Why Parenthood, and Why Now? Gay Men's Motivations for Pursuing Parenthood

By Goldberg, Abbie E.; Downing, Jordan B. et al. | Family Relations, February 2012 | Go to article overview
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Why Parenthood, and Why Now? Gay Men's Motivations for Pursuing Parenthood


Goldberg, Abbie E., Downing, Jordan B., Moyer, April M., Family Relations


The current qualitative study of 35 preadoptive gay male couples (70 men) examined gay men's motivations to parent and their reasons for pursuing parenthood at the current time. Similar to heterosexual couples, gay men described a range of psychologically oriented reasons as shaping their decision to become parents. Some of these (e.g., desire to teach a child tolerance) may have been uniquely shaped by their sexual minority status, and others (e.g., desire to give a child a good home) in part reflect their adoptive status. Men named age, finances, and relationship factors, as well as unique contextual factors such as the need to find and move to gay-friendly neighborhoods, as influencing their readiness to pursue parenthood at the current time. Gay men's motivations to parent echo normative life course decision-making processes, but also reflect concerns that are uniquely informed by their sexual minority status.

Key Words: gay men, life course, motivations, parenthood, qualitative, social constructionist.

Gay men have long been stereotyped as uninterested in children and parenting (see Mallon, 2004), and yet empirical research does not support these stereotypes. Using national survey data, Gates, Badge«, Macomber, and Chambers (2007) estimated that over half of gay men (52%) reported that they hoped to become parents in the future. A study of urban sexual minority youth found that 86% of young gay men expected to raise children in the future (D'Augelli, Rendina, & Sinclair, 2008). In addition, estimates based on national survey data found that 1 in 5 male samesex couples were raising children in 2000, up from 1 in 20 in 1990 (Gates & Ost, 2004; Gates et al., 2007). Thus, an increasing number of gay men view fathering as an expected part of their life course trajectories (Rabun & Oswald, 2009). Such changes are, in part, a function of broadscale sociohistorical changes, such as increasing family diversity, advancements in reproductive technologies, and a growing liberalism toward the rights of sexual minorities (Goldberg, 2010). Of course, this is not to say that gay parenthood is universally accepted: A 2003 Gallup poll found that 49% of Americans said that same-sex couples should have the legal right to adopt, whereas 48% said they should not (Robison, 2003).

Despite gay men's increased interest in and enactment of parenthood (Goldberg, 2010), particularly through adoption (Gates et al., 2007), no research has explicitly examined gay men's motivations to parent. Such research is important given the unique context of gay male parenthood. Gay men who choose to become parents do so outside of the traditional model of family development, where a man and woman have a biological child. Further, gay men who seek to adopt pursue parenthood within a unique relational context whereby neither parent is genetically related to the child. Additionally, gay men who seek to become parents do so amid institutions and discourses that privilege heteronormativity and thus present challenges to their parenting pursuits. Given the unique social and relational context in which gay men consider and pursue parenthood, of interest is how gay men construct their parenting desires and motivations. Given the highly intentional and time-consuming nature of becoming parents for gay men (Downing, Richardson, Kinkier, & Goldberg, 2009), also of interest are the factors that influence the timing of parenthood for gay men. Thus, the current qualitative study of 70 gay men (from 35 couples) examined gay men's motivations for parenthood and their explanations for why they were pursuing parenthood currently. We aim to extend prior research by focusing specifically on motivations to parent among gay men who were in the process of adopting their first child.

We first discuss the general research on motivations for parenthood. This literature has largely focused on heterosexual couples who were becoming or had become parents via biological means (as opposed to adoption); there is also a small literature on lesbians' motivations for parenthood.

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