One of the biggest challenges in a polyamorous person’s life is how to balance good parenting with multiple relationships. As you often hear, “Love is limitless; time is not.” But more than that, how do you handle the concept of being polyamorous in a monogamous world, and how does that mesh or clash with being a parent?
I got the idea for this column from my son. FWB was coming over to visit and we were going to go out to eat. My son, who is in his late teens and is experimenting with manly condescension, patted me on the head and said, “You have a fun date and be good.” I kicked at his shins and told him if was a condescending little heathen again, I was going to knock him winding. I swear, I don’t know where the boy gets that behavior…
But the point is that yeah, I’m poly, and yes, my kids know. In our case, that some people are poly is simply an accepted fact of life, and it’s just not a big deal. However, sometimes you do have to discuss matters with the kids.
What do you tell the children?
You’ve heard the term “age appropriate,” yes? Certainly it applies here. It’s unnecessary and foolish to batter our children’s ears with too much information, but on the other hand, some context is useful in relationships.
For a very small child, there’s always the analogy of the parental relationship, presuming it is still intact, of course. “Mommy and Daddy love each other very much, and Mommy also loves Mr. Adam, and we’re all happy together.”
You’ll find you don’t have to ramp this up too much with older children. While vocabulary might be a bit more sophisticated, basic semantic content is going to remain the same.
Answer questions if your children have them. The older they are, the more likely they are to have them. They might be concerned about what it will mean to their own lives, and rightfully so! Think about this and answer carefully. Be especially careful to follow through on any promises you make. I hope you’ll be able to reassure them that they’ll get the same love, care and attention as ever.
The Monogamous World and the Polyamorous Household? Communication is still the key
Depending on where you live, this might be a big deal or a small deal. A very conservative area might have some problems with polyamory and might use your children as a control technique. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s the simple truth. You want to know how you’re going to handle it before you come out to your child.
While not into secrets, necessarily, I am strongly in favor of considering need to know fairly carefully. What you don’t want to do is indoctrinate your kid that your household and what goes on in is secret. Laying that kind of burden on a kid is not only mean, it makes them vulnerable to people who might want them keeping less benevolent secrets than who their parents are dating. That’s not to say that kids can’t volunteer the damnedest information at the most embarrassing times, but I consider the “secrets” bit dangerous to future boundaries, which is why I come down on it.
What can this look like with your child?
I’d love to be able to tell you that all children are always cool with their parents going poly. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. There are instances when a kid is just against the idea because it freaks out his world view. It’s sad. It happens. People really sometimes don’t accept things, and ya know what? Kids are people with all that entails.
But before you blow that off, I’d caution you to examine yourself. Yes, of course being a parent doesn’t mean that you don’t have a right to have a life, but be honest. Is polyamory causing a lot of processing? Is this processing interfering with your parenting? Yeah, I know. I go on about it. I go on about it because I really did, no kidding, spend some time letting relationship processing distract from time I needed to spend on parenting. I hope I caught it soon enough, but I suppose only time will tell there.
So, don’t fool yourself about that. It’s not that poly and kids can’t mix. It most certainly can, and can be a good thing, but only when you’re ruthless in your self-honesty.
19 thoughts on “Can Having Children and Polyamory Mix?”
We’re poly, and we have kids. 🙂
About ten years ago, our little triad got together. I’m A (for Allyson of course), and B is our other lady, and C is our guy. We were happy. I met T and L at church, and a new relationship was formed. A few years later we all moved from Maryland to New Hampshire to start a little intentional community. Three years into it, we knew it wasn’t going to work. Unfortunately, L decided to make the world hell for everyone, and the break-up was messy.
In the middle of all this, our children were present. They were born during the early years of my relationship with T and L. They’ve *always* known T and L. But the break-up was bad enough that T and L can no longer be a part of our lives (bad emotions aside, threats simply are NOT acceptable at any time).
Our kids have grown up knowing poly as one “normal” among many. Lots of their friends have two mommies or daddies, although none of them all live together. 🙂 They just accept. While not secret, we ask them not to talk about daddy hopping beds, because it isn’t anyone’s business, just as it isn’t anyone’s business what they do in their bedrooms. At six years, this is okay with them, and they understand “privacy” well enough. They’ve mentioned it in passing to teachers and friends… and we’ve dealt.
It helps that we’re incredibly open. We live our lives, and do things just as any “couple” would do. We don’t shout from the rooftops that we’re poly, nor do we hide and cower. I might hold C’s hand when out shopping. B usually does as she’s more of a PDA person. While she and I don’t have “that kind” of relationship, we’re very close, and refer to ourselves as sisters, and people are used to seeing us being very close to one another. If people ask the direct question, they get the truth. If they don’t, we answer gently and without disclosing things they don’t need to know. Our kids basically do the same thing, having learned through watching us!
I’m a child of poly parents. 🙂
With that being said, my parents chose not to tell me anything until I was around 13 years old. At that point their significant others were coming over to the house often, to meet each other’s spouse and children.
My mother decided to sit me down and explain a few things. One, that these individuals (who I had known since I was 7) were going to be coming over. She then informed me that I should not be alarmed if I saw cuddling and kissing between Alison* (names changed) and Dad, or between Max* and herself. She told me that they were all very close. I stared in the usual fashion when I’m presented with new information.
She then went on to tell me something that’s stayed with me for ages. That I should be careful about who I tell about this situation, that some people won’t understand and get angry about it. Being a silly teen, I just arched a brow and questioned “Why?” My mother just said she didn’t know, some people just don’t like the idea.
And that was that in our household. I gradually began to meet their other significant others and they became good friends and family over the years. I do know other poly-children who knew from the get go of their parents seeing other people and were raised with it, and I know people who are in college and still have no idea!
The crazy part is that there’s no set pattern of who is going to freak out and who won’t. This is really about individuals and when the best time to tell, or not tell, them is.
I’ve been poly since my daughter was 7, and I don’t remember ever having an incredibly specific “coming-out” talk with her — she was used to me having lots of close friends who would visit and hug and snuggle up on the couch (I’m a cuddly person), and when some of those friendships became intimate, we just continued the same level of child-appropriate PDA in front of her.
We always had a lot of philosophical talks about various subjects we’d see in the news, or in a book, or on a tabloid headline while standing in line in the supermarket (“Mommy, what’s ABORTION?” was an early question, and I said “I’ll tell you in the car!”)
Basically, I’d answer any questions she had, but I’d also just bring up discussion topics that covered non-traditional relationships as a natural part of conversation (“Oh, X is having her girlfriend Y visit for the weekend, I’m so happy they’re getting some time together!”), and as my various friends came over to visit, she was exposed to healthy, happy gay/bi/poly/etc. people. I’d also talk to her about some of my online friends and give updates on their lives, so she was really exposed to a pretty wide variety of relationship possibilities and configurations from a fairly early age.
We *did* have a sit-down talk when Kyle [for anyone reading who doesn’t know me, my partner of 12 years, now separated but still co-parenting] was going to move from Wisconsin to Maryland and move in with us — I wanted to be sure that she was okay with it, and if she hadn’t been, it wouldn’t have happened.
I think that part of why this was a success for us was that there wasn’t a lot of drama or partner-hopping or rotating parental figures for Kira — most of my relationships are pretty stable and long-term, and the ones which have ended generally haven’t been messy, and most of the people who I’ve been in relationships with are still close family friends, if I’m not still dating them.
It’s not easy, though — it does take a lot of self-discipline and determination not to let your relationships and associated processing or NRE or wanting to spend time with your partners take away from parenting your child. My daughter is in college now, and she says that she thinks I’ve done a pretty damn good job of being a parent to her (she has my mother to look at for contrast, heh), but I also know there were certainly times when I fell down at the job — but I did always strive to keep her interests first and foremost at all times, even if it meant not getting into a relationship with someone, or modulating my behavior around her so that she didn’t feel awkward because the grown-ups were making out.
She’s good friends with all of my current partners (of 8 years, 5 years, and 3 years, respectively), and my former husband moved to her college town so that he could help her out during the school year (she has some pretty major health issues that caused problems for her last year), and her father (who I’ve been divorced from for most of her life) is now our occasional roommate (he’s a long-haul driver, so he’s very rarely home, but he contributes to the rent and is happy to get to stay with family on the rare occasions that he isn’t working out-of-state), so I think we’re doing pretty well as a family at this point 🙂
As Ashbet’s Daughter (see above), I’ve had a fair amount of experience growing up as a child in a poly household. For me, the important thing I wanted to know growing up was that, whatever relationship configuration my parents and family were in, everyone was okay and happy with it.
I honestly don’t know when exactly I twigged to the fact that a few of my mother’s cuddly friends were also her partners, but after figuring out that everyone was okay and happy with it (I swear, that should be a mantra), it wasn’t something that concerned me.
One thing that certainly helped was that when my mother gained partners, they were generally (with a few notable exceptions) included/designated as friends of the immediate family — but not parents. It meant that I never had a rotating parent-go-round, and that I could have friendly and awesome relationships with her partners without having to consider them as a new authority figure or parenting figure. It also meant that I could have an awesome relationship with my stepdad as a paternal figure — because he was co-parenting. As a child, that made it really easy to categorize where people went and, (always important to a kid growing up), who I had to listen to as a parent, and who I had to listen to as a respected adult.
I was always aware that my mother being poly wasn’t something to talk about particularly openly – but I also knew from a fairly young age that that didn’t make it bad. Just not necessarily socially acceptable to mention to, say, my teachers or my grandparents. I don’t know if this would be a harder concept for other kids, but at least for me, it was a fairly easy one to reconcile with my view of the world.
Other notes, because this isn’t as coherent as I normally like to be, but I do think they’re important:
Being raised with a foundation of tolerance and receptivity for anyone whose lifestyle didn’t conform to cultural norms – but was healthy and overall happy – meant that when I had friends dealing with crises of sexuality or gender or the desire to be poly, I was able to be supportive and accommodating. (Which, I’ve found, is a very good thing).
Otherwise, my advice for anyone trying to balance poly and parenting – from someone who grew up in a poly family, but prefers monogamy personally – is to definitely keep age-appropriate information in mind, answer questions honestly (but, again, keeping appropriate information in mind), and make sure that your kids know that even if drama happens, you are always going to be a parent to them. (The latter point is one I feel is important for any parent, not just poly parents. I’ve seen far too many kids who had to deal with their parents making a habit ignoring them in favor of relationship-drama).
Hey Spawn of Ashbet! Thanks so much for taking the time to write this. It’s really important to have your point of view out there, I think.
Thank you so much! My children are very young and I am just beginning my “poly life”. I have read a lot of info about raising children poly and appreciate your response especially, it was exactly what I was looking for in my ongoing search for the best way to raise my children in a poly relationship. Thanks again!
I found a few items from here to particularly resonate with me.
“What you don’t want to do is indoctrinate your kid that your household and what goes on in is secret. Laying that kind of burden on a kid is not only mean, it makes them vulnerable to people who might want them keeping less benevolent secrets than who their parents are dating.”
I really like this. After all, as children progress, their senses of whom to trust change. If this secret is okay because it’s just within the family, then this secret should be okay because it’s just with best friends, and this secret should be okay because it’s just with…
“I go on about it because I really did, no kidding, spend some time letting relationship processing distract from time I needed to spend on parenting.”
I learned, years after the fact, that some of my mother’s preoccupation and not being available for the family during my childhood was because she was with lovers other than my father. I found it amusing when I personally knew two different lovers and one was complaining to me about how neglected he felt when she ignored him in favor of the newer partner. I reminded him that she had ignored me, her child, in favor of him plenty of times.
Loving More Magazine did an issue on poly parenting, issue #37, maybe 10 years ago. There were several articles. I wrote one called, “Poly Parents: Talk Straight to Your Kids”, on page 4. The take home was always tell them the truth. Too much information isn’t a problem, since they only take in what they can grasp.
I’ve been poly since before my children were born, so they’ve grown up around it. When they started public school, I taught them that there is “family business” and everything else they can talk about. Family business should only be discussed with family, as defined by us, the parents. I’ve told them that they can come to any of us with questions, and they do, but they took the separation of family and the rest of the world seriously. I’ve made sure to stress that the fact that Mom and their Dads date other people is not a secret, it’s just not something that should be mentioned out in the Big Blue Room.
I’m kinda waiting for ppolee to run in and make what I think of as the classic comment on any article/post on polyamory: Well, I’m sure it’s fine for YOU, but I would never want to do that. (If the article’s on the Huffington Post or any other high traffic site, you can throw in the open relationships don’t work/OMG STI’s eew! reaction for the Perfect Stereotypical Comment Thread on Polyamory. One of my friends, the one I often look to for advice about nonmonogamy says, People just don’t understand how that sounds from the other side. I mean, what if it was common for ppolee to go up to Christians and say, Well, I’m sure it’s fine for YOU to be a follower of Jesus Christ, but I just could NOT do it.
Diego says: He is waiting for the negative post on polyamory well here it is. This is a look at polyamory through the eyes of my stepdaughters. Now, I have to preface this with the statement that thier mother is in a realtionship in which she and one of her partners are Sumissive to another partner, a Dom. They practice sadomasochism, blood play, and scarification as well. There have been two instances in the past seven years during which their mother’s lifestyle choices have not impacted them negatively… they were both poly and both with Dom’s that made our children’s protection from the lifestyle thier first priority. A great deal of these problems MAY be caused by the household priorities set by the Dom. Having said that I will now say this. To my step-daughter’s polyamory means:
1) No more than 9 months goes by without them being introduced to someone new who now has a say in channging the rules that apply to the girls.
2) No more than a year goes by without the girls losing an adult that they have been told loves and cherishes them.
3) Each time a new partner is added the amount of money spent on the children is reduced. They are currently allowed only one cup of milk per day at their mother’s, because the newest partner is not working and desires a completely organic diet. There is now not enough food money to meet thier RDA of dairy. They are also allowed only 10 minute showers now with one pump of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash per day, because of the addition of new partners.
4) If they wish to cuddle with thier mother in the mornings, they must do so in the same bed with whichever combination of partners has shared the bed with her the previous night. It would be rude of her to leave that bed to be with her children.
5) Each new partner recieves a pet that the children are told belongs to the children. However, the children cannot choose the pet, name the pet, the pets sleep with or in the room of the new partner, and when the partner leaves the pet goes too.
6) The children are regaled with the woes of not being the “favorite” in a poly family.
This isn’t healthy, it isn’t fair, it isn’t kind, and it is all the result of a parent putting her sexual “needs” in front of her children’s needs. I know all poly family’s aren’t like this. Is the ratio of truely disfunctional poly families with a revolving door for the partners of the parents and the partners of partners higher, lower, or about the same as dysfunctional mono familes? Do more personalities mean more dysfunction?
Those children’s mother is a narcissistic fuckup. She would be that way, poly or not. It isn’t about her being poly, it’s about her being a terrible mother.
I am so very sorry her children are going through that, and as a poly activist, kinda pissed off that she’s using poly as the vehicle for the crazy. (But as a mother, LESS pissed off about that than I am about her being a rotten parent in the first place).
I rant about the fact that poly does not let you off the hook from being a good parent. http://www.polyamorousmisanthrope.com/2010/01/25/poly-parenting-101/
Oh, those poor girls 🙁
Their mother is, quite frankly, being a terrible parent, verging on (and possibly over the line into) abuse and neglect. The issues with food, in particular, might merit court/CPS intervention, to get them out of that situation (or to get their mother parenting classes and enough supervision to make sure that the girls are being properly taken care of.) Is there anyone, yourself included, who could offer them a more stable home?
Here’s the thing — she’s a terrible parent, but it has nothing to do with her being kinky or poly. If she wasn’t, she’d be a Boyfriend/Girlfriend-of-the-week type, engaging in serial monogamy and telling the girls that each new partner was going to be their new Daddy/Uncle/whatever.
She’s terrible because she is being SO selfish that she’s behaving inappropriately with the children and, most importantly, not putting their interests above their own or ensuring their safety.
I don’t generally urge the removal of kids from a parent’s home (I’m a poly, kinky parent — but that’s my now-20-year-old daughter writing about her experiences above, because I *did* put her interests first, including not having a revolving-door series of partners who were temporarily “part of the family” — if I was dating someone casually, I didn’t bring them home, and I’ve taken care to stay on good terms with my exes, so that no one who ever *was* a serious part of her life has dropped out of contact.)
But with the situation as you’ve laid it out — no, that is not acceptable. I fear for her kids :/
Well does anyone know of a bisexual poly family all living together? As it might be in my family’s future. I have always wanted a large family with lots of parents around for my children and love the idea of so much love in one big family. I have been doing much research on poly families bad and good. Both sides against and for. Just want to know if anyone has or is in this kind of poly family or knows someone that has?
Yes, there are poly families living together! Don’t fall in love with the idea of a poly family, though. Fall in love with individual people!
Although, since you said “my family,” are you saying that you’re already in a poly relationship and you’re thinking about moving in together?
My partners and I don’t live together (we’re in different countries), but I normally spend about 2 months a year living with them and helping raise their (very young) daughter (who we joke is 1/3 mine!), and my (much older) daughter loves and cares for my partners as valued adults in her life, although they’re not parental figures to her the way I am to my partners’ daughter, since they came into her life much later.
Hope that helps a little?
The Polyfamilies e-mail list and the Polyamory LiveJournal community are a way to connect with other poly families of various configurations, if you’d like to talk to them about their experiences.
But, yeah — if you don’t already *have* partners who you’re considering moving in with, it’s definitely really important to fall in love with individuals and base your relationship style on what works best *with them*, rather than with the idea of having a big tribal polyfamily where everyone loves each other and raises children together.
I have just learned my married friends have been in a relationship with another women. They have 2 children and I do worry how this will affect them. The other woman is living with them and parents the children as her own. I am just confused and can’t see how this could last. They have been married for 19 years.
Well, that’s one way to start.
Honestly? Yes, people can be poly and it can work out while having kids. Mostly it’s a matter of not letting the hormone run away with you and pay attention to bloody well being a parent.