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Debunking myths: The effect of same sex parents on children

A new book by Susan Golombok, PhD maintains that “children in new family forms are no different than children raised in more traditional family structures." Good family relationships with committed parents who show warmth, loving, and communicate effectively with the child is key.

The heterosexual married couple with biologically related children is the long heralded traditional nuclear family. For a long time, most portrayals of families on television were of these traditional households. Popular shows like Growing Pains or Family Ties in the late 80s and early 90s reinforced and reflected the belief that the only way to raise well adapted children was for parents to be real life versions of these parental units.

Non-traditional families including single parents, cohabiting parents and step-parents have become more widely accepted while raising children in new family forms such as those conceived through egg or sperm donation or same-sex parent households still remain on the fringe of acceptance.

Italian designers, Stefano Gabbana and Domenico Dolce recently criticized in-vitro fertilization and nontraditional families in an interview with the Italian magazine Panorama. They stated that children born through IVF are "children of chemistry, synthetic children. Uteruses for rent, semen chosen from a catalog."  Dolce added, "I am gay, I cannot have a child. I guess you cannot have everything in life...Life has a natural course, some things cannot be changed. One is the family." Is there evidence to show that children raised in new family structures are maladapted or psychologically affected?

Good family relationships with committed parents who show warmth, loving, and communicate effectively with the child is key. This foundation for a psychologically well-adapted child can come in many forms. The detrimental effects of being raised in a new family structure comes not from being raised in this type of family, but from stigma and prejudice outside the family that the child endures.

Golombok has had a long career studying topics such as quality of parent-child relationships of children with lesbian parents, the effect of fatherless homes, and development of children conceived by egg or sperm donation. Her research has also shown that kids raised in lesbian parent households show neither atypical gender or psychosocial problems.

Challenging widely held theories about the effect of growing up in a traditional nuclear family on children will have its critics. Sensitive topics such as this will result in people unhappy on both sides of the issue.  It is, however, prudent to take a step back and not only assess Golombok's work on her merits as an objective researcher that sticks to reporting the data irrespective of personal views on the issue but also on the longevity of this research.

Golombok's findings about stability and support regardless of family structure echoes an enduring concept in childhood development which was summed up years ago by the Cornell psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner. His review of a number of well-researched longitudinal studies done in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in his famous statement that "what each child needs is one adult who is irrationally crazy about him or her." Golombok has taken a different rigorous research path and reached the same conclusion.

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