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Experimental kids

"Experimental kids" Continued...

Issue: "Looking at India," Dec. 9, 2006
  • A Princeton University/University of California at San Francisco study of 6,000 boys found that boys raised in single-parent homes were twice as likely to wind up in prison.

In a study of over 750 girls in the United States and New Zealand, University of Arizona psychologist Bruce Ellis found that those who saw their father leave the family before age 6 were more than six times as likely to become pregnant as teenagers than those whose fathers stayed in the home throughout their childhoods.

  • A 1991-1998 study of Swedish children found that those in single-parent homes were twice as likely to attempt suicide and 50 percent more likely to succeed in committing suicide than those in two-parent families.

Meanwhile, according to a 2005 University of Chicago literature review, students living with married parents score higher on reading comprehension, compared to students living in stepfamilies, with single mothers, and in other types of families. Living in a single-parent family is linked with decreases in children's math scores.

But, as with many social hot potatoes, each wing of the debate about families can produce research studies bolstering an alternative view. For example, Joann Paley Galst, a clinical psychologist specializing in reproductive health issues, recently completed her own review of more than 100 studies of families built through gamete donation, surrogacy, and lesbian parenting. She concluded: "I don't think we have evidence that the families that have been created [using reproductive technologies] are doing such a disservice to the children."

Likewise, Florida child psychologist Vicki Panaccione, founder of the Better Parenting Institute, had only praise for lesbian-parented families: "We're talking about stable, committed families that have been together, raising children with traditional values such as respect for elders, responsibility, and education."

In her private practice, Galst works with lesbian and opposite-sex couples seeking counseling while going through "fertility work-ups" with couples from pre-conception until preadolescence. "From my clinical experience, these children are very much wanted and loved. They are definitely seen as a gift."

Katrina Clark, who networks with other donor-conceived people, agrees. "But that's not the issue," she said. "The issue is adults making life-altering decisions for their children that are in the adults' best interests as opposed to what's in the best interests of the child." And while various child-welfare experts define "best interests of the child" variously, Clark argues that the real experts, the children themselves, are not being heard. (Even Galst concedes that she works with the parents in donor and surrogacy cases, but has not worked with the resulting children.)

"Part of the problem now is this is still a new situation," Clark said. "My generation is the first to be studied and no one has really looked at us. I'd rather not have been a guinea pig, but I was. Still, a lot of people in the medical, scientific, and legislative communities are not listening to us. I don't know why. Maybe they can't relate to our pain."

Dawn Stefanowicz echoes Clark's complaint. A Canadian author and speaker whose father was gay, Stefanowicz, 43, grew up with a parade of his male partners marching through her home. Some stayed for years, some only for hours. "My father could cruise during broad daylight and get someone to have sex during the lunch hour," Stefanowicz said. "By the time I was 10 years old, I had been exposed to a sex shop, a gay nude beach, and a bathhouse."

Stefanowicz said she did not see women valued in her household and grew up finding it difficult to receive love or appreciate her own womanhood. She also lacked the sense of filial grounding common to traditional two-parent families, such as the enduring presence of extended family. In her 20s, Stefanowicz buried her pain and tried to move on with her life. Now married with kids of her own, Stefanowicz has come to terms with the past and chronicled her experiences in an autobiography, Out from Under: Getting Clear of the Wreckage of a Sexually Disordered Home, due out next year.

"The reality is that the children are not being heard," Stefanowicz said. "You're a dependent; you can't speak up. You can't say, 'I'm 6 years old and this is the third partner my daddy has had.' The children are completely silenced and have to pretend it's fine and OK."

It is not an equal opportunity silencing, however. Public schools nationwide have embraced "What Makes a Family," a photographic exhibit and film that includes same-sex-parented families as part of one great big mosaic of "normal." Meanwhile, the mainstream press now rarely questions the social and clinical wisdom of same-sex parenting, preferring to explore its internal challenges instead. For example, the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 29 ran a positive front-page feature on Chad and David, a pair of white-collar homosexuals struggling to become co-fathers through surrogacy.

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