Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

April 25, 2012

More on raising children in a poly home

The most powerful part of last Friday's ABC "20/20" profile of an extended polyfamily network was, for me, the parents describing the benefits that their intimate community has for parenting and for the kids, and the 7-year-old saying her piece.

Explaining your multi-loving life to your children, and representing yourself as a good parent to the world if you're out — or fearing discovery by way of your kids if you're closeted — is surely one of the most challenging aspects of being poly in these early years of the movement.

As a followup, here's a roundup of more on poly parenting:

1. Tara Shakti-Ma, a polyactivist who runs the Expansive Loving discussion group, recently described her own story of coming out to her children, and why she did it the way she did:

I have 5 children, all adults now except for my 15-year-old daughter who lives with my nesting partner and I.

What worked for me was to introduce my children gradually to how I was growing, transforming and expanding my life experience in *other* ways. This included that I'd been attending sacred fire, drum and dance circles (and had taken up learning hand-drumming), was learning to belly dance, was attending Earth-based spirituality events/festivals/rituals, and a few other things that I was "growing into." Most people moving into their free-adult years experience similar shifts due to ongoing personal growth, so this shouldn't be too much of a surprise. The details may be different for you, and those are what you might consider sharing.

From there I branched into talking about sexuality from a positive perspective, and my thoughts on the usefulness and realities of monogamous relationships. I expressed that in my life I have loved many people, and that I now feel that it is perfectly possible and viable to love more than one person at the same time. I also said that at this point in my life I don't want to confine myself to monogamy. In a sense this was easy, since I was essentially "single" at the time, though I had been dating my also-actively-polyamorous and now nesting partner for over a year at that point.

All my kids now know I am non-monogamous. They know that I am not only "okay" with, but actually supportive of my partner having other loves/lovers in his life, and that I do as well. In this context they see me/us living a very happy, alive and richly woven life, and they are happy for me, though my choices might not be theirs. We openly discuss our other lovers and dates — including scheduling logistics and negotiations — in front of my daughter, as a way of "normalizing" our chosen relationship style. I/we feel this offers a healthy model of loving, co-supportive, ethical non-monogamy.

...[If you're married,] no doubt your kids will be most concerned that neither of you are opening up your marriage simply to go along with the other, or that either of you do so under duress. They will also very likely be concerned that this does not mean you love each other less, but rather that the two of you feel that your love is so strong, so deeply rooted and so stable, that you both feel you have something to offer and share with others out of your overflow, and you are exploring that. Mentioning that the two of you have no intention of leaving each other, but that this is a shared exploration that you both feel could profoundly enrich — and even deepen further — your existing relationship.

Being absolutely truthful and direct is very freeing. When your kids see this, hopefully their greatest concern will be that you are doing what brings you both expanded happiness and fulfillment. [For adult children] you might also want to suggest they read a book, such as Dr. Deborah Anapol's Polyamory: The New Love Without Limits. As a poly educator and activist, I highly recommend it for its focus on love, healthy relationship with self, the concepts on "non-ownership" of another, and personal accountability. I also highly recommend the articles at www.morethantwo.com, as well as www.lovemore.com/faq.php (by the way, there are several article on polyamory and children at the Loving More site).

Ultimately you may have to take some heat, some expressions of distress and/or worry, but living your truth is important to living a happy life, and the bottom line [should be] that you are both free-thinking, considerate, aware, responsible, self-guiding adults, who have made a very careful and conscious choice, in a spirit of shared love and trust. Stand firm on that platform, and simply continue showing that you are working together toward creating the life and loves that you want and deserve.

2. At the opposite end of the child-age spectrum, a poly parenting support group may be developing on the new-parent site "What to Expect" ("Pregnancy and parenting, every step of the way").

3. Just this morning Noel Figart put up another of her Polyamorous Misanthrope columns on parenting: Can Having Children and Polyamory Mix? She's spent years mixing them. She offers thoughts on what to tell the kids about yourselves and what to tell them about handling the outside world.

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....

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.

Depending on where you live... 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....

And read the comments there, where other poly parents tell how they handled these things.

From another of Figart's columns, "Poly Parenting 101":

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?... 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....

Another: "Will a baby change my poly relationship?" (Answer: Damn straight, whether you're one of the bio parents or not.)

Here's her whole collection of no-nonsense poly-parenting experience and advice.

4. By Angi Becker Stevens, in her article "Polyamory: Rebooting Our Definitions of Love and Family" in the online magazine Role Reboot ("Make Sense of Men & Women"):

...Perhaps unsurprisingly, many people raise concerns about the well-being of children in polyamorous families. Some seem concerned that the kids in these situations are growing up with inappropriate ethics, which is a lot like warning same-sex couples that their children will grown up thinking it’s OK to be gay. I’m thrilled that my daughter, and any future children I might have, will grow up knowing that there is more than one way to form a loving relationship.

Other people seem convinced that the children are somehow being exposed to sexuality in an unhealthy way, just one of many sentiments that betrays a fixation on the sexual aspect of any alternative relationships. My daughter sees the same kinds of affection between my boyfriend and I that she sees between her father and I; in other words, the kind of affection that’s completely appropriate for 8-year-old eyes.

And still others worry about a lack of stability for children in polyamorous homes, a concern which strikes me as particularly ironic in our 21st century world of oft-divorcing parents and blended families. If we find it acceptable for single parents to date, to bring new love interests into their children’s homes and lives, is it such a stretch to imagine that non-single parents might conceivably be able to do the same thing, without any greater or less risk of instability?

From my perspective, being in a polyamorous family has a lot to offer both children and parents. Children benefit from having additional trusted adults who care for them, parents benefit from sharing the burdens of parenting among more than just two people. And while I would make no claims that polyamory is inherently and necessarily revolutionary with regard to gender roles, there is something to be said for the possibilities it opens up in that respect.

Read the whole article (Feb. 8, 2012).

5. Matt Bullen and Terisa Greenan did an audio interview about raising a kid in their poly situation on Minx's Polyamory Weekly Podcast, Episode #249 (Sept. 7, 2010). Listen here (mp3). From the program notes:

Interview: Poly parenting. Matt Bullen and Terisa Greenan share their experiences on being poly with children and thoughts on explaining poly to kids.

* How their relationship and living situation is structured
* Dealing with the tough questions
* On calling partners “auntie” or “uncle”
* On the “it’s confusing” argument
* On deceiving your children as to the nature of your relationships
* Dealing with the kid asking, “who do you love more?”
* Online privacy for Matt and Vera’s child

Polyamory Weekly Episode #250 continues with a Q&A about poly parenting:

* ...pick up on your hesitancy and fear.

Is there an age for kids that’s easiest to move a new partner in or an age that’s more difficult for kids to handle the change? It’s case-by case and situation-specific. Communication, negotiation, honesty. Your kids will pick up their attitudes from you; they learn how to react to things from you.

6. From Kamala Devi's site:

"How do you plan to tell Devin when he's old enough to understand?"

People often assume that someday I'll have to explain what polyamory is to my curious son. I think he knows exactly what it is, because he lives it. We may not co-habitate with any other lovers (yet) but we have no secrets in this house and he sees a healthy dose of afection between us and his "aunties" and "uncles." At some point he will see that the rest of the world is not like us, and I may need to explain monogamy to him, but he is a bright sensitive boy so I trust he'll adjust easily to a mono-dominant society. My dream is that there will be movies, TV programs and/or cartoons that represent a healthy poly family, so that poly children around the world will see that they are not alone....

Read more and watch these folks; we're going to see a lot more of them in a few months. Update: Also see Kamala's article Poly Parenting Philosophy: How I'm Raising My Son.

7. Curve magazine presents tips 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....

8. "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....

9. Another article, by Alex Vitti:

Polyamory and Parenting

...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.”

10. 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. The article is by anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of the important book on this topic Mothers and Others (2009). Here's a Scientific American interview with Hrdy.

11. 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
Publications, 1976."

12. Claire Q. recently listed and described much of the available research on children of poly parents (for Laird Harrison's website for his new novel Fallen Lake, a story about kids growing up with parents in a quad in the 1970s).

Also, here is a lengthy bibliography on the subject compiled by Dawn Davidson and others.

13. There's a chapter on children of polyamory in Deborah Anapol's book Polyamory in the 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield), reprinted on Anapol's Psychology Today blog as Polyamory and Children. She says, "I've probably observed more modern polyamorous childrearing than anyone on the planet."

14. Some poly parents are paranoid about their state Child Protective Services barging in like morality-police storm troopers. That's not what happens (assuming there's no actual abuse or neglect going on). Instead, the real danger to keeping your children, experience shows, are the people closest to you: a bitter ex, or the ex's 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." I heard of a lawyer who said candidly, to a poly family drawing up legal paperwork, "Forget the state, your real danger is 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 that can help in such crises. Read her checklist for prospective poly parents, and advice for avoiding custody disputes.

15. More discussion forums: There's the Children of Poly section of the Polyamorous Percolations forums.

16. One resource for families is the Loving More PolyParent Yahoo Group. Incidentally, a much larger body of online resources exists for step-parents; sometimes the issues are quite parallel.

17. At Mothering.com, a huge poly parenting discussion thread began in 2006, collected 1,035 enties and 125,774 views by 2010, then restarted in a second thread that continues today, now with 241 posts and 31,091 reads. Don't say there's nowhere to turn for poly parenting advice.

18. And here are my own articles here tagged "kids" going back about five years (including this one; scroll down).

19. (Added June 3:) New Facebook page, PolyFamilySupport.


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Anonymous Marcia in Salem said...

Hey Alan!

Interesting post. A few thoughts:

At the beginning, you write, "...one of the most challenging aspects of being poly in these early years of the movement." Snort. "Early years of the movement" is a relative term. I've been poly for, um, well I've lost count but it's been at least 35 years. There was a poly movement back in the 60's and 70's; I see the current movement as a renaissance rather than something completely new. I think the difference now is the ease of spreading the idea with new media, so it's more visible to the larger world.

I loved the thought from Kamala Devi's site that what she was going to have to explain to her child was not polyamory, which her son saw every day, but monogamy, which was the foreign concept.

Following the link in section 12, I came across this quote: "Larry L. Constantine and Joan M. Constantine, who have done considerable research on group marriage, estimate that the number of such marriages in the United States probably does not exceed one thousand." I am bemused by this. I wonder if the number is from the 70's when Larry & Joan were doing their research-on-a-shoestring-budget, and if so, whether the current number of poly households is greater now. I would guess that it is, but have no specific sources for that guess. It is odd to think that I may have been part of such a small minority of adventurous souls back then. One tends to see oneself as the template for everybody else, until it is (sometimes rudely) brought to your attention that in fact you're way off the bubble and more unusual than you thought.

All the kids I know that grew up with poly parents have turned out just fine. My son did not grow up in a poly household, but I was open (when he was old enough for it to be appropriate) about the poly circumstances of the guy with whom I had developed a relationship. My son didn't comment on it much, probably figured it was none of his business to a certain point. But he grew up knowing there is more than one way to have a loving family and/or household, and that it's okay.

Divorced and "blended" families are very similar to poly families in some ways, as far as school interactions go. I remember a school conference some years ago. My son was there, and his teacher, and my son's dad, and his current spouse, and myself, and nobody batted an eye. On another occasion, my son lamented that with one mom and two step-moms he didn't get to get away with *anything*.

I've always been of the opinion that the more, the better when it comes to people who love and care for a child. I think a healthy extended family is an excellent way to raise a kid, whether it's an extended traditional family or an extended poly family.

Thanks for the interesting post.

May 01, 2012 6:04 PM  

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