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Out of the Closet: Raising Kids in Gay Families

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While it is becoming more commonplace for gay and lesbian individuals to raise children, finding community support isn't so easy. Here is one couple's story.

Gina Kaysen Fernandes: Vicky* remembers the moment she first held her adopted baby in her arms. "He was destined for us. There was never a doubt in my mind that he wasn't mine," says Vicky, who, along with her partner, Beth*, is raising a 6-year-old boy they adopted from Guatemala. Parenthood didn't come easily for the couple. They struggled with infertility problems and then took a tremendous risk by adopting internationally, which is illegal for an openly gay couple. But once the tumultuous adoption process was finalized, this non-traditional family continued living a very ordinary, suburban life. "It's just like any other family structure," says Brett Berk, M.S., a child development expert and author of The Gay Uncle's Guide to Parenting. In his experience, there's no lack of love in these households. "With gay parents, there's an intentionality about the desire to have a child. Kids do better if they're loved and wanted," Berk said.

lesbian parents

The novelty is fading for gays and lesbians who choose to raise children. The miracles of modern medicine allow same-sex couples to reproduce through artificial insemination or surrogacy. And more same-sex couples are adopting babies as a growing number of states relax adoption policies. An estimated 6 to 14 million children have either two mommies or two daddies. More than 65,000 adopted kids are living with a gay or lesbian parent in the U.S.

"If there was a man in the house, Diego* would probably use the boys' public restroom more often," jokes Vicky, who believes her son is very well-adjusted, despite not living with a father figure. Diego has a close relationship with his grandfather and "definitely connects with men," Vicky says. She and her partner speak openly with Diego about their relationship. "I don't have any hang-ups about talking to him about sex."

The biggest challenge is teaching kids about the concept of family and all the different configurations it can take. "The real conversation becomes about love and teaching that whoever we love is okay," says Michelle Golland, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in marriage and relationships. "If they're raised in a house that teaches tolerance, compassion, and acceptance, these kids will fare far better in the world," Golland adds.

But the world isn't always as accepting. Vicky and Beth felt some negative vibes from other parents when they lived on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. The mother of one of Diego's classmates refused to have playdates. "I definitely felt like one of the Latina moms wouldn't connect with us, which was disappointing because I want Diego to connect with other Latino kids," Vicky says. Accepting that intolerance exists can be a painful lesson for kids. "You need to make a commitment to find a more tolerant, loving community. Be very cautious where you place yourself," Golland warns.

Diego and his moms eventually moved to Portland, where they've met new friends "who have been overwhelmingly supportive," Vicky says. Although people living in urban areas are considered more accepting of diversity, gay families are becoming the norm even in rural and suburban communities across the country. "You have to be up-front and honest and see how things fall out. Oftentimes they have to be the ones to educate their community," Berk says.

While celebrities like Melissa Etheridge and Rosie O'Donnell have become the poster moms for gay families, many people still have misconceptions about what it means to raise a child in a same-sex household. Conservative Christian groups, such as Focus on the Family, cite social-science studies that support beliefs that "children raised in a stable, married, heterosexual home do better than children raised in any other type of household. They are healthier physically and emotionally, do better academically, experience less poverty and commit fewer crimes" -- although there are no credible studies or facts that support that position. There's also no research that suggests children raised by gay parents are more likely to become homosexuals. "They may become more accepting of gay people and have a better understanding of sexuality, which I think is a plus," Berk says. There's also no evidence that gay fathers are more likely to molest their children. "That's just ignorant -- it goes against everything we know in terms of the psychology of pedophiles," Golland says. In fact, statistics show that 95 percent of all sexual abuse cases are committed by heterosexual men against young girls.

Homophobia is the driving force behind an ongoing legal battle over gay adoption in Florida. The future remains murky for two half-brothers who want to be adopted by their gay foster fathers who have raised them since 2004. The case is now in the hands of an appeals court. Florida is the only state that excludes all gays and lesbians from adopting, yet allows same-sex couples to be foster parents.

Kids can start learning about different family structures as young as 3 years old. "Some people might think that's pushing an agenda, but we're just being honest about normal sexuality," Berk says. It's important that gay parents communicate with their child's teacher "to help bridge the home-school divide," suggests Berk, who believes educating all children at an early age about family differences will help create understanding and acceptance.

* Names have been changed to protect identity.


next: The Mother Didn't Do It
55 comments so far | Post a comment now
rebecca September 23, 2009, 4:26 AM

“There’s also no evidence that gay fathers are more likely to molest their children. “That’s just ignorant — it goes against everything we know in terms of the psychology of pedophiles,” Golland says. In fact, statistics show that 95 percent of all sexual abuse cases are committed by heterosexual men against young girls.”

Why was that even necessary to include? I’m really tired of this.

tola September 23, 2009, 5:18 AM

Rebeccah,

I think it is necessary to say, because even though that fact has been stated and restated, people continue in blind ignorance with regards to how gay fathers act towards their children. Its sad, but its true.

robotii September 23, 2009, 7:28 AM

Conservative Christian groups, such as Focus on the Family, cite social-science studies that support beliefs that “children raised in a stable, married, heterosexual home do better than children raised in any other type of household. They are healthier physically and emotionally, do better academically, experience less poverty and commit fewer crimes” — although there are no credible studies or facts that support that position.

This is poor research to be honest, saying that there are studies that were cited by this group, then saying that there are no credible studies or facts without providing so much as a link to a site that actually discusses the issue.

How can you seriously expect anyone to take this point seriously?

This is basically no more than an opinion, but you’d think with the name logic in the domain, there would be less ad hominen attacks on opposing viewpoints.

Also, could you provide an example of disagreeing with homosexuality that is not homophobic. I am beginning to suspect that homophobia is being defined as “disagreeing with homosexuality”.

I would be happy to be proved wrong however.

mimi September 23, 2009, 7:05 PM

Really just a nit… but we’re not raising kids in “gay families”. My partner and I are gay parents … but to the best of our knowledge (and the stats probably support this) our children will turn out straight. So really, we’re just a family.

Mr. Bill September 23, 2009, 9:41 PM

The best advantage for being gay is to avoid getting married and raising children. Gay people live lives of freedom and easy financial independence.
Why would any gay person want to get married to their same sex partner and raise a child?

Also, I cannot understand why straight people would object to their marriage and/or adoption of a parent-less child. Any gay couple wanting to go through all this trouble and expense to have a child will certainly love that child. And there should be little doubt that they can afford the expense.

Mr. Bill September 23, 2009, 9:52 PM

I wish I had been adopted by a gay couple. They would have saved me from the Los Angeles foster care system. They would have saved me from running away at age 15 and getting a job as a bus boy and living in a crummy room.

Brian September 25, 2009, 7:08 AM

A couple of thoughts:
Conservative Christian groups, … cite social-science studies [showing] “children raised in a stable, married, heterosexual home do better than children raised in any other type of household. They are healthier physically and emotionally, do better academically, experience less poverty and commit fewer crimes” — although there are no credible studies or facts that support that position.

The studies show that in stable, married, hetero, families kids do better than those in other situations if they have active and involved parents. That is NOT the same thing as saying kids in stable, married, same sex families have been found to do worse than kids in other situations. It is an inappropriate interpretation of the studies.

In terms of raising the question of gay men molesting children, I think it was a weird place to bring that up, and probably should have been saved for a different article, all of the subjects of article were women, so throwing in a “Oh ya, gay men aren’t pedophiles” statement felt so gratuitous and it didn’t contribute to the story.

julia liv September 25, 2009, 6:40 PM

We are a two mommy household-we have a daughter and son, 9 & 11. It is so simple we are a family and we honor those who influence their lives especially those special men who spend time with our son. We are a family-its just so simple

Mael September 27, 2009, 3:01 PM

Gay men and women do report being molested at rates far greater than any other group outside of sex workers. Gay men stand out especially in this area. It is an act of denial to say that molestation does not play a role in a significant number of cases where gay gender identity disorder manifests itself. Children deserve to have positive family structures and behaviors encouraged to them. No child should be encouraged to think homosexuality or permissive sexual attitudes are a positive thing.

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