"Is Polyamory Bad for the Children?"
My last post ("Study: No evidence that monogamous couples are more happy than open couples") described research findings about polyfolks collected by Terri Conley and her University of Michigan colleagues. Their paper, A Critical Examination of Popular Assumptions About the Benefits and Outcomes of Monogamous Relationships, is behind a paywall unless you have an in with a good library. [UPDATE: Here's the full published version free.] Its findings are being summarized and discussed by Psychology Today blogger Bella DePaulo. This morning DePaulo put up her third and final article in this series:
Is Polyamory Bad for the Children?
The benefits and drawbacks of polyamory on kids.
By Bella DePaulo, Ph.D.
...I wish I could say that there are stacks of methodologically rigorous studies comparing the implications for children whose parents are or are not polyamorous. Instead, there are very few, so any conclusions are tentative at best.
The authors of [Conley's] review article believe that the implications for the children of their parents’ relationships are most likely to be noteworthy if those relationships are not hidden from the children. So the review article focuses on those families in which some or all of the various partners are involved in the children’s lives, either as co-parents or in roles similar to those of aunts or uncles.
Elisabeth Sheff has conducted two studies of the well-being of the children of polyamorous parents. In one, she interviewed the parents, and in the other, she talked to children between 5 and 18 years old....
The Perspective of the Polyamorous Parents
In the interviews, the parents described a number of ways their children benefited from the polyamory:
• “The children had more individualized time with adults.”
• They “could spend less time in day care because of the flexibility of having multiple parental figures involved in their lives.”
• “…the greater diversity of interests available from adult figures helped children foster a wider variety of hobbies and skills.”
The parents mentioned drawbacks as well, particularly “the discomfort of having partnerships between adults dissolve and the resulting emotional trauma for children who may have been very attached to a departing partner.”
The Perspective of the Children
The children Sheff interviewed were mostly White and middle class. Her impression was that they were “articulate, thoughtful, intelligent, and secure in their relationships with their parents.”...
The children did not express the same concern with the real or potential loss of adult attachments as their parents did. As the authors of the review article explained:
“Many of the children reported that their parents’ former partners stayed involved in their lives even after the sexual or romantic phase of the partners’ relationships to the parents ended.”...
“Overall, the children were satisfied with their family arrangement, acknowledging that they may not choose it themselves but that it works well for their parents.”
...The parents, in particular, may have been inclined to present a positive impression to the interviewer. Yet they did mention misgivings, especially with regard to the potential emotional difficulties for their children of having adults coming in and out of their lives....
Read DePaulo's whole post (Jan. 8, 2013).
Update, Feb. 2014: Interview with Terri Conley in New York magazine (Feb. 4, 2014).
Here are many other children-and-poly items of interest to parents and researchers:
More on Raising Children in a Poly Home.
Here's a bibliography of research material on the subject that members of the Poly Researchers list put together in 2012:
Barker, Meg & Langdridge, Darren. (2010). Understanding Non-monogamies.
: Routledge. London
Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria. (2010). Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools.
: Rowman & Littlefield. Lanham, MD
Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria (2006). Polyparents Having Children, Raising Children, Schooling Children. Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review, 7 (1), (March 2006), 48-53.
Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria. (2010). To Pass, Border or Pollute: Polyfamilies Go to School. In Meg Barker & Darren Langridge (Eds.), Understanding Non-Monogamies.
: Routledge. New York, NY
Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria, Haydon, Peter; & Hunter, Anne. (In press, 2012). These Are Our Children: Polyamorous Parenting. In Katherine Allen & Abbie Goldberg (Eds.), LGBT-Parent Families: Possibilities for New Research and Implications for Practice.
: Springer. London
Sheff, Elisabeth. (2011). Polyamorous Families, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Slippery Slope. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40 (5), (October 2011), 487-520,
Sheff, Elisabeth. (2010). Strategies in Polyamorous Parenting. In Meg Barker & Darren Langridge (Eds.), Understanding Non-Monogamies.
: Routledge. London
Constantine, Larry L., & Constantine, Joan M. (1976). Treasures of the
Island: Children in Alternative Families. : Sage Publications. Beverly Hills, CA
Constantine, Larry L., & Constantine, Joan M. Group Marriage: A Study of Contemporary Multilateral Marriage.
: Macmillan, 1973, pp. 148-162. New York
Constantine, Larry L. (1977) Where are the kids? Children in Alternative Life Styles. In Libby, Roger W., & Robert N. Whitehurst (Eds.), Marriage and Alternatives: Exploring Intimate Relationships (pp. 257-263).
: Scott, Foresman & Co. Glenview, IL
Johnston, C., & R. Deisher. (1973). Contemporary communal child rearing: a first analysis. Pediatrics, 52(3), (September 1973), 319-326.
Salsburg, Sheldon (1973). Is group marriage viable? Journal of Sex Research 9(4), (November 1973), 325-333.
Weisner, T.S. (1986). Implementing New Relationship Styles in Conventional and Nonconventional American Families. In Hartup, W., & Z. Rubin (Eds.), Relationships and Development (pp. 185-206).
: New Jersey LEAPress.
Weisner, T. S., & H. Garnier. (1992). Nonconventional family lifestyles and school achievement: A 12-year longitudinal study. American Educational Research Journal 29(3), 605-632.
See also Laird Harrison's bibliography giving paragraph-length descriptions of many of these references.