Saturday, January 21, 2012

What Makes A "Better" Parent?

Whether or not gay men men and women can parent has been a topic of conversation for ages now. I can remember it being debated when I was a teen and had a lesbian cuuple that lived across the street from me raising a boy not much younger than myself. I did not take me long to figure out that their was a disconnect between what I was being taught...and what I could witness in life of the family across the street. And I have heard the worst of arguments over time...that we will raise emotionally damaged and confused kids to allegations that we adopt in order to make kids gay...and so much worse. "kids need a mom and a dad" is the rallying cry of those who appose LGBT adoption and marriage equality and they beat that drum with fervor. They are old arguments that strike a sensitive cord in any of us that thought that being gay meant giving up on the notion of having a family of our own. Yet, as damaging as these arguments are, there are lots of same-sex families out there to prove them wrong. I feel fortunate to have grown up across the street from one that helped me see differently even before I came out to myself.

Now...It seems like we have hit the flip side of the debate. With more gay families out there to point to, a lot more people are familiar with same-sex families with children. The adult children of gay parents can also stand up to defend themselves and their families much like Zach Wahls did for his own family. We have fought and struggled to show the world that a gay family looks and functions just like any other family our triumphs and our shortcomings. And then this article comes along from carrying the headline, "Why Gays May Be Better Parents"

Strangely enough...while the article may make points that I absolutely agree with, I still find myself troubled by this article. Lets dig into this this thing and I will explain why...

The author of the article...Stephanie Pappas, uses a handful of scientific studies to advance what are largely four main points....

1) That gay parents often fill a much needed roll in adopting and fostering....

An October 2011 report by Evan B. Donaldson Adoption Institute found that, of gay and lesbian adoptions at more than 300 agencies, 10 percent of the kids placed were older than 6 — typically a very difficult age to adopt out. About 25 percent were older than 3. Sixty percent of gay and lesbian couples adopted across races, which is important given that minority children in the foster system tend to linger. More than half of the kids adopted by gays and lesbians had special needs.

2) That children raised with gay parents tend to grow up to be good kids...

Research has shown that the kids of same-sex couples — both adopted and biological kids — fare no worse than the kids of straight couples on mental health, social functioning, school performance and a variety of other life-success measures.

3) And that LGBT parents tend to have the built in capacity to teach acceptance of life's diversity...

 these kids may have the advantage of open-mindedness, tolerance and role models for equitable relationships, according to some research. Not only that, but gays and lesbians are likely to provide homes for difficult-to-place children in the foster system, studies show. 

4) and lastly...that choice and commitment are the key to it all...

Gay parents "tend to be more motivated, more committed than heterosexual parents on average, because they chose to be parents," said Abbie Goldberg, a psychologist at Clark University in Massachusetts who researches gay and lesbian parenting. Gays and lesbians rarely become parents by accident, compared with an almost 50 percent accidental pregnancy rate among heterosexuals, Goldberg said. "That translates to greater commitment on average and more involvement."

If you are heterosexual and feeling a little slighted by this...I understand. While some parts of this article are fact...the way in which those facts are being presented is biased in a way that I feel does a disservice to all parents regardless of gender or sexual orientation. In my opinion, most of the reasons that this author has given as being the qualities of a superior parent are not exclusive to any sexual orientation. The suggestion that anyone is a better parent does help the cause of equality for gay just sets up resentment and furthers division.

When Jay and I began dating we had those talks about our future hopes and dreams that young couples often have. We knew from our first few months together that both of us wanted to be a parent "someday". That "someday" arrived for us a few short years later as we realized that we had met some basic requirements....we were committed to each other and had several years to back that up, we were financially able to support children, and we were able to talk to each other about what our expectations and limitations were with parenting. Once we looked at each other and realized that "someday" was "now" the next hardest thing to do was figure out how to build our family and that process took us a couple of years of oscillating between surrogacy and adoption.

We went into the process with intent and sometimes in the face of an utter void of information to guide us along the path of family building as a gay couple. So, on the surface it is true that gay couples have a step toward being good parents because we have often had to struggle to create them. However....I have known women who have planned their pregnancies and eagerly awaited their child only to suffer heart breaking miscarriages. One such woman that I know personally just became pregnant again and I know that she lives everyday with the anxiety that it could happen again and the hopes and dreams she carries for her child. No one can tell me that she will not cherish her child just as much as I cherish the two I adopted with my husband. Also...I have a cousin who is the Martha Stuart of moms. she never feeds her children sugar, makes all his costumes, and even as a baby made her own pureed baby food. On the occasions when I bring home Taco Bell I think of her and imagine the nutritionally balanced, home cooked meal they must be having and feel like CPS is gonna knock on my door any second for feeding my kids fast food. Choosing to be a parent is not an automatic guarantee of being a good parent...but it does go a long way and it does not matter if you are gay or straight. 

The authors second assertion that gay parents will often adopt outside their race or kids with special needs is factually true...I did it. But so have a lot of other really incredible straight parents that we see at our fost/adopt support groups once a month. I do think that LGBT men and women have a unique perspective on life and family that can give us a great deal of empathy towards kids who have been treated poorly by their birth families or passed over by others. Many of us have walked that path ourselves. I remember the first time I saw Daniels profile on paper. The behaviors they ascribed to him and the medical challenges they listed made me hesitate. I wasn't sure I could handle all that or that I would connect with him at all.....and then I met him. He was the cutest little boy with his lost eyes and terrible bowl cut and my heart melted on contact. It didn't take long for me to forget that Daniel was a different race then me or that he had special needs. He was just Daniel and I loved him. I think that is just the nature of human connection when you are open to it and not something that is unique to Jay and myself as a gay couple. 

Lastly I think that comparing gay parents to straight parents is bound to have a lot of statistical flaws due to the discrepancy in the size of each population. Perhaps if they evaluated the same number of gay couples to straight couples in similar life circumstances we would find a clearer picture of the differences in each.  There are just too many variations and different life experiences to compare the two parenting models with any kind of fairness. Which brings me to my final point.....the only better parents are the ones who work everyday to love and care for their children. It doesn't matter what that looks like.

One of the many points Jay and I try to make on our YouTube channel is that gay families look and function exactly the same as everyone else's...our kids grow up just the same. Making the claim that gay parents are better then straight parents just reverses the discrimination and does nothing to bridge the gap between us. We love each other, we love our children and do the best we can to care and provide for them, and sometimes we make mistakes. That is a story that is common to all  families whether single parent, heterosexual, or gay.

I am not a better parent than anyone else. but I am getting better at being a parent with each passing day. We do the best we can to be the best dad's we can be and the kids do the best they can to push us into new territories of parenting( us nuts). I think this is universal to all parents and while I may not be a "better" parent or even a pro...I love being a dad and I wouldn't change it for anything in the world.

Until next time dear readers......


  1. you're so awesome. I agree wholeheartedly Bryan. I'm writing my piece on my blog about parenting as well.

  2. I appreciate that the article goes a little too far in asserting that gay couples make better parents than straight ones but, in an era where straights portray gays as the ultimate in parenting scum, can you really be all that surprised that such an article might overreach to compensate? Those 4 attributes of better parenting can apply equally well to any thoughtful parent regardless of orientation. That is with one exception…. Raising open-minded and tolerant children. It’s not impossible for straight parents to also raise their kids that way but, in this point in history, it’s far less likely. Because many, if not most (?), straights don’t presently understand that sexual orientation is biologically determined, they naturally are going to fear that such phenomena as the availability of gay marriage and gay parenting puts children at risk of being TURNED gay themselves. This fear, coupled with lots of religious baggage, is where a lot of the intolerance comes from. By contrast, kids of gay parents not only are deliberately taught lessons of tolerance in ways that they wouldn’t be if they had straight parents, but they have the life experience of being able to observe firsthand how ordinary and normal the behavior of their gay parents is and that it isn’t any different than how straight parents behave.

    Kids of gay parents can and do grow up to be as well-adjusted as their peers with straight parents. Presently, though, those kids are subject to levels of bullying that their straight-parented counterparts don’t face simply because of their family structure. As a gay person myself, even I have to acknowledge that. That’s why I believe, until the country gets a lot more enlightened than it presently is, that gay couples wanting children need to consider very carefully what part of the country to raise their kids in. With Santa Rosa being an apparently highly tolerant place with lots of LGBT families, Daniel and Selena stand a good chance of not facing any significant trouble in their middle and high school years for who their parents are. (Remember it’s the middle and high school years where a lot of kids turn vicious.) If, on the other hand, you were trying to raise them in the South, their lives at school could be quite grim. And yet for those of us who want kids too, we can’t all live in Santa Rosa, San Francisco, Los Angeles, or the other few tolerant, “kid safe” enclaves which may exist, so what are we to do?

  3. I think the message the article seeks to give is "Hetrosexual parents do not automatically get the good parenting crown". That gay parents are not only as good as Hetrosexual parents but CAN be better and that's a broadside to the "gays can't be good parents" brigade. Kids need parents who are competent, stable and loving. Sexual orientation isn't on the list. I don't believe gay parents are better parents, good parents come from good parenting, that it.

  4. I don't believe ether that gay parents get an automatic best parent crown, but then again by no stretch of the imagination at all should straight parents. I can say first hand from simply observing (and interacting with) people that there are plenty of straight families that should not be in line for that crown even thought they have "a Mommy and a daddy". Maybe it's true you don't always see the best side of peoples parenting skills when they are shopping in a store but I have had the displeasure of helping plenty of straight parents clearly on drugs, something that really pisses me off. (meth a few, a surprising number pot!) Then there are lots of parents that treat their kids like some sort of plague that fell upon them, which make me very upset and cross. But just as bad there are tons of parents that don't want to parent, part of that is probably because if I had done the things that they let their kids do, and often reward them for doing when I was the kids age I not only would not have been rewarded for it I would have been in trouble! (I have probably picked up a lot of my notions of proper parenting well from my parents and how they raised my brother and I, and they where very loving but also very good parents who where not afraid to parents us)

    Yet somehow in the media and the gay parenting debate they are treated like simply because there is a parent of both genders that their family and parenting skills are better and not just better the gold standard, when reality is that a very considerable chunk that is simply not true!

  5. @Dave....

    It is true that the region we live in affects many things including how we are treated by those in our community. However, that does affect my ability to love my children and be a parent to them. Take Zach Wahls for instance...that young man did NOT have the benifit of growing up in a liberal area and yet he grew into the amazing young man who articulated such a loving defense of his family before the Iowa House. Adversity does make the job more difficult....especially in the family building stage. But the act of being a parent comes from the heart.

    1. Bryan,

      Of course I agree with you that where you live has no impact on your or any other gay person’s ability to love and raise kids. And it’s possible for any child to grow up into another “Zach Wahls” success story even in the most backward of environments. All I’m saying is that we aspiring gay parents should be aware of what could be in store for our kids at school and, to the extent that we CAN take some evasive steps to at least try to make life easier for our kids, it’s worth at least considering such options. For example, if you’re a gay family contemplating moving to Georgia for career reasons, try, as much as it’s possible to do so, to zero in on Atlanta and avoid small towns there, which you reasonably can anticipate to be extremely intolerant and therefore an excessively adverse environment for your children.

      I hope for a day when there will be no need for any gay parent to consider such issues. I have a feeling though that it’s going to be a very long time before we get to that point.

    2. I think overall its a valid point that gays tend to be better parents. Anecdotal, though it may be, this has been my experience. There is a tremendous selective pressure on gay parents. If you see gay parents, you're seeing (in general) people who chose to be parents and braved the social stigma, legal hurtles, and bigotry. Gay parent are parents that survived the social natural selection. I actually wish (I'm not being glib or sarcastic) that I had gay parents in many ways. My parents divorced when I was very young and I've never known what it was like to have a Dad. Your children are extremely lucky to have two.

  6. Thanks for another great post. I agree the article kind of gave short shrift to straight adoptive families. Unfortunately a little "drum beating" is necessary when there is so much malicious disinformation out there. Have fun at the Wonderland party. :)

  7. Thank you for your post and the comments on the research you read. I enjoyed reading it.

  8. I KNOW the world would be a much better place for all of us if there were more parents like you and Jay whether they be gay or straight. Daniel and Selena are so well behaved. Before we visited you last fall we spent time with two other families. Both sets of parents are wonderful people but their children were simply "out of control." That was not the case in your home. When jay said "no!" the kids knew he meant business. The other parents said "no" too but those children fluffed it off and actually behaved more atrocious. When your kids came home from school they proudly showed us their report cards which were stellar and you made sure they sit down immediately and do their homework with your help if necessary. Children also need love and trust me people (those that are reading this) love is abundant in the Leffew house!
    I really hope "The Right to Love-an American Family" takes off. The average person in this society needs to see the truth and not just listen to bullies spewing homophobia and whipping up fear about gay parents. Best of luck my friends and thank you for putting yourselves out there..