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The kids are all right: Largest study of gay parents shows their children to be well adjusted

By Wendy Lee Walsh, Ph.D. If you saw the recent film "The Kids Are All Right" starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, you know that families shepherded by mothers who are lesbians can look pretty normal. The teens in the comedy are as well-adjusted and angst ridden as any "normal" teen, until they invite a heterosexual male into the mix -- their sperm donor. And from there the
Dr. Wendy Lee Walsh

By Wendy Lee Walsh, Ph.D. If you saw the recent film "The Kids Are All Right" starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo, you know that families shepherded by mothers who are lesbians can look pretty normal. The teens in the comedy are as well-adjusted and angst ridden as any "normal" teen, until they invite a heterosexual male into the mix -- their sperm donor. And from there the laughter ensues. Now there's new long-term research that backs up Hollywood wisdom. The longest running study on Lesbian and Gay families has found that children in those families are as well-adjusted and healthy as those who are raised in heterosexual families. The study, called The U.S.A. National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) is the longest study of it's kind. It has been going on for 24 years and follows children of lesbian families who received donor sperm. Launched by an international team, including lead researcher Nanette Gartrell, M.D., Distinguished Scholar, Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law and Associate Clinical Professor, Psychiatrist and Center of Excellence in Women's Health, the researcher says she was motivated to begin the study because it was a first."(I had) the desire to document the first generation of planned Lesbian families and follow the children from conception to adulthood." Results from Gartrell's study and others show that far from abnormal, these children may even have a big advantage. Sociologists at the University of California reviewed data from 21 studies on Gay parenting, and found their kids may even be ahead of the game. Since lesbian and gay parents may show more understanding for social diversity and are less likely to behave in narrow traditional gender roles, the children tend to be more nurturing, less aggressive, more open to diversity themselves. This got me thinking about what's really normal for kids. After all, in terms of our anthropological roots, we've been an industrialized culture with religious mores for only a short period of time. In some ways we are trapped in the biology of our hunter/gather ancestors and that might be more "normal" for us. So what did families look like back then? Some provocative answers to that question are in the 2009 book "Mothers and Others" by UC Davis professor, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy (no spelling error). Often called the preeminent scientist on motherhood, Blaffer Hrdy blasts holes through any notion that humans ever survived well in small nuclear families. Instead she makes a great case for an elaborate system of parents, relatives, and even non-biological same-sex friends. She calls members of this extended family "alloparents" and gives plenty of stone cold facts about how humans evolved, gained intelligence and grew the capacity for empathy through multiple, consistent, caregivers. Makes us rethink the value of nannies and day care workers. In some ways, a large gay and lesbian community might look a lot like this ancient family model. But before you think that the encouraging results of this study show that our culture is as "all right" as the kids in the study, Dr. Gartrell warns that one dismal fact came out of the study. Lesbian mothers have one huge challenge: discrimination. "The biggest challenge is protecting their children from homophobic stigmatization." Some of the kids are targeted because of their parents' sexual orientation. As I write this, our national news is filled with stories of four separate teen suicides by Gay adolescents who were subjected to bullying. It is sad to imagine that this kind of cruel, misinformed behavior could also extend to children with Gay parents. Despite this, Dr. Gartrell is optimistic about the progressive trend she has witnessed in her years at the helm the study, "In my lifespan, there has been an evolving and greater appreciation of diversity and fluidity in gender roles. I am hopeful that these changes will lead to less conflict globally." Amen to that. Dr. Wendy Walsh has a private psychotherapy practice in Los Angeles, blogs at "Dating. Mating. Relating" and is a columnist for Pregnancy Magazine. As a T.V. psychological expert, she appears regularly on CNN & HLN, and has also appeared on the "Today" show and "Early Show." She is author of The Boyfriend Test and The Girlfriend Test.www.DrWendyWalsh.com