The Effects Of Same Sex Parenting On Child
In today’s society, it is essential we examine the lives of minorities within our societies as it is these people who often face adversity. Since the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the UK in 2014 and in the US in 2015, the rate of support for same-sex couples went through the roof. It was a natural point of focus for research to look into this newly accepted group within society. It is imperative that we understand more about such sectors as it aids in policy making and making life better for society in general.
This is essential as the number of people within these sectors is outnumbered and children within same-sex families are significantly under represented; despite this, with legislation reforms and more equality for homosexuals, these numbers will continue to grow. I will delve deeper and aim to uncover how such family dynamics may differ or affect the children within the family as well as the parents; also looking into how these individuals may have a different experience of society and social life within our largely oppressive, hetero-normative society.
Up until these years, support was growing however some remained with the attitude that homosexuals should not be allowed to raise children” and “male homo- sexual couples should be allowed to adopt children the same as heterosexual couples.” (Massey, 2007). Conflicting views lead to research being conducted. Post legalisation, attitudes have largely shifted, legislation and reformists have made it a point to claim that same sex parent families are ‘no different’ (Hewitt, J. 2017) to that of heterosexual mainstream society. This may be the case in theory, but what this research will focus on is whether, in fact, this is the case in practice; how do same sex parents and their children experience social life, are they one with society or are they marginalised. In her article, Hewitt makes it a point that it is imperative to evaluate which research we consider as valid; she says of 79 relevant studies 95% held a positive outlook on same-sex parenting however the remainder 5% suggested poorer outcomes from such families. If the majority of studies are displaying same sex parenting as a positive experience, then are the remaining studies writing from a place of personal bias, or have they found something which other studies have missed?
An American study, ‘queers as Folk’ claim to have taken a new approach in terms of methods and studied a large sample of 15,000 Americans which had had a parent involved in a same-sex relationship and found that even after considering variables, they still came to the conclusion that same-sex parenting does have adverse effects as “respondents were more apt to report being unemployed, less healthy, more depressed, more likely to have cheated on a spouse or partner, smoke more pot, had trouble with the law, report more male and female sex partners, more sexual victimisation, and were more likely to reflect negatively on their childhood family life” (Regnerus, M. 2012).
Literature on the topic of gay parenting stretches to opposite sides of the spectrum, this research proposes to go directly to the source which means asking those directly involved with same-sex parenting and questioning them on their experience within society and their families in the context of our heteronormative society. Legislation claims that discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal, therefore any discrimination in any sectors such as employment/ training, education, goods and services, housing and public amenities such as the NHS, police etc. have no room for discrimination of any form, yet this is still happening, research has shown that homosexuals have limited access to starting a family. There have been “political and ethical debates over adoption, foster care and artificial reproductive technology” (Sprigg, P. 2012), agencies limit access for same-sex couples with the expressed fear that children would be brought up in “non-normative family structures” (Lautier, K. 2016) and do not stick to the tradition ‘nuclear family’ (G.P, Murdock. 1949), in other words same-sex parent families are oppressed as a result of mainstream society fearing anything that strays from the heteronormative ideals. It is important to analyse the effects on same-sex parent families as it is likely because of this they face marginalisation within society.
Recently, “literature has focused on dispelling the myths about the negative effects of same-sex parenting on children” (Patterson, 2009). IT is important to acknowledge that regardless the sexual orientation of the, those “parents who were experiencing higher levels of parenting stress, higher levels of inter-parental conflict, and lower levels of love for each other had children who exhibited more behaviour problems” (Patterson, C. 2000) showing children’s socialisation or upbringing is not sensitive to the parents sexual orientation but rather the parenting and environment in which the child is brought up, therefore it would be unethical to deny homosexuals the ability to form a family by assuming their parenting is of a lower standard solely on the merit of their sexuality. There are many complexes that emerge with their anti-homosexual attitudes. It is essential to make it clear that “the ideal of the just society as eliminating group differences is unrealistic” (Young, 1990 p.191), we live in a diverse postmodernist society and thus must be accepted. Stereotypes have been perpetuated that gay parents can turn their children gay which is troubling; “anti-homosexual attitudes might affect evaluations of the quality of same sex-parenting” when such statements are unrealistic and dangerous; “gender norms are not innate, but are imposed upon children at birth (Parker, J. 2016, p.162)”.
Heteronormative ideals being forced on all those within society can be seen with the research conducted within lesbian families.; parents were likely to maintain egalitarian division of labour, but when differences occurred, biological lesbian mothers were likely to do somewhat more childcare and non-biological lesbian mothers were likely to spend somewhat more time engaged in paid employment’ (Patterson, 1995). Despite the fact both parents are of the same sex, both identify with either traditional male or female roles and stick to them, showing they feel as though they need to conform to societal norms to feel as though they can enjoy the freedoms of society which heterosexuals enjoy. Methods “Research methods are a range of tools that are used for different types of enquiry” (Walliman, N. 2011); this proposal enquiry focuses on how same sex parent families experience parenting and social life within the context of wider hetero-normative society. It is imperative for the chosen method to allow us to gather qualitative data of first hand thoughts and experiences of participants.
Qualitative research is mainly concerned with “how people make sense of their world and the experiences they have in the world” (Merriam, 2009, p. 13). Taking that into consideration it is important to select the most effective method for this proposal; there is not necessarily a right or wrong method but some methods of data collection and analysis may be more appropriate than others (Woolrych et al.,2011). Interviews are at the heart of social research as they allow us data collection and interaction with the participants. We must consider the epistemology of the chosen method; epistemology is what constitutes valid knowledge and how we can obtain it, “it is the science of knowing” (Babbie 2015:6). With this particular research proposal, we will aim to find the epistemology of homosexual experiences of society. The most appropriate way to achieve that would be with the semi-structured interviews method. They are the middle-ground between structured and unstructured interviews; they are characterised by the following advantages.
They work on the basis of the interviewer having a set list of questions or guidelines as to what they want to question the participants on. The questions are to be tailored to be appropriate to the recipient. The researcher will have identified specific areas that they wish to explore in order to develop a particular concept or theory. This type of interview will appear more like a guided conversation than a structured interview. A major advantage is that semi-structured interviews aren’t designed to be as rigid as formal structured interviews, “semi-structured interviews are partly standardized but also allow the interviewer greater flexibility” (Miller, W. 1983 p.62), the researcher will have probes to guide the participant to explore their answers in a more profound qualitative manner. This method is particularly suited to the proposal at hand as at allows the participant to have control over them telling their own story to the researcher to some extent, however the researcher is still guiding the interview; this is important considering the interview will involve questions of a delicate nature regarding sexuality and difficulties which the families have faced. It is imperative that the participants are respected and their dignity be protected.
Another advantage to less formality and a less rigid structure is that the interviewer may share some details about themselves or share opinions etc. meaning the researcher can build a rapport with the participant which ensures participants feels comfortable and accepted considering sensitive topics will be discussed from sexuality to vulnerabilities. Participants may also be children, so it is important to have a sensitive approach. Ensuring the participant feels as though they are in a safe-space means it is more likely a valid sample of data will be able to be collected as the answers from the participants are far more likely to be honest and thus reliable.
Creating an atmosphere where the participant feels as though they can speak openly is advantageous as it also lessens the probability of the Hawthorne effect; the participants would not feel as though they needed to alter their opinions, withhold information or lie because of who they were speaking to or the presence of the researcher themselves. Semi-structured interviews are characteristically suited to exploring topics more in depth and studying marginalised and silenced people; in the scenario of this research proposal this is beneficial as it deals with minority groups within society that have been and continue to be largely oppressed and are the target of prejudice. Methods which give participants which may be considered vulnerable a voice are a valuable tool which must be utilised when appropriate. Disadvantages of semi-structured interviews must also be considered; semi-structured interviews are time consuming and expensive making it difficult to collate a large reliable sample.
Not only this but it lacks in reliability in the sense that its unstructured nature makes it difficult to exactly recreate, so different interviews may produce different questions meaning the research lacks focus, control, and a overall pragmatic approach (Creswell and Clark, 2007). Due to the variation between interviews over the research means it is difficult to codify the data into a more concise sample, the depth and amount of the qualitative data collected may be difficult to analyse. Finally, we must acknowledge that interviews are personal in nature therefore differ across participants making it difficult to generalise, Atkinson and Flint (2001) also spoke on the issue of “scrounging sampling”; allowing participants who may not be best suited for the research to participate to increase the numbers in the sample. This leads to further problems of validity as there is no way of testing the information provided by the participant.
Additionally, it is important to acknowledge some limitations of the chosen research. It is imperative that the researcher is reflexive and completely aware of the position of the interview; they must ensure that the participants have sufficient flexibility to speak about the issues they feel are important, which as an outsider the interviewer may have omitted to mention. However, it is also essential that meanwhile, the interviewer maintains control of the interview and identifies topics which provide the necessary data for the research (Caulfield & Hill, 2014: 113). In the scenario of this proposal this may be a limitation as the researcher must strike a balance between Another limitation could be “the narrowness of family structures under study” (Rosenfeld, 2010, p.757), the sample of participants focuses on gay and lesbian parent families does not extend to other sectors of the LGBT community which are likely to feel the same oppression if not more severe.
The design of this particular qualitative research proposal will consist of a sample of 100 same-sex parent families; a variety of gay and lesbian headed families. Similar to the smaller study of beyond the closet (Ryan and Berkowitz, 2009), this study was conducted with 18 lesbian mothers and 22 gay fathers- it was however limited only to those who managed to become parents and did not extend to the children which leaves a massive gap in essential knowledge. Therefore, in the study at hand, the families can, however are not limited to, have children to participate in the study. This will allow us to gain an insight into families who are experiencing strain in access to start a family. The sample of participants will be chosen at random from a sample of volunteers from across the country, from various backgrounds, classes etc.; this should combat this issue on ‘content bias’ (Buckley et al.) as participants who have had both positive or negative experiences will be welcome to participate, either to share their positive stories or raise awareness of oppression or marginalisation they may have faced.
Family members will be interviewed individually to allow them and their experience to be heard independently and not be clouded or influenced by opinions or experiences of others; for example, a child may just agree or repeat the opinions of their parents. Questions posed will attempt to delve into how these same-sex headed families experience our hetero-normative society differently to those who fit the heterosexual, nuclear family norm. An example of a question may be, ‘what is your opinion of access to starting a family for homosexuals?’ or ‘what has been your experience with public services, for example when you went to register your child at the GP or at school’. The researcher will make notes on the interview however meanwhile a recording will be taken so it can be referred to upon reflection of the data to allow for the qualitative research to be maximised.
This leads onto the issue the need for reflexivity to allow for a successful research project. With elements of the method that may be controversial, we must be reflect continuously; for example, recording interviews- this must be don’t overtly and it is essential that the participant be asked whether they would prefer for it to be turned off. This may cause difficulties in terms of the method however may produce more valid results and the participants may feel more at ease. This links to ethics and the participants right to withdraw.
This also allows the researcher to gain trust of the participant; research relationships must be characterised by “mutual respect and trust” (MacLean, M. 2008). We must also be reflexive as to the subjectivity of the researcher themselves and the impact they may have; in this instance, I as the researcher should not impact the research negatively nor through a bias eye as I hold no negative opinions or prejudices against homosexuals or their families, however I may not be able to understand as well as an interviewer who has been in their position. This however may not be so negative as it lowers the risk of ‘going native’ and spoiling the data.
Finally, it is imperative to consider ethics. Any field work research must have ethical clearance from an ethical clearance authority. Researchers must prove they will behave with integrity and transparency; the research will be carried out overtly and without deception and with the safety of participants kept in mind. Participants must give informed consent; we must also consider any power imbalances between researcher and participant, no one should feel pressured into participation (MacLean, M. 2008).
In regard to the research at hand this should not pose a problem as all participants will be briefed on the sensitive nature of the research and that it will focus on the parent’s sexual orientation. As for respect privacy, the identities of participants will maintain anonymity and their stories will remain confidential. We must acknowledge that these groups of people are likely to be deemed vulnerable, therefore we must be diligent with maintaining good ethics. Being that I, the researcher, am not adequately experienced I will be supervised by a researcher of higher skill to ensure codes of ethics are not breached.
With this research proposal, the most concern in terms of ethics would lie with ensuring those vulnerable, LGBT minorities and children, are dealt with particular care and are not exploited; this should not pose a massive challenge as the questions will be formulated especially for these participants and will be tailored to their vulnerabilities. In addition to this, if participants feel as though they’ve had enough or change their minds, their right to withdraw must be respected though out and after the interview; participants may disclose details they regret sharing (Alshenqeeti, H. 2014). Extra care must also be taken in terms of protecting the identities of these individuals to prevent them being targeted in anyway by those who have unsupportive political views.
After hearing experiences of LGBT groups being oppressed even in our modern societies, I as a research feel it is important to investigate further and see the how same-sex families are living in reality rather than in theory. Literature to a large extent has shown us that that attitudes and treatment have largely improved but it is imperative to learn the first-hand experiences of these people and delve into what actually does on. Investigating how same sex couples and their children experience parenting and social life within the context of wider hetero-normative society may open eyes and be transformative for these oppressed minority groups and may influence future policy. Minority voices must be heard.
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