The National Longitudinal Lesbian Family Study (NLLFS) just published in the online edition of the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and funded by the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund of the Gay Lesbian Medical Association, claims that children of lesbian mothers do better than children from a married-mom-and-dad family. The AAP is no stranger to controversy; they are the pediatrics group that recently capitulated to political-correctness to advocate a “less extreme” form of female genital mutilation and then, when under pressure, reversed their recommendation. The NLLFS study professes to be a highly respected, peer-reviewed “longitudinal” type of study. Longitudinal studies, however, are conducted by researchers who objectively track subjects over a long period of time. In this study, the children were evaluated by their lesbian birth mothers — hardly disinterested, dispassionate researchers.
The hype for the study was remarkable, with over 116 newspaper headlines blaring the news: “Children of lesbian couples do well.” Few of the articles questioned the fact that the children’s mothers were reporting on their “little darling’s” well-being, social functioning, behavior, and achievements; nor did publications usually note the lack of cross-checking with objective outcomes. Not mentioned, as well, is that over half of the original lesbian-couple participants in the study were separated by the time their children were age six (mean age), though such family upheaval is typically quite difficult for children. Nor did the laudatory reports question the fact that the 78 children in the study contributed their own assessments about their lives and well-being. Without comparing these personal observations with objective outcomes (teacher/counselor evaluations, school report cards, etc.) the study is highly unreliable.
The study is neither objective nor comprehensive. There are three major problems with the “study”:
1) The “research” consists of the mothers’ opinions about their children;
2) Only 77 lesbian couples participated in the “study,” and they were not typical parents in other regards. An earlier NLLFS report described the sample population as Caucasian (93 percent), predominantly college educated (67 percent), mostly middle and upper class (82 percent), professional or managers (85 percent) and a median household income of $85,000; and,
3) the study did not consist of a random sample — all the participants were volunteers — recruited via posted announcements in women’s bookstores, at lesbian events, and in lesbian newspapers in three major metropolitan areas (Boston, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco)
The personal relationships and professional affiliations of the authors engender even more questions about the study’s reliability. Dr. Nanette Gartrell of the University of California, San Francisco, is “married” to Dee Moshbacker, Ph.D., a psychiatrist and lesbian activist/filmmaker. She lamented that “there are so many places in the United States where same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt or foster children in need.” Yet, she claims, “There is not a single study that has shown there are any problems in terms of psychological adjustment” [of the children in lesbian couple households]. The other author, Dr. Henny M.W. Bos, is an assistant professor in Amsterdam whose research focuses on “child rearing and child development in non traditional families, such as planned lesbian families, gay father families and patchwork families.”
The two authors send a message that children of lesbians fare better than the children of a married mom and dad. They state at the outset, “Despite more than three decades of cross-sectional research demonstrating that the psychological adjustment of children is unrelated to their parents’ sexual orientation, the legitimacy of lesbian and gay biological, foster, and adoptive parenting is still under scrutiny.” A close reading of the Pediatrics article reveals a broader agenda promoting donor insemination, praising female parenting in contrast to having a father present, and, typically, condemning straight society as homophobic — a disproportionate amount of attention is given to descriptions of the children’s negative experiences related to their parents’ sexual preference (but the harassment didn’t affect their well-being, you understand).
Some critics are concerned that the Gartrell/Bos study will be used, not to praise lesbian couples, but to question the fitness of fathers. Indeed, Gartrell/Bos note, “Lesbian mothers use less corporal punishment and less power assertion than heterosexual fathers.” The authors assert the benefits of a feminine environment, “Growing up in households with less power assertion and more parental involvement has been shown to be associated with healthier psychological adjustment.”
Still other critics pointed out the weaknesses in the control group — the 93 children who were used for comparison. They described the control group as “very different in race composition, socio-economic status of participants, and region of the country.” They also noted that there are many more minorities and Southern children in the control group than in the NLLFS study group. These critics questioned the editorial board and peer reviewers “who did not pay attention to such an obvious deficiency in the study.”
Others questioned the “enormous political incentive” for lesbian mothers to volunteer their participation. There can be no doubt as to the “political incentive” of the “research.” The authors make their purpose plain by concluding, “This study has implications for the clinical care of lesbian families, for the expert testimony provided by pediatricians on lesbian mother custody, and for public policies concerning same-sex parenting.”
In spite of the weaknesses in the methodology, the authors conclude with a vast generalization, “The NLLFS adolescents are well-adjusted, demonstrating more competencies and fewer behavioral problems than their peers in the normative American population.”
Clearly, these lesbian mothers are from Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.