According to the 2000 Census, there are about 594,000 same-sex partner households, and about 27% of those households have children living in them.
It’s hard to get an accurate number of same-sex parent families because many lesbians and gay men don’t talk about their sexuality out of fear of discrimination, like being fired from their jobs, losing custody of their children, or being hurt by people who don’t like them for being gay. A gay family is not “typical.” Some same-sex couples decide to have a child together, while others bring children from heterosexual or previous same-sex relationships.
Same-sex parenting is on the rise in part because there are more ways for same-sex couples to become parents. Most children of same-sex couples are biological children of one parent, but a growing number are the result of donor insemination, surrogacy, foster care, or adoption.
Most research shows that kids who have two moms or two dads do just as well as kids who have one mom and one dad.
In fact, one large study of children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers found that they were just like other kids when it came to their emotional health, sexual orientation, fear of being judged, gender role behavior, behavioral adjustment, gender identity, learning, and GPA. When researchers have found differences, they have sometimes been in favor of kids whose parents are the same gender.
For example, teens whose parents were the same gender said they felt more connected at school. Another study found that children who live with gay or lesbian parents are more likely to talk about things that are hard for them emotionally and are often more resilient, kind, and tolerant. When deciding to have children, same-sex parents have the same worries as heterosexual parents about time, money, and the responsibilities of being a parent. Also, many of the things that same-sex parents have to do as parents are the same things that heterosexual parents have to do. For example, they have to give their kids the right structure while also being warm and accepting, set limits, teach open and honest communication and healthy ways to deal with conflicts, and keep an eye on their kids’ friends and extracurricular activities.
Some differences may include getting used to different types of families, dealing with the effects of social stigma on the family, and dealing with extended family members who may not agree with same-sex parenting. One of the hardest things for same-sex parented families is living in a culture that supports heterosexist and homophobic attitudes and beliefs, which can affect these families in many ways.
A second problem is that these families often have children from previous heterosexual marriages, which makes things more complicated. Some of these families may have to deal with other family members who don’t agree that their family patterns are real and true. When a previous heterosexual partner or the other biological parent doesn’t help, it can cause a lot of trouble and conflict in the family system.
Today, there are a lot of therapists who specialize in gay and lesbian issues and can help the family feel safe, understood, and not judged. Families with gay or lesbian parents often go to therapy to get advice, support, and recognition that they may not be getting from society as a whole. Major problems that often come up in therapy for same-sex parented families:
Families with lesbian or gay parents may worry about discrimination when it comes to parenting and custody arrangements. In custody disputes, the other parent and/or the courts may use a parent’s minority sexual orientation and/or gender identity as a reason to limit or deny custody.
Co-parenting and having a blended family can be hard for both same-sex and heterosexual parents. It can be even harder for same-sex parents because of discrimination, stereotypes, and assumptions.
Families with lesbian or gay parents often have relationships and problems with people who aren’t their biological parents. This is because having a child when both parents are the same sex is a biologically complicated process.
In same-sex relationships, it’s common for close family members to treat intimate relationships differently than they do with heterosexual relationships. This kind of discrimination can also happen in parenting relationships. Extended family may think that being a parent is a necessary part of a relationship between two people of the same gender, or they may think that being a parent is biased and unfair, even denying the relationship of one parent to the children.
For same-sex parents, it can be hard to explain their relationship status and family structure to teachers, doctors, and the parents and friends of their children. It can also be hard to explain these things to their children. Even though many family relationships are complicated, it’s especially hard to explain family relationships in lesbian and gay parented families because there aren’t many societal norms or relevant examples in the media, there are a lot of stereotypes about these relationships, and these families are afraid of being treated badly.
Competent parenting may depend on how well gay and lesbian parents can accept and acknowledge who they are and how well they can deal with living in a society that is heterosexist, homophobic, or otherwise discriminatory while raising their children in a family unit that is not socially accepted. Therapists are aware that both homophobia that comes from outside the family and homophobia that comes from within the family is common. They are also aware of how this can affect families. Internalized homophobia is a set of negative feelings and thoughts about homosexuality in other people and gay traits in oneself.
Therapists will help the family understand how homophobia might be affecting them. Both internalized homophobia and experiences of discrimination from others may mean that families need more time in therapy to get to know the therapist and feel comfortable talking about personal and family-related problems.