Managing Gay Parenting Challenges
It is the goal of every parent to raise happy, healthy, well-adjusted children, and gay parenting is no different. Even though our society is becoming more accepting of unconventional families, it’s likely that gay parents will continue to face adversity before being “normal” parents in the eyes of those unfamiliar with the lifestyle. Parenting will always be difficult no matter what your sexual orientation, but the best way to be prepared is to have a clear understanding of the distinct challenges you may face as same-sex parents.
A 2000 U.S. census estimated that 163,879 households with children were headed by same-sex couples and that number has only risen. It’s important to note the census failed to include households fronted by single parents identifying themselves as gay or lesbian, which could mean the exclusion of millions of parents.
Gay parenting challenges include the struggles all parents face—getting the kids to eat healthy, putting them into bed on time, ensuring that they do their homework—only traditional families don’t have to face discrimination or laws that don’t honor their union or their adoption policies. As more and more gay couples adopt and choose to have children, it becomes necessary for gay parents to learn their state’s various laws. Gay and lesbian couples who have adopted children need to be aware that laws concerning the legitimacy of their adoption vary from state to state. Taking their children to a state that does not honor the adoption could be problematic.
A large challenge in terms of gay parenting is being aware of all the laws and loopholes that can cause family life to be anything but steady.
The adoption of children by gay parents is not legally recognized in 11 U.S. states and in various countries. This means that technically, authorities can place your children in foster care if you take them to these areas.
Gay and lesbian parenting, at times, can feel like a constant struggle to debunk uneducated assumptions. For example, there is the myth about gay parents influencing the sexual orientation of a child. Dr. Armand Cerbone, a researcher who has conducted extensive research on same-sex families, noted that current research dispels many of the myths associated with gay and lesbian couples raising children.
“Sexual orientation has nothing to do with good parenting and current research has shown that children with gay or lesbian parents do as well as children with heterosexual parents. Having a gay or lesbian parent doesn’t affect a child’s social adjustment, school success or sexual orientation, ” Cerbone said.
There is no such thing as a “typical” American family anymore. What is considered “normal” in terms of American households are now evolving; they include households that are run by only one parent, same-sex partners and transgender parents. It is rare not to encounter stepmoms, stepdads, stepbrothers, stepsisters, and half brothers and sisters in today’s family.
In more progressive areas of the country, those considering gay parenting will receive more support and acceptance, but in other areas that hold on to more traditional ideas of what a family should be, gay parents may run into prejudice and homophobia. It is easier for grownups to dismiss homophobia than children, but it’s important the children of gay and lesbian couples understand the hostility is more about fear than anything else.
Gay parents want their children to have normal childhoods. The children should come to understand that their family is different—not in a way that is good or bad—but in a way that is simply different.
Current research shows that children raised by gay and lesbian couples do not differ from other children in terms of the relationships they develop, their grade-point averages, symptoms of depression, or self-esteem. Interesting enough, the one way these children are negatively affected most has nothing to do with their actual parents. The psychological distress is due to the treatment they receive from others as a result of having gay parents.
“A study by Dr. Nanette Gartrell has found that by age 10, about half of children with lesbian mothers have been targeted for homophobic teasing by their peers. Those children tended to report more psychological distress than those untouched by homophobia,” Cerbone said.
It may seem obvious that good parenting, not the sexual orientation of parents, leads to mentally healthy children, but for those with more traditional opinions, it is difficult to accept. Thankfully, children are resilient and studies have shown that the children of same-sex couples are thriving, despite living in a world that is unsupportive of—and in some cases, cruel to—their parents. Those considering gay and lesbian parenting should be prepared to instill in their children the kind of tolerance they wish others would have for their lifestyle. Teaching children to look down on or hate those who discriminate will only do the children a great disservice and perpetuate a cycle of hate and ignorance.
Parenting Gay Children
One view point many people don’t consider is that most gay parents were and are the children of heterosexual parents. Heterosexual couples, even if they consider themselves open-minded and progressive, may have trouble accepting that their child is gay. Being accepting of others lifestyles and sexual orientation may be one thing, but parenting a gay teenager is quite another.
The topic of sex is difficult enough, but discover a child is homosexual can leave many parents feeling ill-equipped to deal. Margaret Buttenheim, a psychologist who specializes in families of both gay parents raising heterosexual children and heterosexual parents raising lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender children, says that many parents describe finding out their child is gay as “the death of a dream.”
“They truly feel a sense of loss because they envision their children’s lives to be a certain way and that dream is shattered when a child ‘comes out.’ It’s important to understand that although your child may be like you in many ways, he or she is also their own person and very different from you in many ways,” Buttenheim said.
Tolerance is the key whether you are parenting a gay teenager or gay parenting yourself. It is vital that same-sex couples teach their children to be tolerant of others and accepting of concepts they do not understand. As a parent of a gay child, it is essential that you continue to show your child the love and support you always have, despite your expectations. Many college campuses and an increasing number of large cities have centers where those in the gay community can go for support or guidance. For more information, visit www.gaycenter.org.
Are You Ready To Adopt?
There are many myths about the reasons to adopt, and you want to be sure that you are ready to adopt by knowing what these myths are before you commit to adoption. Common myths include the cost to adopt a child, who is eligible to adopt, the reasons to adopt and how to adopt. Take this true and false quiz to see if you know the myths about reasons to adopt.