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The transition to parenthood for lesbian couples: The creation and construction of roles and identities

Abbie Elizabeth Goldberg, University of Massachusetts Amherst


While a literature on the mental health of lesbian mothers is beginning to emerge, no study to date has prospectively examined lesbian women's mental health in the context of transitioning to parenthood for the first time. This dissertation explores the transition to parenthood in a sample of lesbian couples who are becoming mothers for the first time, with a special focus on how the division of labor and women's roles change over time. Thirty-four couples (29 inseminating, 5 adopting) were interviewed, at two time points (before the birth of their child, and three months postnatally). I conducted in-depth interviews with both partners, and all participants filled out a series of questionnaires at both time points. The division of paid and unpaid labor, women's feelings about their own and their partner's work-family roles, and women's ideas and feelings about motherhood, were assessed. Biological motherhood was explored as a potential shaping variable with regard to parental roles. Results revealed that the division of housework changed little across the transition to parenthood, although some couples reported that the nonbiological mother tended to perform a larger share of household tasks postnatally. Biological mothers performed a greater proportion of child care tasks postnatally. Both biological mothers and nonbiological mothers tended to reduce their hours in paid employment as a means of handling the demands of child care and avoiding total specialization of roles (e.g., one woman staying home, one woman working full-time). Postnatally, the majority of women felt that being a parent was their most important role in the family, and for most women, being a mother became a salient aspect of their identity—at least as salient as their identity as a lesbian. The majority of women felt that biological motherhood had not defined their parental roles, and these women reported a number of strategies they had employed (e.g., spending equal amounts of time in child care, establishing special routines with their child) in an effort to resist the primacy of biological motherhood. More research on the transition to parenthood among lesbian couples is needed, with particular focus on the needs and issues that arise for the nonbiological mother.

Subject Area

Social psychology|Sociology|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Goldberg, Abbie Elizabeth, "The transition to parenthood for lesbian couples: The creation and construction of roles and identities" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179875.