It’s strange to think that there was once a time in this country when single men weren’t allowed to adopt. I imagine it was based on prejudices: first, that only women take care of kids; and secondly, that single men wanting kids were obviously pedophiles. It wasn’t until 1968 that a handful of single men were allowed to adopt. Among them was Bill Jones, thought to be the first gay man to adopt. It would be another decade before gay couples adopted jointly.
What’s ironic about this history is the growing evidence that same-sex couples may actually be better parents than their straight peers. Kelly has a theory about this: unlike straight people, who can become accidental parents, we usually have to go out of our way to become moms and dads. Therefore, we’re more invested and more resilient. As much as it pains me to admit it, he may be right.
As far back as 2012, LiveScience.com highlighted Clark University psychologist Abbie Goldberg’s research noting that nearly half of straight couple pregnancies are accidental, and that “gay parents tend to be more motivated, more committed than heterosexual parents on average because they chose to be parents.”
But there seems to be more than just planned versus accidental parenthood. Dana McNeil, licensed marriage and family therapist and founder of The Relationship Place, whom you may remember from last month’s column, practices a form of couples therapy called the Gottman Method. She says that research shows that both the cultural and social stressors LGBTQ parents face make us more resilient than our straight peers.
Los Angeles-based licensed psychotherapist and co-author of Gay Dads: A Celebration of Fatherhood, David Strah, agrees. “I would say for all LGBT parents there is the added stressor of homophobia or transphobia. This might take the form of feeling judged for our parenting by non-LGBT parents and family members, or some internalized shame, and the need to prove ourselves as being perfect parents. The antidote to this is talking about it, recognizing it, acknowledging it and trying to surround ourselves with other positive LGBT parents, families and supportive allies.”
“The ability to overcome the same day-in and day-out problems that all parents experience is often easier for LGBT parents,” McNeil also adds. “Research being done at the Gottman Institute is finding that LGBT couples often hold each other in a more positive perspective than do many straight couples. They use humor, roll with life’s punches, and often let things go more easily — and they’re doing it better than their hetero peers. That support and affirmation is good for their kids.”
And this is having a profound effect on kids of queer parents. Last year, The Washington Post cited a study by several European economists that shows kids with two moms or two dads fare better in school than those with a mom and a dad. They have higher test scores in elementary school and are nearly seven percent more likely to graduate from high school.
Even with this research, I don’t think that LGBTQ parents are categorically better than straight parents. I know some pretty phenomenal straight moms and dads, and some not-so-great LGBTQ parents. What I think it provides is unbiased, scholarly research about us. That’s important as legislators across the country work to enact laws harmful to gay adoptive and foster parents, often relying on biased, flawed studies to support their actions.
It may have taken 50 years, but science is finally showing the world what LGBTQ people have always known: we make great parents.