Lesbian Parenting Study in Pediatrics

After reading many media references to a spring study that concluded that lesbian mothers are the best mothers, I’d like to respond to this “US National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study: Psychological Adjustment of 17-year-old Adolescents” study that was published in Pediatrics. I don’t aim to deem it valid or invalid, nor am I deeply concerned about the study’s funding source, but I’ve read through it, and here are my thoughts.

The results are self-reported by the mothers. For example, there are no objective academic measurements or whatnot; the children do well because their mothers rate them well in social, school/academic, social problems, rule-breaking, aggressiveness, and externalizing problem behavior. We have absolutely no way to determine if study participants are rating their children fairly, which is massively problematic. It is made even more problematic because the mothers are not randomly selected, instead they are volunteers, and volunteers on the higher education and socioeconomic groups, who are quite likely to be politically motivated by participating in this study. Or rather, those who would volunteer for a politically significant study are those who know themselves to be good parents and know they could answer in the affirmative. And of course they do answer in the affirmative, and their answers are never cross-checked (like with school reports).

The median income of the lesbian mother group is $85,000, which introduces factors like resources and socioeconomic status that are just not mentioned, not to mention controlled for. Likewise, the sample size of 78 children is unfortunate. The study does not tell us how the control group of mothers and children are selected, which is strange for any study and should have been teased out in peer reviews. We simply have no idea if these children are representative (or have the same social status, have the same education opportunities, etc.).

But most interesting to me as a reader of sociological papers, the mothers do not report that their children do significantly differently when the two lesbian mothers split up. This has hardly ever, ever been seen in any longitudinal data of families, as children with one parent do worse than children with two in any representative study. So this finding alone hints that the study may have some fundamental methodological issues. Also, there are no differences reported in girls and boys, which again, is not replicated in other data and implies that parents may not be properly rating their own children, which is natural, as it’s intrinsically biased to rate your own children and your own parenting.

Now, could lesbians be excellent parents? Absolutely. I’m just not at all convinced by this study, and I would suggest that they certainly can be excellent mothers; they just can’t be fathers too.

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