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Does Parental Sexual Orientation Matter? A Longitudinal Follow-Up of
Adoptive Families With School-Age Children

Rachel H. Farr
University of Kentucky

Controversy continues to surround parenting by lesbian and gay (LG) adults and outcomes for their
children. As sexual minority parents increasingly adopt children, longitudinal research about child
development, parenting, and family relationships is crucial for informing such debates. In the psycho-
logical literature, family systems theory contends that children’s healthy development depends upon
healthy family functioning more so than family structure. From the framework of family stress theory,
it was expected that longitudinal outcomes for school-age children adopted in infancy could be distinct
among those with same-sex versus other-sex parents (N � 96 families). Similar findings were hypoth-
esized in terms of parent adjustment, couple relationships, and family functioning in comparing same-sex
and other-sex parent families. Results indicated that adjustment among children, parents, and couples, as
well as family functioning, were not different on the basis of parental sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, or
heterosexual) when children were school-age. Rather, children’s behavior problems and family func-
tioning during middle childhood were predicted by earlier child adjustment issues and parenting stress.
These findings are consistent with and extend previous literature about families headed by LG parents,
particularly those that have adopted children. The results have implications for advancing supportive
policies, practices, and laws related to adoption and parenting by sexual minority adults.

Keywords: middle childhood, parenting stress, couples, adoptive families, sexual orientation

Americans remain divided about their views on lesbian and gay
(LG) adults raising children, according to the Pew Research Center
(e.g., Daugherty & Copen, 2016). Controversy often centers on
whether children need a mother and a father for optimal develop-
ment, yet theoretical perspectives tend to emphasize the impor-
tance of high-quality parenting and family relationships, rather
than family structure (Lamb, 2012). Outcomes for children with
LG parents have been featured in legal and policy debates about
same-sex marriage and the adoption of children. How children fare
with same-sex parents was a pivotal consideration in the June 2015
Supreme Court decision about marriage equality (Obergefell v.
Hodges; e.g., American Psychological Association, 2015). Despite
debate, millions of sexual minority (i.e., nonheterosexual) adults

desire to be parents and many are already parents, including
adoptive parents (Riskind & Patterson, 2010). During recent years,
the number of adoptive LG parents has doubled (Gates, 2011).
According to 2010 Census data, same-sex couples are four times
more likely than other-sex couples to adopt children (Gates, 2013).
From data representing couples and single parents (2000 Census,
National Survey of Family Growth), it appears that at least 65,500
adopted children, over 4% of all adopted children in the United
States, have sexual minority parents (Gates, Badgett, Macomber,
& Chambers, 2007). Thus, information about the development of
adopted children reared by sexual minority adults is essential for
informing developmental theory and public debate.

Theoretical Framework

Arguably one of the most critical environmental contexts affect-
ing child and parent outcomes is the overarching family context.
Family systems theory suggests the importance of family pro-
cesses: to fully understand individual development, the family
context in which that individual is reared must be considered (Cox
& Paley, 1997). As compared with family structure (e.g., number
of parents, biological vs. adoptive parenthood, parental gender and
sexual orientation), mounting evidence indicates that the effects of
parenting and family relationships are consistently stronger influ-
ences on child development, and these associations generally do
not differ by family structure (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010; Lamb,
2012). Indeed, evidence from over 30 years of research regarding
children of LG parents provide support that these children develop
on par with children of heterosexual parents (Fedewa, Black, &
Ahn, 2015; Moore & Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, 2013). Less is known,
however, about what developmental mechanisms underlie positive

This article was published Online First October 20, 2016.
This research was supported by funding from the American Psycholog-

ical Foundation’s Wayne F. Placek Grant awarded to Rachel H. Farr (Wave
2) and the Williams Institute at UCLA to Charlotte J. Patterson (Wave 1).
The author was also supported by funds from the Rudd Family Foundation
Chair in Psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I thank
the members of our research team who have contributed to the design and
execution of the overall project, as well as Eric Haak for statistical
consulting. I am grateful to all the adoptive families who generously shared
their experiences with us and have made this research possible. Earlier
versions of this article were presented at the National Council on Family
Relations (NCFR) Conference in 2014 and at the Biennial Meeting of the
Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) in 2015.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Rachel
H. Farr, Department of Psychology, University of Kentucky, 012-B Kastle
Hall, 171 Funkhouser Drive, Lexington, KY 40506–0044. E-mail:
rachel.farr@uky.edu

Developmental Psychology © 2016 American Psychological Association
2017, Vol. 53, No. 2,

252

–264 0012-1649/17/$12.00 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/dev0000228

252

outcomes for individuals within sexual minority parent families. A
greater focus on family processes over time could yield important
insights about this question.

According to family systems theory, families are comprised of
interdependent subsystems (e.g., Whitchurch & Constantine,
1993). The concept of spillover effects describes how emotions,
behaviors, and stress experienced in one family subsystem (i.e., the
spousal relationship) will be transferred to other family subsystems
(i.e., the parent–child relationship; Engfer, 1988; Erel & Burman,
1995; Stroud, Durbin, Wilson, & Mendelsohn, 2011). While all
families experience stress, families differ in how well they manage
and cope with that stress (Boss, 2002; Hill, 1949). Dimensions of
family stress, such as parenting stress, child behavior problems, or
couple dissatisfaction, tax family based resources to cope with that
stress, diminishing overall family functioning (McKenry & Price,
2000). Family stress theory indicates that individuals’ reactions to
stressors are dependent on family based resources (including co-
hesion, adaptability, and problem-solving skills), perceptions and
attributions of what causes the stressor, and the cumulative effect
of stressors that may simultaneously burden family level coping
(Hill, 1949; McCubbin & Patterson, 1983). Patterson (1988) re-
ferred to the concept of pileup to describe the cumulative effects of
all stressors on a family. Adjustment among children, and the
entire family system, may be challenged by pileup effects resulting
from earlier or existing parenting stress, child behavior problems,
or couple relationship difficulties.

Aligned with family stress theory, the broader literature
documents clear associations among parenting stress, couple
satisfaction, and children’s adjustment. Cross-sectional and lon-
gitudinal research has consistently demonstrated links between
greater parenting stress, worse marital adjustment, and in-
creased child behavior problems (Linville et al., 2010; Stone,
Mares, Otten, Engels, & Janssens, 2016). Among adoptive
families, Gagnon-Oosterwaal and colleagues (2012) found that
maternal stress mediated the association between children’s
behavior problems at the time of the adoption (i.e., infancy) and
at age 7 years. Similarly, Tan, Camras, Deng, Zhang, and Lu
(2012) found that higher family stress corresponded with more
behavior problems among girls adopted from China (Mage � 5.2
years); associations between family stress, parenting styles, and
child adjustment were sustained over a 2-year period even after
controlling for early behavior problems.

Existing research regarding sexual minority adoptive parent
families provides evidence supporting family stress theory—indi-
vidual adjustment is associated with relationship quality and fam-
ily functioning, regardless of family type. For instance, Goldberg
and Smith (2013) discovered that LG and heterosexual adoptive
parents’ depressive symptoms and couple conflict were associated
with their toddlers’ increased behavior problems. Goldberg and
Smith (2014) also found that LG and heterosexual adoptive parents
who had children with greater emotional and behavioral problems
reported greater parenting stress 2 years postplacement. Couple
relationships described as more loving, however, seemed to buffer
parenting stress (Goldberg & Smith, 2014). Golombok et al.
(2014) found that parenting stress was predictive of young chil-
dren’s (average age � 6 years) externalizing problems among LG
and heterosexual adoptive parent families, with no differences by
family type. Using nationally representative data comparing chil-
dren (ages 6–17 years) from 95 female same-sex and 95 other-sex

parent families, Bos, Knox, van Rijn-van Gelderen, and Gartrell
(2016) uncovered significant associations between parenting stress
and children’s emotional difficulties across both family types;
parenting stress levels, however, were higher among female same-
sex than other-sex parents. Among the target sample in this article
at an earlier time point, adopted children’s lower behavioral ad-
justment was significantly associated with greater parenting stress,
less effective parenting, and lower couple adjustment; parenting
stress did not differ by family type (Farr, Forssell, & Patterson,
2010a).

Family functioning has also been found to be significantly
associated with children’s emotional and behavioral problems,
mental health diagnoses, and other learning disabilities among LG
and heterosexual adoptive parent families, although no differences
in these associations have been found by parental sexual orienta-
tion (Averett, Nalavany, & Ryan, 2009; Erich, Leung, & Kindle,
2005). While parenting stress and couple adjustment have been
found to be significantly associated among samples of LG parents
(e.g., Farr et al., 2010a, 2010b; Goldberg & Smith, 2014; Lavner,
Waterman, & Peplau, 2014; Tornello, Farr, & Patterson, 2011),
these variables have less often been studied longitudinally and in
conjunction with school-age children’s behavioral adjustment or
overall family functioning. Thus, we know relatively little about
how these associations might be similar or different over time in
families headed by sexual minority and heterosexual parents.

The role of societal stigma may differentially affect outcomes
over time for members of sexual minority parent families, as
compared with those in heterosexual parent families. According to
family stress theory, families are heavily influenced by their place
in the developmental life cycle, culture, genetics, family structure,
beliefs, and values—factors that can be further distinguished as
internal or external in affecting stress and coping within families
(Boss, 2002). Boss noted that family members may be able to
modify internal contexts, but often have little control over external
contexts, such as societal stigma. In recent decades, research about
outcomes for sexual minority adults and their children has increas-
ingly emphasized the roles of environmental contexts, such as
stigma, in influencing psychological adjustment (e.g., van
Gelderen, Gartrell, Bos, & Hermanns, 2009). For instance, pro-
spective LG parents have reported fears of stigma about forming
their families through adoption and donor insemination, as well as
about raising children in a discriminatory society (Gartrell et al.,
1996; Gianino, 2008). Among sexual minority adoptive parenting
couples, experiences of stigma and discrimination are associated
with negative mental health outcomes; in contrast, positive rela-
tionships and social support appear to buffer negative effects of
stigmatization and discrimination (Goldberg & Smith, 2011).
Thus, it is plausible that parent and couple adjustment could differ
over time among families headed by LG and heterosexual adults as
a function of experiencing different social contexts.

Family, school, and peer relationships are among primary influ-
ential contexts affecting children from early to middle childhood
(Collins, Madsen, & Susman-Stillman, 2002; Eccles, 1999). As
children enter school, peer relationships become increasingly im-
portant, and teasing is a common experience (Collins et al., 2002;
Harwood, Bosacki, & Borcsok, 2010). Moreover, children with
positive social relationships often demonstrate better psychologi-
cal adjustment, while those who experience exclusion and margin-
alization often face adjustment problems (Guhn, Schonert-Reichl,

253PARENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT

Gadermann, Hymel, & Hertzman, 2013). As children presumably
are more likely to encounter stigma and discrimination as they
become school-age (i.e., spending more time in school and with
peers), longitudinal research following children across early child-
hood can address questions about how the adjustment of children
with sexual minority parents may be affected as compared with
children with heterosexual parents. Indeed, data drawn from the
same sample as the current study demonstrate that school-age
children with same-sex parents commonly face experiences of
microaggressions from their peers (Farr, Crain, Oakley, Cashen, &
Garber, 2016), and those who are more overtly bullied are more
likely to have behavioral adjustment difficulties (Farr, Oakley, &
Ollen, 2016). Because sexual minority and adoptive families may
face additional stress as a result of encountering stigma and dis-
crimination, children in these families may be at elevated risk for
developing behavior problems over time.

Current Study

The transition to elementary school has been recognized as an
important transition point within family systems (Cowan &
Cowan, 2003), which could result in increasing family demands
and stressors (Patterson, 1988). Moreover, families with sexual
minority parents may face additional stressors as compared with
families with heterosexual parents because of societal stigma,
which could result in group differences in how individual adjust-
ment and family functioning are affected over time. Thus, this
longitudinal study compared outcomes for children, parents, cou-
ples, and the overall family system among adoptive families with
LG and heterosexual parents at two time points: Wave 1 (W1),
when children were preschool-age, and Wave 2 (W2), approxi-
mately 5 years later, when children were in middle childhood.
Child outcomes were assessed via parent- and teacher-reported
behavior problems, while parent outcomes were assessed via self-
reports of parenting stress levels. Couple and family outcomes
were evaluated by parent reports of couple adjustment and overall
family functioning. Two key research questions and hypotheses,
guided by family stress theory, framed the current study:

1. How do child behavioral adjustment, parenting stress,
and couple adjustment change over time from W1 to W2,
and do any changes differ by family type (same-sex or
other-sex parents)? Based on family stress theory and
pileup effects, as well as unique stressors relevant to
sexual minority parent families, I explored whether there
would be mean-level differences in outcomes across fam-
ily types over time (Bos et al., 2016; Boss, 2002; Patter-
son, 1988).

2. What factors (i.e., child behavior problems, parenting
stress, or couple adjustment) assessed at an earlier time
point (W1) longitudinally predict child behavioral adjust-
ment and family functioning at W2? Given family stress
theory and spillover effects (Engfer, 1988; Stroud et al.,
2011), I expected significant associations between W1
and W2 variables for all families. I explored differences
in associations across same-sex and other-sex parent
families.

Method

Participants

Participants were recruited through five private adoption agen-
cies in the United States as part of a larger longitudinal study (Farr
et al., 2010a; Farr & Patterson, 2013). These adoption agencies
worked in jurisdictions where same-sex couples were legally able
to adopt children during the early 2000s. All five agencies openly
worked with LG couples as well as heterosexual couples and had
previously facilitated domestic infant adoptions for all three family
types.

At W1, all participating families (N � 106) consisted of two
parents (n � 212) with an adopted child (n � 106) between the
ages of one and five (average age, 3 years) at the time of data
collection. Of the 106 families, 56 were headed by same-sex
couples (27 lesbian, 29 gay), and 50 were headed by other-sex
couples. All parents were the legal adoptive parents of their ad-
opted child. Most families had only one child at W1; children had
generally been placed with their adoptive families at birth or
during the first few weeks of life. No parents were biologically
related to their children, and all couples had sought out private
domestic adoptions of healthy infants through one of the five
cooperating adoption agencies. Families lived in 12 states across
the East and West Coasts and Southern US. At W1, parents (n �
212) were predominantly White (80%); children (n � 106) were
more racially diverse (43% White). The majority of parents re-
ported full-time employment, high educational attainment, and
household incomes above national averages (Farr et al., 2010b;
Farr & Patterson, 2013). This sample largely reflects the demo-
graphic characteristics of the population of adoptive families who
adopt through this same pathway—nationally representative data
have shown that parents who work with private, domestic, infant
adoption agencies are typically White (71%), as are the children
placed (50%), and these families generally represent middle or
upper income classes (Vandivere, Malm, & Radel, 2009).

At W2, 184 parents representing 96 families with 96 target
children (average age, 8.38 years, SD � 1.62) of the original 106
families participated. These 184 parents comprised 48 lesbian
parents (26 families), 55 gay parents (29 families), and 81 hetero-
sexual parents (41 families). Parents averaged 47.50 years old
(SD � 5.56). A majority of parents reported being White (77.7%),
while 19.6% were Black, and 2.6% were Asian, Latino, or Mul-
tiethnic. In terms of number of children living at home at W2, 49
of 96 participating families (51.0%) had 2 children, 35 (36.5%)
had 1 child, 10 (10.4%) had 3 children, and 2 (2.1%) had 4
children. There were 48 girls and 48 boys in the 96 participating
families; 38 (39.6%) were reported by parents to be White, 35
(36.5%) Black, 20 (20.8%) Multiethnic, and 3 (3.1%) Latino or
other. Transracial adoptions had been completed by 46% of the 96
families. Parents reported that 16% of children had an attention-
deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis. Only two signif-
icant differences in demographic characteristics were found by
parental sexual orientation at W2: gay fathers reported earning
higher household incomes than lesbian and heterosexual parents,
respectively, F(2, 165) � 12.93, p � .001, and lesbian couples
were more likely to break up (31%) between W1 and W2 than
were gay and heterosexual couples (both 7%), �2(2, 96) � 9.04,

254 FARR

p � .011, � � .307. See Table 1 for additional demographic
details.

Children’s teachers were also recruited based on identification
by the adoptive parents at W1 and W2. Seventy-six teachers or
daycare providers (of the 106 target children; 72%) participated at
W1, while 88 teachers (of the 96 target children; 92%) participated
at W2. The majority were women (93% at W1, 86% at W2), had
a college degree (90% W1; 100% at W2), and had substantial
experience in their fields (M � 11 years, W1; M � 13 years, W2).

The retention rate for participating families from W1 (N � 106)
to W2 (N � 96) was high (91% overall; 96% of lesbian parent
families – 26 of 27, 100% of gay father families – 29 of 29, and
82% of heterosexual parent families – 41 of 50). Generally, few
differences characterized families who did and did not participate
at W2. Participating families at W2, however, were more likely to
be headed by lesbian or gay than heterosexual parents, �2(106) �
16.71, p � .001. Participating parents at W2 reported higher
average education at W1 (M � 4.05; SD � 1.18) as compared with
nonparticipating parents (M � 3.40; SD � 1.23), t(104) � 2.35,
p � .020 (3 � college degree, 4 � some graduate school, and 5 �
graduate degree). Participating families at W2 were more likely to
have reported W1 birth family contact – 96% of families with W1
birth family contact participated at W2, compared with 86% with-
out W1 contact, �2(106) � 5.70, p � .017. Participating families
at W2 were also more likely to have completed a transracial versus
same-race adoption, �2(106) � 9.52, p � .002 (98% of transracial
adopters participated at W2, compared with 85% of same-race
adopters). No other demographic differences were found in like-
lihood of W2 participation based on parent age, race, income, work
status, couple relationship length, interracial couple status, child
age, sex, race, and number of children.

The only other distinguishing difference between participating
and nonparticipating families at W2 was that parents in nonpar-
ticipating families reported significantly lower levels of W1 par-
enting stress (M � 52.95, SD � 12.71) than parents in participat-
ing families (M � 61.20, SD � 13.69), t(210) � 2.58, p � .011.

No other differences as a function of W2 participation were found
in child adjustment (as reported by parents and teachers), parenting
approaches, or couple adjustment at W1.

Measures

Data were collected from both parents in each family and
children’s teachers at W1 and W2. Materials were derived from a
larger longitudinal study (Farr et al., 2010a). For the current study,
measures reflect child behavioral adjustment, parenting stress, and
couple adjustment at W1 and W2, and assessments of family
functioning at W2. All measures included are widely used, stan-
dardized, and demonstrate good psychometric properties. Parents
and teachers reported demographic information at both time
points.

Child behavioral adjustment. At both waves, child behav-
ioral adjustment was assessed with total behavior problem scores
from parent reports on the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) and
teacher reports on the Teacher Report Form (TRF), designed for
children ages 1.5 to 5 and 6 to 18 years, respectively (Achenbach
& Rescorla, 2000, 2001). The CBCL/1.5–5 and TRF/1.5–5, used at
W1, each include 100 items. The CBCL/6–18 and TRF/6–18,
used at W2, each contain 113 items. Items are rated on a 0 to 2
scale (0 � not true, 1 � somewhat or sometimes true, and 2 � very
true or often true). The total raw score is a sex- and age-specific
summary of all items and is converted to a standard T score.
Example items are “looks unhappy for no good reason,” “fears
he/she might think or do something bad,” and “hits others.” Higher
total T scores indicate more behavioral problems; scores 64 and
above represent the clinical range (Achenbach & Rescorla, 2000).
Population averages for CBCL/1.5–5 and TRF/1.5–5 total scores
are 50.1 � 9.9 and 50.0 � 10.6, respectively (Achenbach &
Rescorla, 2000); for the CBCL/6–18 and TRF/6–18, these are
both 50.0 � 10.0 (Achenbach, 1991). At W2, 183 of 184 parents
provided complete CBCL/6–18 data, representing 95 of 96 target
children; children’s teachers provided TRF/6–18 data for 88 of 96

Table 1
Demographic Information for Participating Families at W1 and W2

W1 (N � 106 families) W2 (N � 96 families)

Variable

Lesbian
parents

Gay
parents

Heterosexual
parents Sample

Lesbian
parents

Gay
parents

Heterosexual
parents Sample

Family
Household income ($K) 168 (77) 190 (130) 150 (89) 166 (101) 139 (85) 252 (151) 171 (101) 188 (124)
Number of children 1 (.63) 1 (.49) 2 (.75) 2 (.66) 2 (.57) 2 (.72) 2 (.78) 2 (.71)
Transracial adoptions 48% 55% 30% 42% 50% 59% 34% 46%

Parents
Age (years) 43 (5) 41 (5) 42 (6) 42 (6) 48 (5) 46 (5) 48 (6) 47 (5)
Race (% White) 80% 86% 78% 80% 79% 84% 73% 78%
Work status (% full-time) 72% 81% 77% 77% 70% 76% 69% 71%
Educational attainment (% college degree

or higher) 94% 89% 85% 89% 98% 89% 87% 90%
Couple status W2 (% intact) — — — — 69% 93% 93% 87%

Children
Sex (% girls) 59% 36% 52% 50% 62% 38% 51% 50%
Age (years) 3 (2) 3 (1) 3 (1) 3 (1) 8 (2) 8 (1) 8 (2) 8 (2)
Race (% White) 41% 38% 44% 41% 39% 38% 42% 40%
ADHD status (% diagnosis) — — — — 12% 10% 22% 16%

Note. SDs are given in parentheses. W1 � Wave 1; W2 � Wave 2; ADHD � attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.

255PARENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT

children. The CBCL/6–18 sample � was .95 (.95 for lesbian, .95
for gay, and .96 for heterosexual parents). The TRF/6–18 sample
� was .96 (.95, .98, and .94 for teachers of children with lesbian,
gay, and heterosexual parents, respectively).

Parenting stress. Parenting stress was examined at both
waves with the Parenting Stress Index—Short Form (PSI; Abidin,
1995). Thirty-six items assess multiple aspects of parenting stress
among parents with children from birth to age 12 on a 1 to 5 scale
(1 � strongly disagree and 5 � strongly agree). Questions assess
parents’ feelings of capability in caring for their child. Example
items are, “I find myself giving up more of my life to meet my
child’s needs than I ever expected” and “I don’t enjoy things as I
used to.” A total score is calculated from all 36 items. Higher
scores indicate higher parenting stress, with a mean for a large
sample of parents of 71.0 � 15.4. Levels over 90 reflect clinically
high parenting stress (Abidin, 1995). At W2, 179 of 184 parents
provided complete PSI data; the sample � was .90 (.90 for lesbian,
.91 for gay, and .88 for heterosexual parents).

Couple relationship adjustment. Couple adjustment was in-
vestigated using the Dyadic Adjustment Scale at both waves
(DAS; Spanier, 1976). The scale has 32 items measuring relation-
ship satisfaction, affection, consensus, and cohesion. Items are
scored on a 6-point scale, with 0 representing “never” or “always
disagree” and 5 representing “all the time” or “always agree”. The
scores of all items, assessing agreement on religious matters to
how often they kiss, are summed for a total relationship adjustment
score. Higher scores indicate greater adjustment, with a population
average of 114.8 � 17.8 for long-term married couples (Spanier,
1976). At W2, 171 of 184 parents provided complete DAS data;
the sample � was .82 (.81 for lesbian, .82 for gay, and .83 for
heterosexual parents).

Family functioning. Levels of family functioning at W2 were
examined using the Family Assessment Device (FAD), an instru-
ment that uses parent self-reports to measure aspects of family
functioning and health (Epstein, Baldwin, & Bishop, 1983). There
are 60 items with 7 subscales. An additional 8th composite mea-
sure for total functioning is created by averaging all subscale
scores. Questionnaire items are presented as statements, such as a
general functioning item that reads, “We don’t get along well
together.” Respondents indicate agreement with each item on a
scale of 1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree). A score of 1
represents healthy family functioning; a 4 represents maladaptive
family functioning. The average score for the FAD is 2.20 (SD �
0.51); lower average scores reflect better family functioning (Ep-
stein et al., 1983). The FAD was only assessed at W2 and was not
included at W1. FAD scores were available from 178 of 184
parents. The sample � was .96 (.96 for lesbian, .95 for gay, and .96
for heterosexual parents).

Procedure

To recruit participants, researchers contacted eligible adoption
agencies to invite them to collaborate. Ultimately, five agency
directors agreed and then contacted (via mail or email) adoptive
families who met study criteria to invite participation. Follow-up
phone calls to interested participants were made by a researcher
when possible. If families consented to participate, researchers
conducted a 2-hr home visit at W1. About 5 years later, families
were recontacted and invited to participate in W2. Data were

collected for W1 from 2007–2009, and from 2013–2014 for W2.
Families were visited in their homes at both waves; parents com-
pleted demographic questionnaires and survey measures via hard
copy (W1) and online (W2) formats. Parents also provided survey
materials to children’s teachers, which were returned to the re-
searchers by mail (W1) and online (W2). At both waves, parents
provided informed consent, participation was entirely voluntary,
no financial compensation was provided, and a debriefing letter
was shared with families after participation. The study was ap-
proved by the Institutional Review Boards at the University of
Virginia, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and the Uni-
versity of Kentucky.

Data analytic plan. Hierarchical linear modeling (HLM;
Raudenbush & Bryk, 2002) was used to account for nested data
(parents within couples) by controlling sources of shared variance
and data dependency. Using methods similar to previous research-
ers working with indistinguishable dyads (i.e., same-sex couples;
Goldberg, Smith, & Kashy, 2010; Kurdek, 1998), the basic equa-
tion for the HLM conditional models can be described as:

Level 1: Yij � �0j � eij

Level 2: �0i � �00 � �01(Lesbian) � �02(Gay) � u0j

Level 1 reflects the couple average calculated for an outcome
variable, Yij. Random intercepts are represented by the �0j coeffi-
cient; eij is the error term. Level 2 reflects a comparison of
averages for the outcome variable to examine differences by
family type. At Level 2, the 01(Lesbian) and 02(Gay) coeffi-
cients represent the effects of being in a family with “lesbian
versus heterosexual” and “gay versus heterosexual” parents, re-
spectively, on the outcome variable. Thus, the Level 2 intercept
( 00) corresponds to the mean ratings for heterosexual parents. The
u0j coefficient controls for the dependency of partners’ data within
couples.

Moderation by family type was also tested with a series of
multigroup analyses. To maximize power, only two groups were
compared (i.e., same-sex and other-sex parent families). First,
unconstrained models were tested using SPSS Amos 23, which
maximized the likelihood, allowing regression weights to vary
between these two family groups. Next, the target path was con-
strained to be equal across the two groups. The
�2 statistics were
compared for significant differences between the unconstrained
and constrained models, which would indicate group differences
based on family type (Kline, 2016). Regarding issues of depen-
dency in the data structure (two parents reporting within one
family), parent A and parent B variables were fit as indicators for
a latent variable. Cillessen, Jiang, West, and Laszkowski’s (2005)
Actor-Partner Independence Model (APIM) was adapted to adjust
for the inclusion of indistinguishable dyads. Specifically, the
means, variances, and factor loadings of the parental indicators
were constrained to be equal for both parent A and B within each
family. For HLM and multigroup analyses, full maximum likeli-
hood was used to manage missing data.

Results

Preliminary Analyses

Preliminary analyses revealed that children’s age at W2 (5–12
years) was not significantly associated with any variables of in-

256 FARR

terest at W2, including behavior problems, parenting stress, couple
adjustment, and family functioning. Child sex, however, was sig-
nificantly associated with parent-reported child behavior scores,
t(181) � 2.18, p � .031, and family functioning, t(176) � 2.75,
p � .007, at W2. Parents reported more behavior problems for
boys (M � 50.53, SD � 10.66) than girls (M � 46.92, SD �
11.73). Parents with sons also reported worse family functioning
(M � 1.83, SD � .35) than parents with daughters (M � 1.70,
SD � .31). Thus, child sex was included as a covariate for analyses
involving parent-reported child adjustment and family functioning
at W2.

As 13% of participating families at W2 included parents whose
relationship had dissolved, I examined whether couple relationship
status was significantly associated with other variables of interest.
Most participants completed measures about couple adjustment
regarding their (former) partner, regardless of current relationship
status; results revealed that couple adjustment at W2 was signifi-
cantly lower among ex-partners (M � 100.50, SD � 25.30),
compared with those in enduring relationships (M � 129.60, SD �
10.94), t(169) � 8.61, p � .001. Couple relationship status, how-
ever, was not significantly associated with child adjustment (as
reported by parents or teachers), parenting stress, nor family func-
tioning. Thus, all available parent-reported data about couple re-
lationships were considered for analysis.

Changes Over Time in Adjustment for Same-Sex
Versus Other-Sex Parent Families

The first research question regarded how child behavioral ad-
justment, parenting stress, and couple adjustment had changed
over time from when children were preschool-age to school-age,
and whether these changes differed by family type (sexual minor-
ity vs. heterosexual parents). To evaluate this question, I report
analyses regarding family type comparisons, and descriptive in-
formation for each variable assessed at W2. Analysis of variance
(ANOVA) results revealed no significant differences at W2 across
the three family types (lesbian, gay, and heterosexual parents) in
child, parent, couple, or family adjustment (i.e., CBCL, TRF, PSI,
DAS, and FAD); effect sizes comparing same-sex and other-sex
parent families were small (see Table 2).

In utilizing hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) to account for
the nested data structure, the following four equations corre-
sponded to the analyses comparing by family type (with child sex
included as a covariate):

Level 1: Yij(W2 Child Behavior Problems)

� �0j � �1j(Child Sex) � eij (1)

Level 2: �0i � �00 � �01(Lesbian)) � �02(Gay) � u0j

�1i � �10 � �11(Lesbian) � �12(Gay) � u1j

Level 1: Yij(W2 Parenting Stress) � �0j � eij (2)

Level 2: �0i � �00 � �01(Lesbian) � �02(Gay) � u0j

Level 1: Yij(W2 Couple Adjustment) � �0j � eij (3)

Level 2: �0i � �00 � �01(Lesbian)) � �02(Gay) � u0j

Level 1: Yij(W2 Family Functioning) � �0j � �1j(Child Sex) � eij

(4)

Level 2: �0i � �00 � �01(Lesbian) � �02(Gay) � u0j

�1i � �10 � �11(Lesbian) � �12(Gay) � u1j

HLM analyses revealed consistent results with ANOVA find-
ings; no significant differences were found as a function of paren-
tal sexual orientation in W2 variables. Examining parent-reported
child behavior problems (controlling child sex), parenting stress,
couple adjustment, and family functioning (controlling child sex),
no p values emerged as significant in examining effects of being in
a lesbian or gay (vs. heterosexual; i.e., the intercept) parent family
(see Table 3). Lastly, multigroup analyses uncovered no signifi-
cant differences between same-sex and other-sex parent families
when constrained and unconstrained models were separately fit to
test pathways between W1 and W2 for child behavior problems
(parent and teacher reports), parenting stress, and couple adjust-
ment.

Children at W2 showed few behavior problems (“normal range” �
60 or less), on average (M � 48.45, SD � 11.06), as reported by
parents. Teachers agreed that children at W2 had few behavioral
difficulties (M � 49.83, SD � 8.27). Mean scores reported by parents
and teachers at W2 were comparable to population averages and
below clinical levels (64 or above). At W2, 9.80% of parent reports
(n � 18 parents of 16 children) revealed scores in the clinical range;
for 2 of the 16 children, parents agreed on clinical-level scores; for 13,
the children’s other parent reported scores below clinical levels, and
for 1 child, no additional data were available. Clinical behavior levels
were reported by 4.50% of children’s teachers at W2 (n � 4 teachers
of 4 children; only 2 of these 4 children were also reported by parents
to be in the clinical range). Paired sample t tests revealed no signifi-
cant differences between parent and teacher reports of children’s

Table 2
Family Process Variables in Middle Childhood (W2): Means, SDs, and ANOVA by Family Type

Lesbian parents
(n � 48)

Gay parents
(n � 55)

Heterosexual
parents (n � 81)

Total
(n � 184)

Same-sex vs.
other-sex

W2 variable M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) M (SD) F(df) p d

Child behavior problems (CBCL) 50.64 (11.38) 47.89 (12.52) 48.02 (10.46) 48.66 (11.35) .968 (2, 180) .382 �.10
Child behavior problems (TRF) 50.13 (9.47) 51.62 (7.62) 48.46 (7.90) 49.83 (8.27) 1.16 (2, 85) .319 �.

30

Parenting stress (PSI) 68.04 (17.16) 66.08 (16.85) 65.26 (14.69) 66.22 (15.95) .444 (2, 176) .642 �.11
Couple adjustment (DAS) 125.21 (14.41) 129.02 (14.76) 126.27 (16.29) 126.88 (15.40) .803 (2, 168) .450 �.07
Family functioning (FAD) 1.72 (.33) 1.75 (.32) 1.80 (.35) 1.76 (.34) .742 (2, 175) .478 .18

Note. W2 � Wave 2; CBCL � Child Behavior Checklist; TRF � Teacher Report Form; PSI � Parenting Stress Index; DAS � Dyadic Adjustment Scale;
FAD � Family Assessment Device.

257PARENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT

adjustment at W2. Although no group differences distinguished par-
ent reports from same- and other-sex couples regarding changes in
child behavior problems, parents reported significantly more child
behavior problems at W2 than W1 (CBCL/1.5–5: M � 44.97, SD �
9.17), t(182) � 4.65, p � .001, 95% CI [2.12, 5.24], d � .56.
Teachers’ TRF/1.5–5 scores at W1 did not differ from TRF/6–18
scores at W2. See Figure 1 for graphical representations of these
results.

At W2, parents reported relatively low parenting stress (M �
66.22, SD � 15.95), substantially lower than clinical stress levels
of 90 or more. While no group differences between sexual minor-
ity and heterosexual parents were found regarding changes in
parenting stress from W1 to W2, overall, parenting stress increased

among parents, on average, from W1 (M � 61.07, SD � 13.28) to
W2, t(178) � 4.82, p � .001, 95% CI [7.25, 3.04], d � .35. Parents
also reported generally high couple adjustment at W2, with a mean
of 126.88 (SD � 15.40) out of a possible 151 maximum score.
This represented a significant increase in average couple adjust-
ment from W1 (M � 116.97, SD � 12.96), t(170) � 9.32, p �
.001, 95% CI [12.00, 7.81], d � .70, but multigroup analyses
found no group differences between sexual minority and hetero-
sexual parents in changes in relationship adjustment over time. See
Figure 2 for graphical displays of these findings.

Predictive Pathways for Same-Sex Versus Other-Sex
Parent Families

The second research question explored how variables assessed at
W1 (i.e., child adjustment, parenting stress, or couple adjustment)
were predictive of child adjustment and family functioning 5 years
later at W2, and whether these pathways differed between families
with same-sex and other-sex parents. Overall, at W2, parents reported
relatively well-functioning families (M � 1.76, SD � .34). Significant
associations were found among study variables within and across
waves (see Table 4). Because W1 family process variables were
significantly correlated with parent-reported, but not teacher-reported,
child adjustment at W2, HLM analyses focused on parent-reported
behavior problems at W2 as the first dependent variable. Family
functioning at W2 was the second dependent variable tested to ex-
amine whether W1 variables would be significant predictors across
the entire sample. These HLM analyses, including child sex as a
covariate, are represented by the following equation:

Level 1: Yij(�W2 Child Behavior Problems� OR

�W2 Family Functioning�) � �0j � �1j(Child Sex)

� �2j(W1 Child Behavior Problems) � �3j(W1 Parenting Stress)

� �4j(W1 Couple Adjustment) � eij

Level 2: �0i � �00 � �01(Lesbian) � �02(Gay) � u0j

�1i � �10 � �11(Lesbian) � �12(Gay) � u1j

�2i � �20 � �21(Lesbian) � �22(Gay) � u2j

�3i � �30 � �31(Lesbian) � �32(Gay) � u3j

�4i � �40 � �41(Lesbian) � �42(Gay) � u4j

20

30

40

50

60

70

80
90

100

Wave 1 Wave 2

PSI Total Parenting Stress

Lesbian Gay Heterosexual

20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90

100
110
120
130
140
150

Wave 1 Wave 2

DAS Total Couple Adjustment

Lesbian Gay Heterosexual

Figure 2. Parenting stress (PSI) and couple relationship adjustment
(DAS) reported by parents at two time points: when children were
preschool-age (W1) and school-age (W2).

Table 3
HLM Results Assessing Whether W2 Variables Differed by
Family Type

Variable Coeff SE t df p

CBCL W2 �0

Intercept 00 48.03 1.53 31.34 92 �.001
Lesbian 01 3.21 2.59 1.24 92 .219
Gay 02 �.15 2.43 �.06 92 .951

Child sex �1

Intercept 10 �5.16 3.07 �1.68 85 .096
Lesbian 11 .36 5.18 .07 85 .944
Gay 12 2.79 4.87 .57 85 .568

PSI W2 �0

Intercept 00 65.23 2.16 30.23 91 �.001
Lesbian 01 2.50 3.54 .71 91 .482
Gay 02 1.21 3.40 .36 91 .722

DAS W2 �0

Intercept 00 125.58 2.19 57.25 89 �.001
Lesbian 01 �.54 3.72 �.14 89 .886
Gay 02 2.92 3.45 .85 89 .399

FAD W2 �0

Intercept 00 1.80 .04 44.19 91 �.001
Lesbian 01 �.05 .07 �.68 91 .500
Gay 02 �.05 .07 �.83 91 .409

Child sex �1

Intercept 10 �.15 .08 �1.85 81 .068
Lesbian 11 �.02 .14 �.15 81 .885
Gay 12 .07 .13 .51 81 .613

Note. W2 � Wave 2; Coeff � unstandardized coefficients; CBCL �
Child Behavior Checklist; PSI � Parenting Stress Index; TRF � Teacher
Report Form; DAS � Dyadic Adjustment Scale; FAD � Family Assess-
ment Device.

20

30

40

50

60

70

Preschool School-age

CBCL Total Behavior Problems

Lesbian Gay Heterosexual

20

30

40

50

60

70

Preschool School-age

TRF Total Behavior Problems

Lesbian Gay Heterosexual

Figure 1. Child behavior problems as reported by parents (CBCL) and
teachers (TRF) at two time points: preschool-age (W1) and school-age
(W2).

258 FARR

HLM analyses revealed that W1 child behavior problems,
t(76) � 2.36, p � .021, and greater W1 parenting stress, t(76) �
2.02, p � .047, significantly predicted W2 child behavior prob-
lems (see Table 5). Couple adjustment at W1, however, was not a
significant predictor of child adjustment at W2, t(76) � .07, p �
.943. HLM analyses also indicated that earlier child behavior
problems, t(72) � 2.10, p � .039, and greater parenting stress,
t(72) � 2.39, p � .020, predicted lower family functioning when
children were school-age (see Table 6). Couple adjustment when
children were preschool-age was marginally significant, t(72) �
1.94, p � .056. No differences by family type were uncovered in
predicting W2 child behavior problems (see Table 5) or family
functioning (see Table 6); that is, all p values were nonsignificant
in examining the effects of being in either a lesbian or gay (vs.
heterosexual; i.e., the intercept) parent family. Child sex did not
significantly predict W2 child behavior problems, t(76) � 1.03,

p � .306 (see Table 5), nor W2 family functioning, t(72) � .69,
p � .491 (see Table 6). Multigroup analysis was also used to
examine whether the pathways predicting child behavior problems
and family functioning differed for same-sex and other-sex parent
families, and no evidence for moderation by family type was
uncovered.

Discussion

As public and scholarly debate continues to surround which
family structures are ideal in cultivating positive child develop-
ment (McLanahan & Sawhill, 2015), these findings indicate that
children adopted by same-sex and other-sex parents appear to be
equally well-adjusted, on average, across development from
preschool-age to middle childhood. Parents also showed positive
outcomes related to parenting stress and couple satisfaction over

Table 4
Correlations Among Parenting Stress, Couple Adjustment, Child Behavior Problems, and Family Functioning in Early (W1) and
Middle Childhood (W2)

Variable
W2 Child behavior
problems (CBCL)

W2 Child behavior
problems (TRF)

W2 Parenting
stress

W2 Couple
adjustment

W2 Family
functioning

W1 Child behavior problems (CBCL) .47��� .09 .45��� �.17� .27���

W1 Child behavior problems (TRF) .17† .15† .18� �.06 .21�

W1 Parenting stress .41��� .14† .54��� �.19� .08
W1 Couple adjustment �.12 .05 �.19� .53��� �.23���

W2 Child behavior problems (CBCL) — .43��� .65��� �.07 .20��

W2 Child behavior problems (TRF) — — .38��� .03 .03
W2 Parenting stress — — — �.25�� .20��

W2 Couple adjustment — �.22��

Note. Pearson product moment correlations calculated for all variables.
† .05 � p � .01. � p � .05. �� p � .01. ��� p � .001.

Table 5
HLM Results Predicting Total Child Behavior Problems at W2
From W1 Variables

Variable Coeff SE t df p

Intercept �0j

Intercept 00 51.252143 4.297541 11.926 92 �.001
Lesbian 01 6.436886 7.536759 .854 92 .395
Gay 02 2.979595 6.484895 .459 92 .647

CBCL W1 �1j

Intercept 10 .321134 .136343 2.355 76 .021
Lesbian 11 .120491 .229615 .525 76 .601
Gay 12 .248847 .202315 1.230 76 .222

PSI W1 �2j

Intercept 20 .157432 .077931 2.020 76 .047
Lesbian 21 .032328 .176707 .183 76 .855
Gay 22 .105970 .144657 .733 76 .466

DAS W1 �3j

Intercept 30 .006347 .088548 .072 76 .943
Lesbian 31 .038563 .159566 .242 76 .810
Gay 32 .106882 .129535 .825 76 .412

Child sex �4j

Intercept 40 �2.742830 2.663474 �1.030 76 .306
Lesbian 41 �1.078341 4.478986 �.241 76 .810
Gay 42 �1.531793 4.281899 �.358 76 .722

Note. W1 � Wave 1; W2 � Wave 2; Coeff � unstandardized coeffi-
cients; CBCL � Child Behavior Checklist; PSI � Parenting Stress Index;
DAS � Dyadic Adjustment Scale.

Table 6
HLM Results Predicting Family Functioning at W2 From
W1 Variables

Variable Coeff SE t df p

Intercept �0j

Intercept 00 1.84 .11 16.07 91 �.001
Lesbian 01 .20 .20 1.00 91 .322
Gay 02 .08 .17 .46 91 .649

CBCL W1 �1j

Intercept 10 .01 �.01 2.10 72 .039
Lesbian 11 �.01 .01 .09 72 .929
Gay 12 �.01 .01 �.43 72 .667

PSI W1 �2j

Intercept 20 .01 �.01 2.39 72 .020
Lesbian 21 .01 .01 �1.27 72 .209
Gay 22 .01 .01 �1.06 72 .293

DAS W1 �3j

Intercept 30 .01 �.01 �1.94 72 .056
Lesbian 31 �.01 �.01 .17 72 .868
Gay 32 �.01 �.01 �.82 72 .426

Child sex �4j

Intercept 40 �.05 .01 �.69 72 .491
Lesbian 41 �.14 .12 �1.14 72 .260
Gay 42 �.06 .11 �.50 72 .622

Note. W1 � Wave 1; W2 � Wave 2; Coeff � unstandardized coeffi-
cients; CBCL � Child Behavior Checklist; PSI � Parenting Stress Index;
DAS � Dyadic Adjustment Scale.

259PARENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT

time. These adoptive families, now with school-age children, dem-
onstrated positive family functioning overall. Based on mean com-
parisons, no child, parent, couple, or family outcome variable was
distinguishable by parental sexual orientation. Rather, among both
same-sex and other-sex parent families, earlier parenting stress and
child behavior problems similarly predicted later child problems
behaviors, consistent with broader developmental research
(Deater-Deckard, 1998) and predictions from family stress theory
(McKenry & Price, 2000). Beyond family structure, the findings
underscore the importance of family processes to child outcomes
over time. The results contribute to literature supporting the
healthy and positive development of children with LG parents, as
well as adopted children, particularly across early to middle child-
hood. The findings are supported by earlier studies of children
born to LG parents (Biblarz & Stacey, 2010; Moore & Stambolis-
Ruhstorfer, 2013), and extend earlier work by longitudinally fol-
lowing children adopted in infancy by LG parents. The results are
also pioneering in indicating that, across children’s development
from preschool to school-age, adoptive parents demonstrate gen-
erally low (but somewhat increased) parenting stress and generally
high (and somewhat improved) couple adjustment. Overall, and
regardless of family structure, these adoptive families appear to be
functioning in healthy ways, with children who show positive
behavioral adjustment.

School-age children in this sample showed few behavior prob-
lems, per reports by their parents and teachers. Similar to when
children were in preschool, children’s adjustment in middle child-
hood did not differ by parental sexual orientation (Farr et al.,
2010a). This finding was aligned with previous literature about
children with sexual minority parents (Goldberg, 2010; Moore &
Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, 2013), including other studies involving
teacher reports (Golombok et al., 2014, 2003). It was the case,
however, that children had significantly more behavior problems
in middle childhood relative to their preschool years. This finding
was somewhat in contrast to developmental literature demonstrat-
ing the stability of behavior problems from early to middle child-
hood (Campbell et al., 1996; Prinzie et al., 2005). The result is
consistent, however, with several adoption studies revealing in-
creases in child behavior problems across the years postadoption
and from preschool to school-age (Gunnar & van Dulmen, 2007;
Tan & Marfo, 2016). The finding also may support predictions
from pileup models of family stress (Patterson, 1988), and the
increasing role of external contexts (e.g., school, peer relation-
ships) influencing children’s adjustment (Boss, 2002). Regardless,
results reflecting changes in adopted children’s behavior problems
over time did not vary by family type. Effect sizes were larger for
the changes over time across the whole sample than were those
comparing same- and other-sex parent families.

Similarly, parents reported relatively low levels of parenting
stress when their children were school-age, with no significant
differences by parental sexual orientation. This finding is consis-
tent with earlier research with this sample when children were
preschool-age (Farr et al., 2010a) and among similar samples
(Goldberg & Smith, 2014). As with child behavior problems over
time, parents reported higher mean stress levels when their chil-
dren were school-age versus preschool-age. This result did not
distinguish parents in same-sex and other-sex couples, disconfirm-
ing hypotheses that sexual minority parents might experience
different levels of parenting stress than heterosexual parents, as has

been found in some studies comparing same-sex and heterosexual
parents (e.g., Bos et al., 2016; Golombok et al., 2014). The finding
may reflect the increasingly complex demands of specifically
parenting adopted children across development, which is sup-
ported by family process theories regarding the negative impact of
stressors piling up over time (Patterson, 1988). Indeed, similar
findings of increased parenting stress as children grow older have
been found in other adoption studies (Tan et al., 2012; Tornello et
al., 2011).

Amid somewhat greater parenting stress when their adopted
children were in middle childhood, parents also described rela-
tively happy and satisfying couple relationships at this time, re-
gardless of sexual orientation. This result is aligned with earlier
findings among this sample (Farr et al., 2010a, 2010b; Farr &
Patterson, 2013), as well as with previous research supporting
comparable adjustment among LG and heterosexual couples
(Goldberg, 2010; Moore & Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, 2013). Parents
reported significantly greater couple adjustment when their chil-
dren were school-age relative to preschool-age, representing a
large effect. No evidence for moderation by family type was found
for these changes over time in couple adjustment, indicating that
these processes are similar, rather than different, for same-sex and
other-sex couples. Despite higher levels of parenting stress and
greater numbers of child behavior problems reported when chil-
dren were school-age, based on mean-level comparisons at both
time points, this result of improved couple adjustment may reflect
similar findings in the family systems literature suggesting the
gradual rebound of couple satisfaction after a decrease during the
transition to parenthood (Cowan & Cowan, 1988; Keizer &
Schenk, 2012).

Although family structure was not found to be associated with
child, parent, couple, or family adjustment using hierarchical mod-
els and multigroup analysis, there were significant associations
among child adjustment, parenting stress, couple adjustment, and
family functioning both within and across time points. During
middle childhood, these associations held for reports within and
outside the family. For instance, both parent- and teacher-reported
child adjustment scores were significantly associated with parent-
ing stress when children were school-age. These results not only
represent a continuation from earlier results with this same sample
(Farr et al., 2010a) about the importance of family processes over
structure to child outcomes, but also add to the literature on this
topic among other types of family systems, such as adoptive and
sexual minority parent families (e.g., Lamb, 2012; Linville et al.,
2010; Tan et al., 2012).

Moreover, family type was not found to moderate pathways
regarding changes in child, parent, and couple outcomes over time,
nor pathways predicting child behavior problems and family func-
tioning when children were school-age. Thus, the notion that
same-sex parent families might experience differences in adjust-
ment from other-sex parent families as a result of the influence of
external contexts such as societal stigma (Boss, 2002), was not
supported. While stigma is likely to differentially affect the life
experiences of members of same-sex versus other-sex parent fam-
ilies in a variety of ways, the current findings do not suggest
resulting differences in the adjustment of children, parents, cou-
ples, and families.

Greater child adjustment among school-age children was pre-
dicted, not surprisingly, by fewer behavior problems earlier in

260 FARR

time. In addition, even when considering earlier child behavior
problems, higher parenting stress when children were preschool-
age was predictive of greater behavior problems in middle child-
hood. Couple adjustment when children were in preschool was not
found to significantly predict children’s behavior problems 5 years
later. This result, however, may reflect the fact that earlier couple
adjustment was simultaneously considered with earlier child ad-
justment and parenting stress. Perhaps these latter two variables
emerged as stronger predictors of later child adjustment. Another
possibility is that more specific aspects of couple adjustment that
were not assessed, such as conflict, would be predictive of child
adjustment. Nonetheless, the finding that earlier parenting experi-
ences are predictive of later child outcomes fits well with family
process theories about spillover effects between different subsys-
tems of the family (Engfer, 1988; Erel & Burman, 1995). Further-
more, this result about longitudinal associations among parenting
stress and child behavior problems across early and middle child-
hood is well-documented elsewhere (e.g., Stone et al., 2016),
including among other adoptive family samples (Tan, Gelley, &
Dedrick, 2015).

Lastly, family functioning, assessed when children were school-
age, was predicted by earlier child behavior problems and parent-
ing stress. HLM analyses revealed that higher parenting stress and
more behavior problems when children were preschool-age signif-
icantly predicted lower family functioning 5 years later among the
whole sample. Thus, the same predictors of later child adjustment
were also relevant to later family functioning. In addition, earlier
couple adjustment was marginally significant in predicting later
family functioning. This finding is consistent with study hypoth-
eses guided by family stress theory, particularly that parenting
stress and child behavior problems would be expected to deflate
family functioning over time as a result of diminished family based
resources to cope (McKenry & Price, 2000). This result is sup-
ported by research demonstrating associations among parenting
stress, child behavior problems, and family functioning among
adoptive families with LG and heterosexual parents (Averett et al.,
2009; Erich et al., 2005). As family functioning has rarely been
examined among families with sexual minority or adoptive par-
ents, and typically via cross-sectional designs, these findings offer
particular contributions to the literature on diverse family systems
about changes over time in family processes affecting child ad-
justment and family outcomes.

Strengths, Limitations, and Directions for
Future Research

This study extends earlier research with its longitudinal design,
including data from two time points in children’s development
(i.e., preschool-age, middle childhood), and a strong retention rate
(91%) of participating families from W1 to W2. Including data
from parents and informants outside the family (i.e., children’s
teachers) is also a strength; few studies addressing children’s
outcomes in sexual minority parent families have included data
from teachers (for exceptions, see Golombok et al., 2014, 2003).

This study, however, is limited by its relatively homogeneous
sample that represents only one pathway to adoptive parenthood
(i.e., private domestic infant adoption). While the sample reflects
the demographic characteristics of this population, future research
examining longitudinal questions of child adjustment, parenting,

and family relationships should include more diverse adoptive
family samples, as other pathways to adoption (i.e., adoptions from
the public child welfare system) involve greater variability in
parent race and socioeconomic status (Vandivere et al., 2009). In
addition, future research could involve more in-depth investiga-
tions about mechanisms explaining longitudinal associations
among child adjustment, parenting stress, and other family rela-
tionship dynamics using observational or other mixed methods
data. Although informants outside the family were included (i.e.,
teachers), and teacher- and parent-reported data were found to
share significant associations, the results represent self-report
questionnaires that could be biased toward overly positive portray-
als of family outcomes. Lastly, while children’s adjustment was
considered as a dependent variable of interest, it should be ac-
knowledged that parenting stress as a dependent variable could
also be affected longitudinally by children’s behavior problems,
consistent with transactional models of parent–child influences
(Stone et al., 2016).

Other family process variables could be examined as possible
contributors to adjustment, particularly as related to adoptive fam-
ily life, such as family communication about adoption, racial and
cultural socialization, and birth family contact. For example, par-
ents’ lack of adoption preparation has been found to be associated
with greater child internalizing and externalizing problems among
families headed by LG and heterosexual couples (Goldberg &
Smith, 2013). Adoption-specific factors, such as preadoption ad-
versity and adoption satisfaction, have also been found to have
bearing on child and parent adjustment (e.g., Lavner et al., 2014;
Tan & Marfo, 2016).

Future research could benefit not only from longitudinal studies
of child adjustment within sexual minority parent families, but also
from including children’s voices. Studies directly assessing the
viewpoint of older children with LG parents reinforce the impor-
tant role of family processes over family structure. In her recent
qualitative study of 20 adult children with nonheterosexual par-
ents, Sasnett (2015) found that family relationship qualities were
described as more influential to development than parents’ sexual
orientation. Similarly, Titlestad and Pooley (2014) revealed that
adult children with LG and bisexual parents emphasized unique
advantages of their family structure and the importance of stable
and loving family relationships. While these are retrospective
self-reports, the data are important in directly representing chil-
dren’s perspectives, rather than being assessed by parents or other
informants.

Implications for Policy and Practice

No significant differences were found among child, parent,
couple, or family adjustment as a function of parental sexual
orientation when children were school-age, and effect sizes com-
paring family groups were smaller than those comparing change
over time for the entire sample. The effect sizes found are com-
parable to other meta-analytic studies of same-sex parent families
(e.g., Fedewa et al., 2015), and thus, it is unlikely that research
with larger samples would reveal differently sized effects. These
findings about children’s favorable adjustment over time, after
having been adopted by LG or heterosexual parents, have impor-
tant implications for adoption laws, policies, and practices. Adop-
tion by same-sex couples has become increasingly possible in the

261PARENT SEXUAL ORIENTATION AND CHILD ADJUSTMENT

United States with expanded same-sex marriage rights in June
2015 and federal legislation supporting the recognition of same-
sex parent adoption across all states in March, 2016 (American
Psychological Association, 2015; Reilly, 2016). Some states, how-
ever, still have other practical or legal obstacles. Thus, these results
are informative to legal and policy proceedings, such as the Su-
preme Court marriage equality decision in June 2015 (APA, 2015).

Those who work with prospective and current adoptive families,
such as child welfare professionals, clinicians, educators, and
medical doctors, may benefit from these additional indications that
children fare well when adopted by sexual minority parents. As
attention is turning more toward environmental contexts of devel-
opment for children with sexual minority parents, rather than
strictly focusing on comparisons of overall adjustment to children
with heterosexual parents, it is important for professionals to be
aware that differences in family structure should not be equated
with detrimental outcomes. Even so, it is also the case that children
with sexual minority parents may encounter experiences of stigma
and discrimination (Bos & Gartrell, 2010; Crouch, Waters, Mc-
Nair, & Power, 2015; Welsh, 2011). Among children represented
in this sample, microaggressions were commonly reported as ini-
tiated by their peers on the basis of having same-sex parents (Farr
et al., 2016).

Recent research regarding sexual minority populations, includ-
ing parents and their children, has highlighted the roles of stigma,
discrimination, and sexual minority stress on psychological adjust-
ment and overall health (e.g., Hatzenbuehler, 2014; van Gelderen
et al., 2009; Meyer, 2003). Sexual minority adults may face
challenges with discrimination and stigma not only as individuals,
but also as couples and families (Goldberg, 2006; Sabin, Riskind,
& Nosek, 2015). Regarding children’s experiences, experiences of
stigma have been linked with lower physical and mental health
outcomes for children with same-sex parents, as well as lower
family cohesion (Crouch et al., 2015; Crouch, Waters, McNair,
Power, & Davis, 2014). In their study of 17-year-old children
conceived through donor insemination in the United States, Bos
and Gartrell (2010) found that negative effects of stigma related to
having lesbian mothers were buffered by higher family compati-
bility. Lastly, a favorable social climate for sexual minority indi-
viduals also appears to be positively associated with well-being
among the heterosexual adult children of LG parents (Lick, Tor-
nello, Riskind, Schmidt, & Patterson, 2012). Thus, even while the
current study results indicate comparable psychological adjust-
ment among adopted children with same- and other-sex parents,
future research should address the influence of stigma and dis-
crimination on children’s experiences.

Conclusion

Consistent with and extending earlier research (e.g., Bos et al.,
2016; Farr et al., 2010a; Goldberg & Smith, 2013; Golombok et
al., 2014), this study provides further support that children adopted
by LG parents are well-adjusted, not only in early childhood, but
across time into middle childhood. Parents appear to be capable in
their parenting roles and satisfied in their couple relationships over
time, with no differences by family type. Moreover, regardless of
parental sexual orientation, children had fewer behavior problems
over time when their adoptive parents indicated experiencing less
parenting stress. Higher family functioning when children were

school-age was predicted by lower parenting stress and fewer child
behavior problems when children were preschool-age. Thus, in
these adoptive families diverse in parental sexual orientation, as
has been found in many other family types (e.g., Lamb, 2012),
family processes emerged as more important than family structure
to longitudinal child outcomes and family functioning.

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Received March 6, 2016
Revision received August 26, 2016

Accepted August 30, 2016 �

264 FARR

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