Research: Adolescents with lesbian mothers score well on self esteem


Lesbian mothers sometimes navigate through complicated and hostile environments in order to become mums. Then, after they have their child they may face discrimination and homophobia. This has the potential to impact on their children, their family and their well-being of the parents. This is why it’s important to study how well the children of lesbian mothers are doing. Plus, it’s important to challenge the assumptions that people have about what will happen to children that have lesbian mothers.

A recent study from the Netherlands examined this by comparing adolescents from families with lesbian mothers with adolescents from mother-father families. It found no significant differences in how the adolescents felt about their relationships with their parents or in levels of substance abuse. However, the study did find significantly higher scores on self-esteem for those with lesbian mothers. Also, these children scored lower on conduct problems (for example, swearing or not feeling guilty about doing something that shouldn’t have done).

What did the study do?

The study looked at the adolescents’ relationships with their lesbian mothers, psychological adjustment and substance abuse.

It did this by looking at the experiences of 51 adolescents from planned lesbian families alongside 51 adolescents from mother-father families. The adolescents from these two groups had been matched on: age, sex, educational level, the adolescents’ country of birth, the parents’ country of birth and the length of the relationship of the parents.

How did they recruit these families to the study?

All of the lesbian mothers were recruited back in 2001 and 2002 through the Medical Centre for Birth Control, which is a Dutch organization that provide donor insemination services. Experts in the area of gay and lesbian parenting also nominated people that might participate in the study and an advertisement was placed in a lesbian magazine.

Who were the lesbian mothers?

The majority of the lesbian mothers in this study lived in cities (92%) and most had completed vocational (90%) or academic degrees (82%). All of the women in the same-sex relationship identified as being lesbian.

What did the study find?

The findings showed no significant differences in how the adolescents perceived their relationships with their parents. Also, no significant differences related to cigarette, alcohol, and marijuana/hashish use were found.

Those with lesbian mothers scored significantly higher on self-esteem. They also scored lower on conduct problems.

Does the study have any limitations?

This study made good use of data that was available to the researchers. However, the study only provided information from the adolescents’ perspectives. As there perhaps is pressure for the children of lesbian mothers to appear to be doing well, it could be argued that there was an element of reporter bias.

Also, the lesbian mothers in this study had relatively high levels of educational attainment. Therefore, it may have used a biased sample as it doesn’t include lesbian mothers from a very wide range of backgrounds.

Nevertheless, this study is one of the few to look at adolescent relationships with their lesbian mothers and to make comparisons with mother-father families. This means the study takes us one step closer to working out how well adolescents with lesbian mothers are doing. It seems from this study that they are coping well.

We look forward to more research with a robust research design being done on this topic in order for stronger evidence to become available.


Bos H, van Gelderen L, Gartrell N. Lesbian and heterosexual two-parent families: Adolescent-parent relationship quality and adolescent well-being. J Child Fam Stud. e-pub ahead of publication. DOI 10.1007/s10826-014-9913-8

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