Family structure has changed markedly in the past few decades. Starting a family is now possible for a greater variety of intended parents due to the advances in assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs), allowing lesbian and gay parents to start families for example.
Despite the increasing numbers of couples and individuals helped by ARTs, these families have not been sufficiently represented in studies looking into how families develop. In order for policy and support to reflect the reality of life for these families, research needs to include all family forms. The science behind ARTs is developing rapidly and as such the science focusing on the psychological, social, and emotional well-being of these families needs to keep up.
Of the extensive literature on family development conducted over the last century, comparatively little focus has documented the well-being of same-sex parents and their children, particularly families headed by gay dads. Studies including families with lesbian mothers have found children do not show signs of psychological maladjustment, do not have poorer peer relationships, and do not show differences in gender identity. Indeed, children of lesbian mothers appear to be functioning well into adult life.
Even fewer studies have focused on gay fathers and their children. The few studies that have followed children of gay fathers have found these children did not show adverse effects and were well adjusted.
Understanding the development and experiences of these families is important, as increasing numbers of gay men are becoming fathers. Not enough is known about the well-being of these fathers, and the development of their children. Therefore, more facts and less assumption are needed to understand the effects of gay parenting to ensure that the correct support is in place, if needed.
This need for information is what drives the New Parents Study, an ambitious study that follows families with babies 4 months old are visited at their homes, with a follow-up invitation to Cambridge University when the babies are 12 months old. Families included are those who have gay parents, where the child was born through surrogacy; families with lesbian mothers, where the child was born through donor Insemination; and heterosexual couples where the child was born through IVF.
The New Parents Study is an exciting project to work on as we are following couples who are first-time parents. The study brings two groups based in Cambridge— the Applied Developmental Psychology Research Group and the Centre for Family Research— together with groups based at the University of Paris in France and the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. All of the groups involved in the New Parents Study have yielded findings over the years that demonstrate that the dynamics of a family are far more important than the family structure in determining the child well-being.
Another reason being involved with the New Parents Study is so exciting is that we can learn more about fathers who are primary caregivers. In addition, we have the honor of seeing these families grow and develop while hearing about their family stories.
With such an ambitious project, we are indebted to the on-going support and assistance we receive in reaching potential participating families (charities, clinics, agencies and support groups). Circle Surrogacy is a great example of partners of the New Parents Study.
On March 20, National Science and Engineering Week presents “What Makes A Family.” This gives researchers, clinicians, charities, parent groups, and the general public the chance to engage in discussions on recent research on family development and how researchers can take account of the public’s interests in family development.
For further information on the New Parents Study you can email firstname.lastname@example.org , ring +44(0)1223 767 807 or click here.