How true is it that a child needs both a mother and a father?

One of the main arguments of those who oppose families with same-sex parents is that a child needs the presence of a father and mother at the same time, but how true are these claims?

The traditional speech about male and female roles.

Historically, we have become used to hearing arguments alleging that gender roles are essential for the healthy psychological development of children. It is even so anchored in the social discourse that when we seek to establish our own family within an LGTBQI+ context we cannot avoid having one or two questions arise in our head. We consider the possibility of delegating some roles to grandparents, aunts and uncles and even close friends so that they can serve as male or female role models, according to the case. The advantage is that this allows us to choose the person who will act as a role model based on very personal criteria that rarely has to do with gender. However, that kind socialization is very different and the results will be different too. Clearly, it is impossible to substitute the real relationship that is established between a child and his or her parents, whatever their gender.

What is difficult is that it is no longer just about us and our identity, but about our children who now come into the equation as well. Obviously, we want to give them everything they need to have a fulfilling life, but at the same time we recognize that we, as parents, are entering almost unknown territory. And it’s unknown simply because most of us today don’t come from families that are legally and socially recognized as homosexual, so our children will probably belong to that first generation in our family tree. They will be the first in the family to grow up under a new understanding of society and family.

The arguments against are based on old-fashioned archetypes

Many of the arguments of those who defend the ” traditional ” family rely on cliché statements, such as that “mothers tend to be more affectionate”, “women are more susceptible to detecting non-verbal emotions”, “fathers are a source of authority and discipline” or even that “a man in a household guarantees a feeling of security and protection of the home”. While such statements may be true in some very specific cases, it is very daring to make such generalizations since they do not take into account the evolution of today’s societies which are made up of heteroclite and even cosmopolitan communities. 

Such a discourse is characteristic of societies where gender diversity does not visibly exist or is not generally accepted and recognized even if it is “tolerated”. If you are thinking of starting your own family consisting of two same-sex parents, you are probably living currently in or planning to move at some point to a country or region that will allow you to do so. So, on this basis, we will leave out of this discussion those societies that adopt positions that support the marginalization of people who do not adhere to pre-established traditions. Such a discussion encompasses other types of issues.

Today, within more open societies, there is not only greater visibility of this issue, but also more space for dialogue and the normalization of the discussion and behaviors that were formerly seen as contrary to morality by some more conservative segments of the population. The reality is that the new social and economic contexts have completely transformed people’ s lifestyles, allowing the emergence of new social schemes which, in conjunction with some transformations supported by State bodies, also contribute to ensuring not only the defense of those fundamental rights but also the construction of new definitions in both the public and private arenas.

A subject of scientific analysis

As with any topic of debate, there are studies that can sometimes appear contradictory in their conclusions. Such a situation is perfectly legitimate when a topic such as the importance of having a male and female role within the family has been so little studied. Studies tend to analyze (even involuntarily) inaccurate issues or forget to consider new correlations between variables, thus allowing for results that are biased by a heteronormative point of view. 

But do not be discouraged, because when a certain topic attracts the attention of a society that seeks to controvert a particular point of view, the logical consequence is that said topic begins to be studied in greater depth. Fortunately, it is during the scientific exercise of disproving the hypotheses that the advances in our understanding about the impact that a family with two same-sex parents can have on their children take place.

Researchers Timothy Biblarz from the USC College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Judith Stacey from the NYU, have devoted themselves to analyzing relevant studies in the field of parenting, including studies about households with single mothers and fathers, and with gay and lesbian parents. One of the problems they identify is that the definitions of gender roles are so deeply rooted in the collective mind-set that the premise of the study is compromised by the authors’ blind adherence to the characteristics of each role and does not allow for the analysis of other variables or other results outside the heteronormative discourse. Thus, we are dealing with a formulation problem from the beginning.  

In their analysis, the researchers were unable to find concrete evidence regarding differences in the parental skills of individuals, except for the partial case of breastfeeding. This means that very few gender-related things can have a significant impact on a child’s psychological and social development. If anything, some indicators may actually show areas in which children of same-sex couples have a more developed sense.

According to Nanette Gartell and Henny Bos’s study on the psychological adjustment of adolescents raised in families with lesbian mothers, the young women demonstrated having a better academic performance and less proneness to have conflicts with their social environments than their counterparts from families with heterosexual parents. 

Another study found more similarities than differences between the children of gay and straight couples. The few points on which there are differences are that same-sex couples tend to use less physical discipline and children express less sexist attitudes. 

Another big problem is that these studies are rarely interested in whether a child fundamentally needs the role of a father and mother in their lives. The vast majority are more oriented towards comparing the new family models with the more traditional families of heterosexual parents. On this basis, these studies imply an imbalance from their very conception, as they also mix up single-parent households with the rest and end up being more of a comparison between the number of available parents rather than focusing on gender. 

Much remains to be done

There is a lack of studies not only on the impact on the child’s life but also on the impact that raising a child together has on the couple, since this also affects the overall functioning of the household. In lesbian couples it has been identified, for example, that the biological mother generally assumes greater responsibility in the care of the child than her partner, which can generate inequalities between the adults more than with respect to the child.

Therefore, there are still many issues that need to be opened to public debate, and much more research and controversy that must remain ongoing. We must keep an open mind and a willingness to educate not only through speech but also by example. For now, what the various but limited studies have shown is that, on average, children from a two-parent same-sex family grow up very similarly to children from a two-parent hetero-sex family. 

Efforts should be focused on building a custom-made experience for our children, rather than following a check list of pros and cons taken from a brochure. In the end, the best type of family for a child will always be one that is responsible, committed and offers stable and consistent parenting. Even when it comes to single mothers or fathers, it is always better for the child to have one very good parent rather than two that are not so good. So, in conclusion, the gender of the parents really doesn’t matter much.