Background: An increasing number of lesbian women and single heterosexual women are bringing up children with no male involvement. This study follows up to adolescence a sample of children raised in fatherless families from birth or early infancy.
Methods: Twenty-five lesbian mother families and 38 families headed by a single heterosexual mother were compared with 38 two-parent heterosexual families. The quality of parenting by the mother, and the social and emotional development of the child, were assessed using standardised interview and questionnaire measures administered to mothers, children and teachers.
Results: Children in fatherless families experienced more interaction with their mother, and perceived her as more available and dependable than their peers from father-present homes. However, there were no group differences in maternal warmth towards the children. Mothers raising their child without a father reported more severe disputes with their child than did mothers in father-present families. The children's social and emotional development was not negatively affected by the absence of a father, although boys in father-absent families showed more feminine but no less masculine characteristics of gender role behaviour. No major differences in parenting or child development were identified between families headed by lesbian and single heterosexual mothers.
Conclusions: The presence or absence of a father in the home from the outset does appear to have some influence on adolescents‘ relationships with their mothers. However, being without a resident father from infancy does not seem to have negative consequences for children. In addition, there is no evidence that the sexual orientation of the mother influences parent–child interaction or the socioemotional development of the child.