More and more same-sex couples are having children. However, these families continue to deal with questions and prejudices. We talked about these issues with LGBTQ+ parents. Here are the changes they would like to see as far as how other people view them.
By Nathalie Vallerand
Ten-month-old Axton is a happy child. He enjoys dancing and playing with cars. He also loves being hugged by his two moms, Leslie Corrot and Lyse Kwizera. He’s cheerful and developing right on track. The same can be said about Pierre Mc Cann and Marc-André Raymond’s 5-year-old son. According to both his dads, “He’s full of energy and very outspoken. He also loves playing with his friends from daycare.”
Does having two moms or two dads have any special impact on a child? Not really. “Over the past 40 years, a number of studies have attempted to answer this question, and the conclusions have all been the same: there are more similarities than differences between children who grow up with same-sex parents and those who grow up with different-sex parents,” states Éric Feugé, a professor with UQAM’s Department of Psychology.
Sexual orientation doesn’t impact a person’s parenting skills or the way their children are raised. However, there is a slight difference in the way household chores are distributed—in households with same-sex parents, things are more even. “This can even be a protective factor for the child, because parents who divide household chores evenly experience less stress,” Eric Feugé explains. “And parental stress can be detrimental to a child’s well-being.”
Two dads: more prejudices?
At the same time, LGBTQ+ parents continue to elicit curiosity and a variety of reactions. “This is even truer for families with two dads. People look at them more, and there’s more whispering,” says Lani Trilène, member services coordinator for the LGBT+ Family Coalition. Why is that? “In our society, mothers are still considered the primary parent,” she says. “So when there are two dads and no moms, some people worry.”
Pierre and Marc-André can attest to this. “We often get stereotypical comments,” says Marc-André. “People say things like, with two dads, our child must have more fun, or they imply that dads aren’t as gentle or patient as moms. Other people talk about how important it is for a child to have a mother figure.”
What does LGBTQ+ mean?
The letters LGBTQ+ stand for lesbian (L), gay (G), bisexual (B), trans (T) and queer (Q). The “+” sign acknowledges other sexual and gender identities that are not included in the acronym. The Q can also stand for “questioning.”
The couple’s response? “One parent is good, but two is better, regardless of gender,” says Pierre. “Plus, our son has a lot of female role models in his life: his grandmothers (who are very present), his aunt, our friends, the educators at his daycare . . .”
Eric Feugé further points out that, according to a study on gay fathers who have adopted children in Quebec, fathers are as good as mothers at decoding their children’s signals, recognizing their needs, and responding to them. These are important skills because they promote secure attachment and bonding between a child and their parents.
LGBTQ+ parents are asked all sorts of questions about their families. The classic question is, who is the child’s real mother or father? “It’s annoying,” says Lani Trilène. “When you take care of a child and love them, you are their real parent, regardless of whether you’re biologically related.” Are your children really brother and sister? Do you know the surrogate mother or the donor? All of these personal questions can make parents uncomfortable.
One time, someone even asked Axton’s moms if their sperm donor was black or white. “That’s not something we feel like sharing with everyone,” Leslie says. “Our son is the colour he is and that’s that.”
Psychologist Florence Marcil-Denault recommends that parents think of how they will answer these questions ahead of time, so that they can respond more confidently. “It can also be a good idea to start telling your child about their family history as early as possible, using age-appropriate language,” adds the psychologist. “This will allow them to own their story and understand their family’s reality better.”
Research also shows that negative comments about their parents’ sexual orientation can affect a child’s well-being and self-esteem. “My five-year-old daughter was very upset when another child told her that it wasn’t good to have two moms,” says Lani Trilène. “That child was probably just repeating something they heard an adult say. We need to be aware that prejudice and homophobia hurt.”
According to the 2016 census, there are nearly 2,200 same-sex families in Quebec.
• 84% have two mothers
• 48% have children in preschool
• 56% only have one child
• 60% are made up of two spouses with a college or university degree
In 81% of these families, both parents work.
Source: Québec, Ministère de la Famille, “Les familles homoparentales québécoises: qui sont-elles? Un portrait statistique à partir des données du Recensement du Canada de 2016”
What parents want
What changes would LGBTQ+ parents like to see? Quite simply, they want to be treated like any other parent. That starts with things that may seem trivial, like replacing the words “mother” and “father” with “parent 1” and “parent 2” on forms.
“I can’t count the number of times one of us has had to register in the mother section,” explains Marc-André. “And since my son has my partner’s last name, I have to prove that I’m his father in all sorts of situations. It’s very annoying.”
LGBTQ+ families would also appreciate more representation in children’s books, movies, and television shows, like in Passe-Partout, where Cachou has two moms. “These instances are still too few and far between, and that’s unfortunate for my son,” says Leslie.
Things are more difficult for trans and non-binary parents
Despite the stereotypical comments and intrusive questions they receive, same-sex families are generally well accepted by society. However, the same is not yet true for trans parents and non-binary parents (who don’t identify as either male or female). “Some people question their parenting skills and mental health, or worry about the impact their gender identity might have on their children,” says psychology professor Éric Feugé. Other people ask them whether they’re the child’s mother or father. “For parents, these comments can be perceived as microaggressions.”
Recognizing a trans or non-binary parent’s gender identity is very important to them (e.g., using their pronouns). However, their parental role could be different from their gender identity. For example, if a trans woman had a child prior to transitioning, that child may continue to call her “Daddy.”
What the research says
Same-sex parents also face prejudice when it comes to their children’s development, sexual orientation, and gender identity. What does the research say?
- Children with same-sex parents are doing well. From a psycho-emotional, social, cognitive, and sexual perspective, their development is comparable to children being raised by different-sex parents. “They don’t have more behavioural, anxiety, or self-esteem problems,” says psychologist Florence Marcil-Denault.
What’s more, the idea that these children don’t have as much contact with their extended family is a myth. For instance, Axton’s moms often take him to visit his uncles. They also include him in video calls with his grandmother who lives in Burundi.
Children raised by same-sex parents are no more likely to grow up to be gay than children raised by heterosexual parents. They aren’t more likely to be confused about their gender identity, either. In fact, the vast majority of these children feel aligned with their biologically assigned sex. That said, their interests tend to be less stereotypical. “Their parents are more likely to make sure they know that toys and activities are not gender specific,” says Feugé. This is a good thing, because it helps children develop to the full extent of their potential.
Families with LGBTQ+ parents are no different than any other, although they must deal with certain prejudices.
Being open-minded and respectful can help prevent same-sex families from experiencing discrimination and difficulties.
Studies show that children with same-sex parents develop just as well as other children.
Source: Naître et grandir magazine, July–August 2022
Research and copywriting: Nathalie Vallerand
LGBT+ Family Coalition
- La diversité familiale: Pour en savoir plus sur les familles LGBT
Greenbaum, Mona. Familles LGBT: le guide.
Remue-Ménage, 2015, 376 pp.
Photos (in order): Nicolas St-Germain (first two), GettyImages/LuckyBusiness and GettyImages/FatCamera