A new study of 315 same-sex parents by the University of Melbourne, Australia shows that children in same-sex families — largely lesbian households — are not only doing just fine, they were six percent healthier than other children and their families more cohesive, the study's author Simon Crouch wrote in an article for TheConversation.com. This is an important study that not only combats homophobia but, quite surprisingly, might help heterosexual couples.
Although many South Carolinians believe that children in same-sex families are in "unnatural" families, there are plenty of same-sex families right here in the Palmetto State — not just in Australia — whose experiences back up the research.
Take the family of Amanda Hollinger and Tasha Gandy for instance. Married in New York in 2011, the couple have a son, and they say raising him in Charleston has been positive. Amanda tells me, "We're two moms raising a happy, healthy boy who has lots of love and support from our extended family, friends, and community. He's been enrolled in a Christian private school and in public school, gone to camps and Vacation Bible School, attended classmates' birthday parties and neighborhood gatherings and doctor's visits, and we as a family have not experienced any backlash or discrimination."
If Amanda and Tasha do encounter discrimination, they can now tilt their heads, look thoughtful, and point to the Melbourne study. The evidence has proven the naysayers wrong.
And here's an even more exciting part of the study: being in a family with same-sex parents means that some common family stereotyping and sexism disappears. Crouch notes, "[T]here is growing evidence to suggest that the structure of same-sex parent families, particularly in relation to work and home duties, plays an important part in how well families get along. Same-sex parents, for instance, are more likely to share child care and work responsibilities more equitably than heterosexual-parent families."
He adds, "It is liberating for parents to take on roles that suit their skills rather than defaulting to gender stereotypes, where mum is the primary caregiver and dad the primary breadwinner. Our research suggests that abandoning such gender stereotypes might be beneficial to child health."
In heterosexual couples, the woman is far more likely to have to manage childcare as well as a job; it's what sociologist Arlie Hochschild calls "the second shift." Men usually don't have to do that second shift. Their first shift may be longer — a 60-hour work week. This kind of division of family roles is unfair for everybody. It's no version of a work-life balance at all.
It's pretty clear that it's unfair to women. Many women have to return to work with essentially no maternity leave at all. Don't get me started on the unfair "modified duties" policies on many South Carolina campuses that allows female faculty members to take a semester off when their baby is born, as long as they'll do 40 hours of work every week from home — with the baby. Then as the kids get older, mothers have to decide whether to attend their kids' sporting events and risk their jobs or simply miss out on many parts of their child's life so that they can keep earning money.
The way things are now isn't fair to men, either. According to a lot of our cultural scripts, men should focus on work above everything else. But this isn't actually the top priority of every man. Dads too would like to go to their children's sporting events. They'd like to be there for the 5 p.m. dinner that little kids often demand. They want to be active, involved fathers, and there's very little in our culture right now that allows or encourages that to happen. How many guys do you know who got to take paternity leave? Few if any, I would guess.
Which brings us back to the Melbourne study. Same-sex couples may help to undermine this sexist work-life balance. Tasha tells me that children "growing up with some non-traditional constraints wind up being more open-minded, even more compassionate, and are apt to be less surprised — or shocked — by the practices of others that don't match theirs."
Traditional heterosexual couples should pay attention. If they want their kids to be healthier and happier, it may be time to be less traditional. As Amanda says, "We'll always do our best to surround our son with people and places that support our family. And when they don't, well, 'Bless their hearts.'"
Alison Piepmeier is director of the Women's and Gender Studies Program at the College of Charleston. You can read more from Alison at her blog, alisonpiepmeier.blogspot.com, where she's working on bringing down the patriarchy.