Poly as a child-friendly way of life
What about the kids? Momlogic, a big mainstream parenting site, finds that a good poly household is a grand place for kids to grow up, though with a couple of drawbacks. Bookmark this for the next time someone asks, "But what about the kids?"
It's Not Swinging If You're Committed!
By Ronda Kaysen | February 9, 2010
For some, being polyamorous provides more love and support for the kids than does being in a monogamous household.
Most nights, Matt Bullen's 7-year-old son sleeps at home with his mom and dad, except for the nights when he sleeps at his dad's girlfriend's house. The arrangement works well because his mom's boyfriend lives there, too. Actually, his mom's boyfriend is married to his dad's girlfriend. Confused? Don't worry, that's just par for the course in polyamorist households.
Polyamory -- the notion that committed love relationships can involve more than two consenting adults -- is a bit like swinging, with one key difference: Love and commitment are the focus, not sexual hookups. For some, polyamorous relationships involve three or more adults, and no other new partners ever enter the equation. For others, polyamory becomes an even more fluid family dynamic.
...Terisa considers Matt and Vera to be extended family, and their son now has a room in her house.
Raising kids in a polyamorous household has its advantages, say polyamorists. After all, more adults means more hands to help with household chores such as doing laundry, making dinner, getting kids ready for bed and scheduling playdates. With more adults, there's also more money to go around. Kids enjoy the benefits of a large, extended family network. Polyamorous parents insist that their kids also learn valuable communication skills simply from watching their parents navigate the tricky terrain of managing more than one lover at a time.
"It's actually more natural than nuclear families, to tell you the truth," says Dossie Easton, a psychologist and author of The Ethical Slut, which is considered the polyamorists' bible. "The kids are startlingly able to discern between the different adults."
Easton, who found herself a single mother by choice in 1969, raised her daughter in an ever-changing polyamorous household in the San Francisco Bay Area. For a time, she lived with two other single mothers and hosted regular luncheons for all their various lovers, so everyone could get to know one another. Raising children, she says, was always at the center of the equation. If a lover didn't feel comfortable in a child-centered world, he didn't last long.
"I don't think it's any different than raising [kids] in a monogamous family," says Robyn Trask, Managing Director of Loving More, a polyamorous magazine and nonprofit organization based in Colorado. "You just have to really talk and communicate with your kids, which is important anyway." Trask raised three kids in a polyamorous household. When her oldest son was 10, she broke the news to him that she and his father had other lovers, expecting it to be a difficult conversation. To her surprise, he rolled with it.
"I explained that we had an open relationship, and that that didn't mean [his father and I] didn't love each other very much," she says. "I asked him how he felt about it, and he said, 'That's kind of cool.'" Now 22, her son identifies as poly and currently has two girlfriends.
For Trask's kids, growing up poly meant they had a large network of aunt- and uncle-like figures to call on. "We have more adults that we can lean on, who can be there for us," says Trask. "That kind of extended family, where there's an intimacy, is really nice."
The unusual family setup does have its drawbacks. Poly kids have to deal with judgmental peers, hiding their true family structure from friends, and the sudden absence of parental figures they have come to love and trust (if their biological parents break up with the boyfriend or girlfriend du jour).
"Kids have certainly talked about feeling sad when partners leave," says Elisabeth Sheff, a sociologist at George State University who is conducting a long-term study on children raised in polyamorous households. "That's a source of pain for them."
Although polyamorists are quick to point out that monogamy doesn't shield kids from breakups and abandonment, Sheff notes that the turnover in poly households tends to be higher simply because more adults are involved in the equation....
Read the whole article (Feb. 9, 2010).
Here are some more poly parenting items:
1. A recent Polyamorous Misanthrope column, Poly Parenting 101, by Noel Figart, certified mom:
One of the sad facts of being an alternative lifestyler of any sort is in this political climate, you’re liable to be labeled a dangerous pervert....
[If you're a parent] should this worry you?
It depends on a lot of things. Where do you live? Is it a conservative area? Do people have a live and let live policy, or are they all up in your bidness? What about your relatives? Are there control issues going on? Are you accepting significant financial support from them?
But more than that, I want to point out one more thing, which is the big subject of my rant.
Are you a good parent?
Seriously, dewd. Don’t get on your damn high horse until you’ve evaluated your parenting....
Here's her whole collection of no-nonsense poly-parenting experience and advice.
2. Curve magazine on coming out to your kids, whether you're LGBT or poly:
...“When building unconventional families, we must remember that our children will have to negotiate these relationships with peers, school systems, and extended family members,” reminds Lev. “You will also need to remain open to continuous dialogue with your [child].” Lev says as they age, they may have many different feelings about their ‘unusual’ family at different stages of their life....
3. "Not Half the Parent You Used To Be" by Millie Jackson at sexgenderbody:
A common argument against polyamory is that it is not a healthy lifestyle for the children involved. I have never found this argument to hold up. Although I do not have children, I have been involved with people who do. What I have witnessed are very content children getting a lot of positive attention. They are being raised in a diverse and accepting environment while witnessing communication, negotiation, and a team mentality. Often times, they are completely unaware that their “extended family” includes partners of their mommy and/or daddy....
4. Another article, by Alex Vitti:
...The choice of structures is affected by timing: an adult who has been present throughout a child's life is likely to have a more parental relationship with that child than one who enters a relationship with people who already have a teenage child. (The issues involved often parallel those of step-parenting.)
The degree of logistical and emotional involvement between the members of the relationship is also important: a close-knit triad already living under one roof with shared finances is far more likely to take a collective approach to parenting than would a larger, loose-knit group with separate living arrangements:
“Some poly families are structured so that one parent can be home to care for the children while two or more other adults work outside the home and earn an income, thus providing a better standard of living for all concerned.
More adult caretakers means more people available for child care, help with homework, and daily issues such as transportation to extracurricular activities. Children thrive on love. The more adults they have to love them who are part of the family, the happier and more well-adjusted they are.
There is no evidence that growing up in a poly family is detrimental to the physical, psychological or moral well being of children. If parents are happy in their intimate relationships, it helps the family. Happy families are good for children.”
5. A long article in Natural History magazine argues that children are best and most naturally raised by a group, not by the isolated modern nuclear family, which is a historically recent aberration. By anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy.
6. The actual quality of poly households for childraising "is a critical area and there's not yet a lot of good, recent research," notes Jim Fleckenstein, chair of the Institute for 21st-Century Relationships (ITCR). "One dated, but still very solid published piece is:
Constantine, Larry L. and Joan M. Constantine. Treasures of the
Island: Children in Alternative Families. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage
7. One resource for families is the Loving More PolyParent Yahoo Group. A much larger body of online resources exists for step-parents; sometimes the issues are quite parallel.
8. There is an interesting chapter on children of polyamory in Deborah Anapol's forthcoming book Polyamory in the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield), to be published in June.
9. Poly parents are sometimes paranoid about their state Child Protective Services barging in like morality-police storm troopers. That's not what to worry about (assuming there's no actual abuse or neglect). The real danger to keeping your children, experience shows, is from your own bitter ex, or his/her parents, in a divorce or custody battle. Being poly can then be used as a weapon against you in court, in an attempt to sway the judge's assessment of what is "in the best interests of the child." A lawyer whom I heard of said candidly, to a poly family drawing up a bunch of legal paperwork, "Your real danger is from each other." Just like ordinary husbands and wives.
My friend Valerie White is a family lawyer who runs the Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund, a small nonprofit. Read her Checklist for prospective poly parents, and Advice for avoiding custody disputes.