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22nd Mar 2015

Modern family: new research supports gay parents, take that D&G!

Italian designers caused a furore this week when they referred to children born via IVF as synthetic and Elton John defended his family

Sophie White

Reported in today’s Sunday Times, Cambridge professor and child psychologist, Susan Golombok, has published findings from decades of research into the development of children in a variety of family structures. Her findings come hot on the heels of a week of online mud-slinging after Italian designers, Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, criticised gay adoption and in their words, ‘synthetic children’. Many celebrities including Elton John, father to two children born via IVF, and Madonna called for a boycott of the designers’ label, Dolce & Gabbana. The designers, who are gay themselves, apparently didn’t see any irony in the ‘apology’ they issued in which they stated:

“Boycott Dolce & Gabbana for what? They don’t think like you? This is correct? This is not correct. We are in 2015. This is like medieval. It’s not correct,” said Gabbana.

Golombok’s research goes even further in supporting Elton John’s argument. Her findings, though still in its early stages, suggest that gay fathers tend to be “more involved with their children’s lives and on average have lower levels of depression”.

Golombok’s research defines three new family structures which could well form the blueprint of families in generations to come. She divides families roughly into three categories: traditional (heterosexual married couples), non-traditional (families of single parents, unmarried couples and step-parents) and new families (gay parents and families created by IVF or surrogacy).

“When there are differences between new families and traditional families, studies show it’s the new families that show more involved, committed, positive parenting.”

Golombok says that a contributing factor to this outcome is that fact that new families have had to work so hard to bring their child into this world and create their family.

“The parents of these families, are people who have often gone through years of infertility or faced a lot of social disapproval…so only people who really, really want to be parents stay the course.”

When new families started to emerge in the 1970s, there was much speculation around how children would fare in a non-traditional family structure, particularly around the development of their gender identity. Golombok maintains that a huge amount of factors informs this development. Influences range from biological factors to societal factors, and she concludes that relatively speaking parents play a small role in this aspect of a child’s development.

“When we speak to children with gay or lesbian parents… stigma can be an issue.”

For this reason, Golombok was especially scathing towards the Italian designers’ statements.

“These are the kinds of beliefs and attitudes that can be harmful to children from new families, not what happens within the actual families themselves.”

Modern Families: Parents and Children in New Family Forms by Susan Golombok is available here.