Polyamory might not be the norm for some families, but for parents in a polyamorous relationship, being non-monogamous while parenting still works just as well.
When my husband, John, and I first started down the road of non-monogamy, our oldest was 6 and our youngest was 3. We were Swingers then and were definitely not in a place where we could tell our children about our poly relationship and lifestyle. In fact, I am pretty sure that if we were still Swingers, we would not have ever told our kids.
What goes on behind closed doors is none of their business as long as their emotional and physical needs are taken care of.
As we ventured more into emotional relationships, we realized that it was getting harder to keep our oldest two children in the dark. We weighed our options and did our research.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff has done a great deal of work around children and polyamory. In fact, despite being monogamous, she has centered her work around children in polyamorous families. We also searched that great, big inter-web of knowledge for more parenting tips and information about children growing up in polyamorous families.
To put it briefly, the research has shown that children who grow up in polyamorous families do not struggle any more than children with monogamous parents.
Some of these children grow up to be monogamous and some of them (gasp!) do grow up to be polyamorous.
The real struggles for children in poly families seem to be more from the outside than the inside. There are the “concerned” citizens and relatives who seem to think that these parents are having a parade of lovers traipsing through their homes and having orgies in the living room in front of the children.
Unfortunately, instead of having a conversation with these parents, they go straight to the Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS).
I have heard numerous horror stories about the State taking children out of their homes and placing them in the care of these “concerned” relatives and the parents than having to go through rigorous investigations to make sure the parents are not having orgies in the living room. Some of these “concerned” relatives are ex-spouses/partners and their families.
When my ex found out that my boyfriend, Tyler has spent the night with our children here, he sent me an email saying that out of “concern for the safety and well-being of our children”, he does not want Tyler spending the night when the children were there.
Fair enough….sort of.
Let’s pretend that I wasn’t married to the man for seven years so he knows my character-especially when it comes to my children. Let’s keep in mind that he still does not believe that John is the first man I dated whom our daughters actually met after our divorce.
Let’s pretend that my ex did not have a different girlfriend taking care of our daughters every time they went to his house for over a year until he married an alcoholic psycho. Let’s pretend that he does not have an older son who is the product of the mother’s open marriage.
Let’s pretend I had not been dating Tyler for over two years before he met the girls and over two and a half before he actually spent the night with them here.
Let us forget that he has two children by his current wife and has made comments to the girls about them living with him (most likely to get out of paying child support because that has been an issue way before he knew of our status).
Of course, being a concerned father, he wouldn’t want some strange man (he had actually met once or twice) sleeping under the same roof as his daughters.
John made short work of that request when he reminded my ex of certain behaviors. This appears to be no longer an issue (knock on wood). My ex used to intimidate me. Immensely.
There is part of me that is still somewhat intimidated by him when it comes to the custody of my children. Likely, that is a battle my ex does not want to fight for numerous reasons. However, I am always leery of his words, actions, and motives.
Another source of problems for children of polyamorous parents is that while their friends may be completely cool with the idea of polyamorous parents, the parents of said friends may not be.
There are plenty of stories about these parents no longer letting their children go over to the polyamorous households simply because they are polyamorous. It is as if that one detail suddenly makes that house unsafe for their children when before the parents knew, they let their kids visit all the time.
In the end, children from both families suffer because of ignorance.
I was recently privileged with a friend’s story of her situation which puts yet another spin on children and polyamory.
My friend, Amy, became involved with and later married Stan. Stan has two children by his former wife. When he and Amy married, his children were aged 13 and 16. The children had been brought up in a very strict Christian household by their late mother (she died 6 months after Stan and Amy met).
This was a Church on Wednesday and Sunday along with children’s choir and Bible study household. Due to the Christian beliefs that were ingrained in the children by their mother, Stan and Amy made the conscious decision not to inform the children of their polyamorous lifestyle.
They feel that it would not only cause the children to lose faith in their father and create unnecessary conflict but also what they do behind closed doors is for the knowledge of the adults only.
With that said, if asked directly by the children, there will be a conversation about their lifestyle. Until then, what is behind closed doors will stay behind closed doors.
What I will say from here on out is based on my experience.
“It takes a village…”, as the saying goes. It’s common parenting advice but it applies a little differently in polyamorous families.
Now, in my particular dynamic, our other partners have very little to do with any discipline with our children. They have no more disciplining authority than our other friends or family. We have always told our surrounding beloveds that we want them to call our children out on any inappropriate behavior. Otherwise, they leave the disciplining to us.
Aside from the discipline, our children know that they have even more adults who have their backs. They already have a plethora of adults who they can go to about issues that may crop up if they, for some reason, feel uncomfortable going to us.
They also have more adults to do fun stuff with, especially when these adults are more up to speed and knowledgeable about some of the interests of our children than we are (like comics, video games, etc.)
My children are learning first hand that any relationship that is consensual and respectful is healthy.
They are learning that they can love how they want to love and that as long as it speaks true to their hearts, it doesn’t matter what it looks like. Period.
My children are learning that love is not scarce. They are learning that love is Infinite and that our choices aren’t about John and I not being enough for each other but that it is because we have a great deal of love to give.
Love in our house is abundant. I want love to be abundant in the lives of my children no matter if they are monogamous or polyamorous.
Yes, John and I are more than enough for each other, but we also feel that by loving others and allowing ourselves to be loved by others only enhances our lives.
My children are learning that it is perfectly natural, healthy and okay to establish platonic friendships with members of the opposite gender as well as those of the same gender who are gay, lesbian, or bi.
Phoenix’s ex-boyfriend had a very difficult time with a growing friendship of hers that involved another boy. Phoenix stuck by her convictions and her friend. She refused to back down, especially after his comment, “I can’t be one of those guys who lets his girlfriend do whatever she wants.”
The relationship ended with the conclusion of the discussion and that morning we danced to every kickass break-up song I could think of.
My children are learning that relationships take a lot of communication.
Sometimes that communication is heated. While we try to keep our more heated discussions from the children, we are not always successful and they are very intuitive creatures who are neither dumb nor blind or deaf.
As with many children, parents fussing with each other can be scary. It has taken a lot of discussions with our eldest that just because we get into the occasionally heated discussion does not mean that we are getting divorced. It simply means we have some stuff to work on and when Mommy gets angry, she gets a little loud and fiery.
Heated discussions aside, they hear us have conversations about what is going on in the lives of our Others, they hear us make plans to spend time with our Others. They hear us communicate as we navigate through our relationships and try to find a good balance.
For us, coming out to our children has been a good experience. When there was trouble at Christmas, Phoenix made it clear to me and my mother that my and John’s relationship wasn’t even a concern or even something they think about often.
They know they are loved by me and John and that they are our top priority. They know that John and I are solid in our marriage and that we will fight tooth and nail to keep it so. To them, our Others are just another extension of our extended family.
As I said, these are based on my experiences. The articles and books I have read concerning children and polyamory have been positive. The children turn out just fine.
How you and your partners decide to handle the information you give your children about your relationship is between y’all.
I am not here to tell you what to do or that what you have done thus far is wrong (unless you are having orgies in the living room in front of your children). I am simply here to provide you with the information I have received through my experiences and the experiences of others.
You know your children. You know what is right for your children and your situation.
Sarah Neal is a Certified Professional Life, Spiritual and Relationship Coach. For more information, visit her website.
This article was originally published at aswithin-coaching.com. Reprinted with permission from the author.