Same sex couples and division of labour

English: A child holding a sign in support of ...

English: A child holding a sign in support of his lesbian mothers’ marriage outside the Mormon temple at New York City’s Lincoln Center. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There has been a lively debate in response to my piece in The Conversation on stay-at-home fathers (see previous post: Why aren’t there more stay-at-home dads?’).

One commentator wondered what the division of labour was in same-sex couples. This is a very interesting question. I have done a quick search of the literature and have found an article which reviews studies conducted on lesbian families. The author notes that compared with heterosexual couples, lesbian couples share more equally in childcare tasks and reported higher satisfaction levels with their domestic arrangements than did heterosexual couples (Foster, 2005)

Another study provides more detail. It reports the findings of an American study comparing families with heterosexual parents with adopted children, lesbian parents who had adopted children and lesbian parents who had children related biologically (Ciano-Boyce and Shelley-Cireci, 2003).

The study found that the lesbian couples were more equal in their parenting practices than were the heterosexual couples, and that lesbians with adopted children were the most egalitarian. Lesbian parents who were the biological mother and the adoptive mother of heterosexual couples performed more childcare tasks than their partners. They were also more sought after by the child when the child was feeling tired, ready for bed, hurt, hungry, afraid or cranky. In contrast, the child sought the non-biological lesbian mother and the adoptive father in heterosexual couples for rough-and-tumble play, reading and watching television.

In families with lesbian mothers and adopted children, although there was more of an equal division of labour, the child also tended to make a distinction between the mother who they sought for the more he nurturing-type of care and the other mother. This sometimes caused conflict in these couples related to the type of care each woman wished to provide to the child. The researchers explain this difference by suggesting that in these couples there is no ‘obvious’ mother to perform the more nurturing care, as there is in the other couples.

What this suggests is that biological lesbian mothers and adoptive heterosexual mothers take on similar roles which conform closely to dominant norms relating to mothering. The non-biological lesbian mother and the adoptive heterosexual father also adopt similar roles, with both taking an approach which conforms to the traditional ‘father’ model.

References

Claudia Ciano-Boyce and Lynn Shelley-Sireci (2003) Who is mommy tonight? Lesbian parenting issues. Journal of Homosexuality, 43(2), 1–13

Deborah Foster (2005) Why do children do so well in lesbian households? Research on lesbian parenting. Canadian Women’s Studies, 24(2/3), 51–6.

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