led families. “It's a pretty consistent finding.”

In heterosexual families, it is fathers who most often use physical discipline.

“Fathers tend to be more strict and authoritarian,” Prof. Hastings says, though how much that applies to gay dads isn't yet known.

3. Tell them where they came from
Athabasca University's Deborah Foster and other researchers have noted that children are less anxious about their uncommon family structures when they're told early about divorce, adoption, donors or the other ways they might have been conceived.

“Most children of lesbians know at a very young age,” Prof. Hastings says.

His research found that in cases of assisted conception, lesbians were less secretive with their children than straight parents were, with positive effects on family relationships. “Offspring who don't find out until adolescence or adulthood feel more negatively.”

Families who conceive the more conventional way also have opportunities to ground kids in their backgrounds and identities. Prof. Hastings says African-American parents, for example, who share honest history with their kids – even the painful parts – tend to raise resilient offspring who confront prejudice with education and don't let it affect their self-esteem.

4. Stand up for them – and teach them to stand up for themselves
Children with same-sex parents are undoubtedly bullied. A recent survey by the legal rights group Equality for Gays And Lesbians Everywhere found that 37 per cent of these teens reported verbal harassment, and 27 per cent reported physical harassment.

“It shouldn't be on our children's backs to change the culture,” says the LGBT Family Coalition of Montreal's executive director, Mona Greenbaum. “It's up to the professionals that work with our kids.”

And that should hold true for any kids who face extra challenges – as families of kids with physical or learning disabilities, for example, have already learned.

When it comes to prepping kids on how to deal with teasing or bullying, different parents take different approaches. “Some are pro-active, some would rather wait – they say, ‘Why bring up a problem?' ” Ms. Greenbaum says. “I would never say which is right and which is wrong.”

“It's difficult, because when you talk to the kids themselves, they tell us about the school cultures that they live in. Although we don't like to hear it, they say that what sometimes works best is to beat somebody up,” says Rachel Epstein, the co-ordinator of Toronto's LGBTQ Parenting Network. “You don't want to encourage violence, but we have to pay attention to what kids tell us about their social context.”

5. It does take a village. So build one
Against criticisms that their children lack male role models, many lesbian moms can counter that their kids have an even greater variety of adult nurturers. These “chosen families,” sometimes formed when gay people are estranged from their own relatives, are often reinforced by their paths to parenting.

As a result, many children of lesbian couples may benefit from a “village” effect, to recall the African-inspired proverb Hillary Clinton made famous.

Other families, too, might find it easier when parents don't try to handle everything alone, and help relieve the pressure by reaching out to friends, relatives and other families.

6. Trust that they love you – even when you stress them out
Prof. Hastings says adolescent children do sometimes pressure their parents to be less “out.” But, of course, the adolescent tendency to pull away from parents is well-documented in studies of child development, as tweens and teens establish individual identity and seek peer approval. Kids are mortified if dad or mom tries to adopt their slang. And queer spawn say choosing to be less open about their families doesn't mean they're ashamed.

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