Maintaining good health when you’re a parent can be a struggle. Time constraints and busy schedules can mess with your body, while the added stress isn’t doing you any favors. So, it’s probably not a surprise to learn that during the pandemic, the physical and mental health of parents suffered.
According to a study by the American Psychological Association, during the pandemic, 80 percent of fathers and 66 percent of mothers reported unwanted weight gain, while 87 percent of dads and 77 percent of moms had sleeping problems. To cope with all the stress, 48 percent of the guys and 29 percent of the women turned to drink more alcohol.
LGBTQ+ parents have the added stressors associated with raising children in a “non-traditional” family that can impact our mental health. What’s interesting — although not part of the APA study — is that queer parents generally don’t seem to display any greater mental health symptoms than straight ones.
According to research conducted by Rachel Farr, Ph.D., and Casey Vasquez at the University of Kentucky, there was no difference over a five-year period in mental health symptoms between lesbian, gay, and straight parents. Dr. Farr said, “This may point to heightened resilience among lesbian and gay parents given that their experiences are occurring in the context of persistent and ongoing cultural stigma and discrimination.”
That’s right, all the crap we’ve had to deal with for simply being gay may actually make us more resilient when it comes to our mental health. There are several possibilities why this might be, based on this study and other research coming out of Dr. Farr’s lab.
“An example of this resiliency manifested in everyday life is through a strong sense of self-worth and positive identity, including one’s LGBTQ+ identity,” Dr. Farr noted. “Another is through effective coping strategies. Positive coping can minimize the negative health impacts of experiencing stigma and discrimination by lessening the chances that these experiences are internalized. Focusing on what can be changed, such as attitudes, actions, or emotions, can be beneficial,” she said.
And our resiliency may actually help our kids, as well. According to Dr. Farr, other research about similar topics has shown that kids of LGBTQ+ parents may benefit through parenting practices that seem to provide them with unique skills such as dealing with stigma and discrimination.
“These parents are able to draw from a variety of other practical and emotional resources in their life, being buffered by the positive effects of social support from partners, friends, and family –
including chosen family,” Dr. Farr added. The research also indicates that being raised in queer families frequently instills in kids positive attitudes about inclusivity and openness to diversity.
But kids of gay parents can also experience cultural stigmas. It’s not unusual for them to be teased, bullied, excluded, or ostracized on the basis of their families. I remember one birthday party at our house that a boy our son considered a good friend wasn’t allowed to attend because of his parents’ “deeply held religious beliefs.” Our kid just rolled with the punches. When I apologized, he told me I hadn’t done anything wrong – the other kids’ parents were at fault.
When the pandemic hit, no one had any idea just how detrimental to everyone it would be. I did put on a couple of pounds, thanks to my new (and abandoned) hobby of baking homemade sourdough bread. But because of the really long doggy walks, those gains weren’t anywhere near the average 45 lbs. added by the dads in the APA study. In the end, Kelly and I weathered it remarkably well. Who knew that being gay dads would come in so handy!