Families headed by two mums doing great job, what can other families learn?

There is a terrific, upbeat article in The Globe and Mail on the track record of families formed by two mothers. It begins with the facts: “A series of studies in Canada and elsewhere over the past decade has found that the children of lesbians aren’t just well-adjusted – they excel. On average, kids with two moms seem to be more confident and less aggressive than those raised by a mom and a dad. They are open-minded, affectionate and less susceptible to anxiety and depression.” But rather than concluding that families who don’t match this model are doomed, the article then goes on to ask, “What can the rest of us learn?” Step one it turns out is having an equal, loving relationship/ Step two is never hitting children. You can read the rest here.

My only gripe (okay, aside from the use of the “seven habits of highly effective blah blah” language) is the author referring to the couples as ‘lesbian couples.’ Yes, they are same sex couples, yes they are couples composed of two women, but one or more of them might be bisexual. Other than that, a lovely read about good families and the environments in which children thrive.

14 thoughts on “Families headed by two mums doing great job, what can other families learn?

  1. About ‘lesbian couples’: I’m also wondering if the loving relationship has to be sexual. Could two single hetero mums form a family unit so that each has the help a house-partner provides? Perhaps the data suggests that this alternative might be worth exploring, though the problems might be different and need some attending to very early on.

    The idea of being a single mom has also seemed to me to be extremely unattractive unless one had some very close and dependable adult support. Not everyone feels that, but a same-sex ‘sexless’ household might be an alternative for those who do.

  2. The article does talk about two couples and their children who live together and share childcare and I’ve thought that would be an attractive model for lots of people too. I love the idea of shared meals, for example. You’re right. It’s a good question whether erotic, romantic love is essential to the equation.

  3. okay, yes– it’s true that the relationships at issue might not be sexual, and that the good parenting has nothing to do with whether the relationships are sexual.
    On the other hand, one of the ways in which lesbians are made invisible (as part of discriminatory efforts and/or prefatory to such) is by de-sexualizing such relationships. (it’s all just one big tea party with granola and thick socks, don’t ya know)
    So, while I trust the authors of the posts above meant well, it sets might teeth just ever so slightly on edge to have the first two comments out of the box on this be all ‘but this doesn’t have to be a sexual relationship!!’

  4. Agree. I also thought bisexuals were made invisible by the assumption that all same sex couple either gay couples or lesbian couples. I think what can make a difference in successfully raising children–as the article details–is that these families are intentional, their particular shape and configuration a labour of love and creativity. It’s also the case that many, though not all, same sex couples connect their children to a chosen community of friends who play a significant role in the lives of the children. But let’s not overlook the celebration of same sex love which includes sexuality.

  5. I would love to know more about the prior relationship history of the study participants and whether all the good parenting is the result of the gender and sexuality of the couples or a result of lessons learned. It may be that the particular lessons learned are the kind that women who challenge sex and relationship rules tend to figure out. I’m thinking about authenticity, proactivity, critical thinking, open mindedness, stuff like that. The things that make us good humans make us good parents. Of course, I have very particular ideas about what makes a good human that the whole world might not share. But hey, I’m just a bisexual so, I may not actually exist in this conversation ;).

  6. Anonymous, let me apologize for setting your teeth on edge. I think I was responding to a concern that it seems impossible to for the press to simply talk about about such situations without foregrounding sexual relationships, and I thought frog was responding to a similar thing. Sorry I got that wrong!

    I might explain that it drives me crasy when I describe a male friend of my gay son’s that it seems immediately that a space opens up where one is suppose to say what is ‘really’ going on. E.g., ‘and then I met up with my son and his friend John and….’. Perhaps I should think of some way of continuing that would close the gap, but that might be hard.

  7. Anne – I am trying to understand your last comment; the lack of an agent makes it hard for me to figure out what phenomenon you are talking about. What do you mean ‘a space opens up’? According to whom is ‘one supposed to say…”? Are you talking about some sort of experience of internal pressure, external expectations, or what, and to do what? What gap are you looking to close?

    Sorry if this comment seems dumb – I just have no idea what phenomenon you are gesturing at and I am curious.

    In general I agree with the commenters above who are frustrated by the idea that a conversation about same-sex female couples immediately turns to a conversation about desexualized friend and domestic support relationships. I don’t understand how the press was ‘foregrounding sexual relationships’ at all, any more than they would be if it commented on a study about married vs. single parents and their parenting. How is the reference to the fact that we are studying a kind of romantic couple any more ‘sexualizing’ in the same-sex case than in other cases?

  8. Sorry about being unclear. Let me backtrack a moment. I would be extremely surprised to see a storyline like “When heterosexual mums go back to work,” but not surprised to see one about when lesbian moms do. And that sort of foregrounding of sexual orientation occurs very often when the story has to do with intimate and/or familial relations in the glbt community. One could read the reporting discussed in the post above as contributing to the visibility of lesbians, or one could read it as a potentially damaging foregrounding of sexual orientation.

    Why potentially damaging? Well, read what people say when they say why they don’t want to hire gay men or – to a lesser extent, lesbians. The first thing many people start thinking of is sex. That’s not the first thing one hears people talking about when, e.g., a straight couple moves in. Thought about a person having sex seems part of the bigotry and may be regarded by the bigot as a justifying part.

    Now, my comment about my son. When I mention he and His friend George saw such and such a play, i often enough get an ‘oh?’ from others. Perhaps a similar question is raised when mothers mention unmarried an hetero son and a woman, but I doubt that the question is about whether they are actually having sex.

    Now who cares if people want to know whether my son is having sex with so and so. Well, I care whem who he is having sex with is treated as the most salient feature of his life in just about all contexts.

    Of course, I could be a bit overly sensitive on the topic. And I realize that others may well have thought much more about tensions between invisibility and foregrounding orientation.

  9. #8– I may be sensitive here too, but it occurred to me over the last day or so since I first posted that there’s another aspect of this that is setting my teeth on edge. I don’t know how to aptly communicate this without being overly blunt, so I hope you will excuse that. There is a phenomena of straight women appropriating (or trying to appropriate) queer/lesbian experiences that can be extremely annoying. It’s something like a “me too! me too!” phenomenon. So, e.g. there’s some article about equality in the division of labor in lesbian/queer relationships between two women, and here come the parade of straight women saying “me too! me too! Our relationships are like that /an be like too! Let me tell you all about me and my husband!!” “Let me tell you all about me and bff!” or the popular, if now somewhat old fashioned, “But I’m a woman-identified woman!”
    As is sometimes said to men who post on feminist discussions among women: this. is. not. about. you.

    Also: what do you mean by “to a lesser extent women”? At any rate, if bigots think of sex when they meet folks like me, how is that anything other than their problem? I am quite certain that you are right that they sometimes do (witness, e.g. all the talk about “practicing homosexuals” among those who fought the recent clarification of the APA’s own known discrimination policy). But why isn’t it just tantamount to appeasing the bigot to act as though folks like me don’t have sex lives?

  10. anonymous: a clarification. When I said “to a lesser extent lesbians” I meant to indicate that there seems to be much less negative discourse about lesbians. Perhaps I should emphasize that this is possibly just my experience. However, there’s a fixation on anal intercourse as the particularly and supposedly awful thing homosexuals supposedly do, and I expect that’s not thought to be paradigmatic lesbian sex.

    I’m very sorry to have contributed to a subversion of the discourse. I’m not sure where it occurs. Was it the comment about my son? That really was just a comment about why I made a comment you objected to. Perhaps it was a comment about finding the idea of being a single mother very unattrative? Would it have been better if I’d put it in an impersonal mode? Or is the idea that straight interests were introduced at all, and doing so amounts to “me too.”

    I hope I don’t sound unsympathetic. I take your point about my introducing straight concerns, and I am sorry about it. But I also find it hard when I unwittingly become a target, and I’d love it if we could try to be more constructive.

  11. #10– from my pov, it was that your very first remark was this: “About ‘lesbian couples’: I’m also wondering if the loving relationship has to be sexual. Could two single hetero mums form a family unit so that each has the help a house-partner provides? ”

    happy to say more, but maybe it’ll be more productive from both sides if we take this in small pieces. [the thing about your son I found curious/puzzling, but that’s not the primary thing to which I was reacting in #9]

  12. I thought it might help if I said something about why I posted this piece in the first place. Most of the newspaper coverage I’ve seen of studies of the children of same sex couples have focused on the absence of a negative outcome. Many of them take the following tone, “Wow. Despite what we might have expected the kids aren’t suicidal, drug addicted, dropping out of school, horribly abused by their peers, etc etc.” I thought this article marked real progress and I found three things to like about this article. First, and perhaps most obviously, it doesn’t just focus on the absence of a negative outcome. There are ways in which these kids (on average) excel. Second, rather than stopping there the article goes on to look at specific practises (rather than merely the gender identity of the parents) that make a difference. Third, it advances the discussion to look at what life is like for these kids as they grow up, land at university, form families of their own etc. Having grown up in a queer culture–but likely not gay or lesbian themselves–these “queer spawn” (a phrase I like) bring a different perspective to debates about family values.

    Interested readers might like these two books, both of which I’ve read and highly recommend:

    And Baby Makes More: Known Donors, Queer Parents, and Our Unexpected Families, edited by Susan Goldberg and Chloe Brushwood, Insomniac Press, 2009 (http://www.insomniacpress.com/title.php?id=978-1-897178-83-6)

    Epstein, Rachel, Who’s Your Daddy?: And Other Writings on Queer Parenting Sumach Press, 2009 (http://threeoclockpress.com/sumachpress/whosdaddy.htm)

  13. Anne: I don’t know how old your son is, but I am pretty sure that if he were single and straight, people would “Oh?” you whenever you mentioned him hanging with a female friend. It happens to me all the time – I can’t mention doing anything with a male friend around my mother (or many other nosey people) without getting the cocked eyebrow, which is especially annoying since I am bi and don’t get it when I mention doing things with female friends. People seem to have a bizarre fascination with single people’s dating prospects and sex lives. I am not convinced there is anything distinctive about him being gay at work here.

    Also, I don’t read a headline about ‘lesbian couples’ as foregrounding sex in any inappropriate way – it seems to me to be flagging a type of family unit based on a type of romantic union that is directly relevant to the article. We don’t see headlines about ‘married couples’, in contexts where we know that means het couples, as flagging sexuality, do we? It seems to me that reading this as foregrounding the sexual (and then working to background it again) says more about the responses of the reader than about the original article. It’s like people who think that queers are ‘throwing their sexuality in people’s faces’ just by being out and naming themselves as what they are.

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