does Barbie need a man?

For your Saturday reading, we recommend this post which has
been making
the rounds
on LGBTQ parent listservs and discussion groups
around the country. It’s long, but worth the read. The post is
Amie K. Miller, a writer whose work has appeared
Brain, Child magazine, on, and in the
Confessions of the Other Mother: Nonbiological
Lesbian Moms Tell All! (Beacon Press). She is completing a book
about her experiences as a parent,
She Looks Just Like

“My Barbies need a man,” says my four-year-old daughter Hannah the
very first time she lays eyes upon Groom Ken. There he stands, all
boxed up and ready to wed, on the shelf at Target. “We have to get

Truthfully, her Barbies kind of do need a man. She has seven,
nearly all inherited from the older girl next door. One is Bride
Barbie, complete with a wedding gown and veil, tiered cake, and
ready-to-toss bouquet. Because Hannah is enchanted with all things
marital, her Barbies have been marrying each other for some time
now. When they’re not having weddings or changing their outfits,
they are busy being doctors Hannah’s other great obsession and
conducting emergency surgery on each other.

I don’t buy Groom Ken, though I’m sure he’ll be in my cart soon
enough. The truth is, I have some mixed feelings about bringing him
home. It’s not that I think that a Barbie without a Ken is like a
fish without a bicycle. It’s more that Groom Ken is a reminder that
we are fast approaching the point when Hannah will need to navigate
a world in which Barbie almost always marries Ken instead of
another Barbie, a world in which her two moms don’t quite fit.

For now, as far as Hannah knows, my partner Jane and I are just as
married as the moms and dads of her friends. The fact is, I have a
hard time imagining anyone being more married than we are after
nearly 25 years together. So yes, I tell Hannah, Mommy and I are
married. It’s the truth, legal or not. And it’s what I want Hannah
to absorb: Her family is all right. Her family is normal. Her
family, in fact, is really pretty dull.

I realize, of course, that we are exceptionally lucky. We live in
Golden Valley, a Minneapolis suburb that is home to an unusually
high number of gay and lesbian couples. The other parents in our
neighborhood seem unfazed by our presence. We live in a county
where I was allowed to adopt Hannah as her second, legally
recognized mother. We send Hannah to a preschool that has an
explicit nonbias policy and a rainbow flag hanging in the corner of
the room, where she can dig in the sand with other kids who have
two moms, should she choose to do so. But I also realize that we
have carefully made choices about where we live, where we work, and
who we socialize with that protect our relationship and our

We want to give Hannah a world in which she will not be shamed or
shunned because of her family. Can we do that? Realistically,
probably not. And this is the worry that keeps us up at night: that
our children will be teased, harassed, or discriminated against
because of their families.

According to the National Study of Gay and Lesbian Parents, 85
percent of gay dads and 82 percent of lesbian moms worry about
their kids facing prejudice because they have gay parents. It’s a
real concern. A longitudinal study of lesbian-headed families found
that nearly 20 percent of the children experienced some homophobia
from their peers or teachers by age five. That number increases to
43 percent by age ten.

I don’t think that Hannah has experienced any outright homophobia
yet, but she is definitely being asked more questions. As she has
grown from toddler to preschooler, her friends have moved from
noting that she has two moms to asking why she doesn’t have a dad.
They’re not yet old enough to insist that she has to have one, and
they’re mostly satisfied with being told that families are
different, but the questions keep coming back.

I have no idea how Hannah will respond to these questions as she
ages. Will she be sad that she does not have a known and present
father? Will she care? The National Lesbian Family Study suggests
that children who have the option to meet their sperm donor after
they turn 18 sometimes regret that they have to wait, but a full 70
percent of the children of permanently unknown donors say they have
no regrets.

But Hannah, of course, is not a data point. I don’t know the extent
to which her family’s difference will bring her grief and how much
it will strengthen her. How does anyone react to the things in life
that set them apart? Sometimes they are invincible hurdles,
sometimes barely noticed bumps in the road. And sometimes they are
stepping stones.

Yet those who oppose gay and lesbian parenthood believe that Hannah
will face much bigger challenges than homophobia. Their bogeymen
include: the lack of appropriate gender roles, the risk that
children will be more inclined (or will feel pressure) to become
gay themselves, poor psychological development, and the risk that
children will be sexually abused.

While these concerns get expressed over and over, they are
resoundingly unsupported by research. Thirty years of study into
the well-being (really, the normalcy) of the children of gay and
lesbian parents reveals that the kids are turning out just fine,
thank you. Studies show no appreciable differences from the
children of heterosexual parents in their behavior, the quality of
their peer relationships, their emotional development, their
self-esteem, their levels of anxiety or depression, or even in the
toys they choose to play with.

Fewer studies have looked at adolescents, but those that do
indicate that our offspring are no more or less likely to identify
as gay or lesbian themselves. When University of Virginia
psychologist Charlotte J. Patterson and her colleagues compared 44
teenagers being raised by same-sex couples with 44 teens being
raised by opposite sex couples, they found that it is the quality
of the relationships at home, not the sexual orientation of the
parents, that really makes the difference in how the kids turn out.
Bottom line: When parents, regardless of gender, are in a stable
and loving relationship, and when they have a warm and affectionate
relationship with their children, those kids do better.

To be fair, the research by Patterson and her colleagues has
pointed out some differences. The children of gay and lesbian
parents tend to consider whether their parents’ sexuality has
implications for their own, while the children of straight parents
typically take their heterosexuality for granted. Adolescent
children of same-sex parents report feeling more connected to
school than the children of heterosexual parents.

The children of same-sex parents have been shown to have more
sophisticated understandings of diversity and tolerance by the age
of 10 than do kids raised by straight parents. Gay and lesbian
parents are far less likely than straight parents to spank their

And then there’s the research finding that seems to drive other
moms nuts: Same-sex parents at least the lesbians tend to share the
housework and childcare responsibilities more equally than
heterosexual parents. Jane and I dropped Hannah off at preschool
recently and one of her little friends, Annika, asked me, “How come
Hannah has two moms?”

“Well, I guess she’s just lucky,” I said.

Annika’s mother looked at us and then at her daughter. “I wish you
had two moms,” she said with a sigh. “That would be great.”

I am always surprised by this reaction when I hear it. Other women
consistently make the assumption backed up by research, apparently
that having two women as parents means fewer socks lying on the
floor, more help with the dishes, and less complaining about
sitting up with the kid at night. It’s true that Jane and I have
always shared child care, though I have to confess that our house
does have socks on the floor and dishes on the counter.

But I am surprised because for mothers of young children, at least
having some help around the house seems to trump having a husband.
When you’ve got a kid or two under age five, I gather, sexual
orientation becomes less important than having someone who will
vacuum voluntarily. And sure enough, research has shown that
children do better in general when their parents are satisfied with
the division of labor at home.

There’s a certain level of offensiveness in having your family
(broadly speaking) assessed and assessed again to see if you are
capable of raising a functional kid. And there’s a certain level of
smugness that I feel in reading research suggesting that not only
can gay and lesbian parents raise children, but for the most part,
we’re doing a damn fine job of it. At the same time, I do know that
our families are political, and that I would have essentially no
legal connection to Hannah if teams of researchers had not taken it
upon themselves to investigate the well-being of these kids and I
still wouldn’t if I lived in about half of all states

Meanwhile, Jane and I are just trying to raise our daughter. Most
of our time is filled with work and making dinner and reading
stories and going to swim class and playing with the neighbor kids
and visiting the Children’s Museum. We are not very involved with
other gay families, either because their kids are the wrong ages or
because they’re also too busy with work and making dinner and
reading stories.

But it is important to Jane and to me, and maybe to Hannah, that
the broader community is there. This past summer, we drove to a
church camp in Central Minnesota for a weekend sponsored by our
local gay families organization. We were surrounded by other
families with two moms or two dads and a swarm of young children.
We went because we wanted Hannah to see other families like hers.
What struck her, instead, were the differences.

“See, Kia has two moms, just like you,” I said to Hannah one
evening at dinner. She looked at Jane and me, then at her new
friend Kia and Kia’s mothers. “Yeah, but you and Mommy are louder,”
Hannah said.

Finally, I go back to Target and buy Groom Ken. Hannah is beside
herself. Not only can she marry her Barbies to a man, but Groom Ken
also came with a miniaturized version of himself, a ringbearer whom
Hannah has named Leland. Ken proposes one day. Barbie proposes the
next. They kiss, they dance, they get married again. We’re living
in the Chapel of Love, right here in Golden Valley.

I suppose that all of this exuberant heterosexuality should be
encouraging to me. Maybe it means that our child will grow up to be
as “normal” as she’s supposed to be. Indeed, she wants to get
married when she grows up and have 16 kids. But she also wants to
be Cinderella. And a doctor. And being a superhero wouldn’t be so
bad, either. With 16 kids, I tell her, she’ll have to be.

In the end, what I hope for Hannah is what I like to think any
parent wants: that she will be her own great self. I hope that she
will make up her own mind and follow her own heart.

“What’s that?” Hannah asks, pointing to a rainbow sticker on a car
in the parking lot of our local coffee shop. “That’s for families
like ours,” I say. “Families that have two moms or two dads.”

“I want one,” she says. “Green for you and pink for me. What color
does Mommy like?”

“Any color you choose, baby,” I say.

Reprinted from Greater Good, Vol. IV, Issue 2 (Fall 2007), pp.
27-29. For more information, please visit Greater Good.