Poly parenting and poly kids in the news: big roundup
My last post was about Vice's supportive, factual article last week on polyfamilies raising kids. Here are many more stories and resources on the topic — which is gradually becoming less contentions as the years go by, as kids turn out fine and polyfamilies become better known and understood.
● A long, well-researched piece in Canada's mainstream Today's Parent: Polyamorous parenting: The surprising benefits of the ultimate modern family (June 11, 2019)
Having multiple partners may seem weird, confusing or even scandalous to some. But experts, parents and even kids say it offers some surprising benefits.
By Briony Smith
"Polyamorous parents Sue (with baby Fionn), Ryan, Liane and Sean (with baby Parker) may look chic and glam, but that's all stylists and art directors. In real life, they're just a normal — albeit untraditional — family." (Carmen Cheung)
...And that was it: The doctors had to do a C-section. When they pulled out her son, Fionn, he didn’t make a sound. “Why isn’t he crying?” Sue wept, as they bundled him off to the resuscitation room. “Go with him! Go with him!” she wailed at Sean. And so he left.
But Sue wasn’t left alone. Grasping her hand was Liane Daiter, another partner in Sue’s “quadrupod” relationship, who happened to be eight months pregnant herself. “I was a mess,” Sue says. “It was invaluable having Liane there with me.”
“We didn’t have to choose between someone going with the baby or staying with Sue,” adds Sean. “We got to do both.” As they sewed Sue up, Liane never let go of her hand.
Once Sue was wheeled to the recovery room, Liane headed out into the hallway to check in with her husband, Ryan Ram, the fourth member of the relationship. Ninety minutes later, Sean finally returned to Sue’s side, baby Fionn happy and healthy in his arms. The foursome spent the next few hours cradling the newborn, the whole family together at last. Later, Fionn would receive his birth certificate, printed with each of his parents’ names — all four of them.
...According to sexuality educator Jacki Yovanoff’s 2015 report on poly parenting studies, called What About the Children?! Children in Polyamorous Families: Stigma, Myths, and Realities, four to five percent of Canadians identify as poly — and half of them are parents.
...The available research suggests that being raised by multiple parents or parents with multiple partners can, in fact, enrich the lives of these children. “[They] can benefit from having multiple loving parents who can offer not only more quality time, but a greater range of interests and energy levels to match the child’s own unique and growing personality,” says a 2013 study, Children of Polyamorous Families: A First Empirical Look. And parents benefit, too. ...
...Parenting was once much more of a community effort, with neighbours, elders and extended family all pitching in on child rearing. Now this system has eroded. ...
Additional partners aid parents in everything from child care to emotional support — or even being able to have a family in the first place. Liane, Ryan, Sean and Sue all live together in a big, cozy house, filled with books and musical instruments. It’s 9 p.m., and the babies — Fionn, and Sue’s daughter, Parker — have finally gone down for the night. The four parents are seated around the dining room table; Sean fidgets with a houseplant, playfully trailing the tendrils along the arm of Liane, who occasionally rubs Sue’s shoulders. Liane is involved, on and off, with Sean and Sue, and is dating someone, Dave Loewen, on the side. Ryan isn’t seeing anyone else at the moment. But having so many parents under one roof, he says, was what gave him the green light to become a father. “I feel very fortunate that [poly parenting] works so well for us,” says Ryan. “It’s almost impossible to imagine how hard it would be without it.” ...
...Toronto's Jenny Yuen, author of Polyamorous: Living and Loving More, also found her recovery sped along because she had more hands around the house. She gave birth to her daughter, Louise*, four months ago; her husband, Charlie*, is the father. She’s also in a relationship with Adam*, whom she describes as her life partner. “When it came time to give birth, Charlie and I each had a leg: I had the left and he had the right,” remembers Adam. ...
Kids can also learn valuable communication and relationship skills from poly parents and their partners, says the What About the Children?! report. “The priority put on openness, honesty and emotional literacy can foster an environment where children develop a tendency for higher emotional intelligence,” reads the report. “Other benefits for children in polyamorous families [include] a higher degree of maturity, self-confidence and self-reliance, as well as great interpersonal skills.” ...
With additional partners, however, comes more of everything — including clashes over parenting styles. ...
...Then there are the breakups. A 2009 study found that one of the most commonly cited disadvantages of poly family life is the kids’ pain in having to say more goodbyes to beloved partners more frequently. Michelle prefers to see this challenge as an opportunity to model good breakup behaviour for her boys and, as is common in the poly community, position the split as more of a transition than a break. ...
Sheff has been following a set of polyfamilies for over 20 years. She warns that the sample of families was self-selected and, like the organized poly community overall, they are generally better educated and more socioeconomically secure than the US population average; these things themselves correlate with better outcomes for children.
Sheff is preparing a new formal analysis of the families and their offspring at the 20-year mark. On her Psychology Today blog The Polyamorists Next Door (named for her first book), she posted a 5-part summary of where her findings stand:
– Part 1, Age dependent experiences and why these kids seem to be doing great.
– Part 2, Advantages and disadvantages in polyamorous family life.
– Part 3, Four strategies children use for dealing with challenges of poly family life.
– Part 4, Young adults explain the impacts of being raised in polyamorous families.
– Part 5, Child Custody in Polyamorous Families: New legal moves make the case for poly families fitting best interest of kids.
Her blogsite is rich with other material. For instance Having a Baby in a Polyamorous Relationship, "six suggestions to answer a concerned reader's question." And, Do Kids from Polyamorous Families Become Poly Themselves?.
● By poly educator Sarah Neal, on YourTango: What Really Happens To Children Of Polyamorous Parents (July 5, 2019):
...We realized that it was getting harder to keep our oldest two children in the dark. We weighed our options and did our research.
...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.
...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.
...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.
...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. ...
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. ...
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. ...
My children are learning that relationships take a lot of communication. Sometimes that communication is heated. ...
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. ...
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.
● The website Knowable put up a collection of 19 stories from kids who grew up in poly households and a couple of approximations of poly households: These Stories Reveal What It's Like For Children With Polyamorous Parents (approx. June 28, 2017).
Here's the AskReddit thread that she collected them from: To the children of polyamorous relationships, what was your childhood like?. The question got 425 replies including comments and long discussion strings. (Comments are now closed.) Thanks to the Knowable writer for sorting out the actual people answering the question.
These are very encouraging. It's not like her selections showed a pro-poly bias; I worked through the entire thread and found that yes, these 19 are the complete set of genuine responders to the question.
● In the same vein, posted to reddit/r/polyamory: My Mom's Polycule (approx. Aug. 16, 2019):
● Kenna Cook, relationship columnist in Sacramento's Voices: River City: Parenting while polyamorous (April 23, 2018)
...I’ve searched high and low, and have thankfully found some amazing resources for balancing life as a polyamorous parent.
...Kevin Patterson, founder of Poly Role Models and author of Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and other Alternative Communities, is raising two smart and spunky daughters while married and actively polyamorous. He is a great resource for how to talk to your kids about relationships, consent and race.
Koe Creation, a Bay Area sex educator and writer, is second-generation polyamorous and helps families navigate gender, sexuality and relationship styles. [She recently published her memoir This Heart Holds Many: My Life as the Nonbinary Millennial Child of a Polyamorous Family.]
Lanae St. John, aka The Mamasutra, is an educator and coach focusing on helping parents talk to their kids about sex and relationships.
...Dr. Elisabeth “Eli” Scheff has been researching non-monogamous families for the last 20 years. Her research focuses on how both the parents and the kids view their lives, struggles and successes being influenced by non-monogamy. ... My biggest takeaways from Dr. Scheff’s research:
– Kids didn’t feel pressured to become polyamorous. Kids were open to all types of relationship orientations for their personal relationships.
– Kids report more personal resilience and have a better time establishing emotional relationships, self regulation and personal autonomy.
– Kids have more ethical guides for behavior and boundaries from seeing multiple ethical relationships.
– Kids retain an honest and open relationship with their parents into adulthood. ...
● A poly man writing at The Good Men Project: Raising a Child (and Being Poly) (Dec. 17, 2016):
My wife and I are of two completely different minds regarding our sojourn into the world of polyamory. On one hand, we believe in total transparency with the world around us. On the other hand, she has a deep-seated fear of how the outside world treats those who view that world differently.
...[We] live (for the moment) in a rather screwed up area of Western Pennsylvania....
Which would be fine except for one aspect of our lives; our child....
● A child of poly parents reflects, at McGill University: What my parents’ polyamory taught me (Nov. 27, 2018)
...As far as I can tell, every child goes through a frustratingly drawn-out period in which they have developed an understanding of other people’s emotions but aren’t quite empathetic enough to understand how to navigate them. I found out about my parents’ polyamory precisely during that period. I knew that I could hurt my mother by fighting her, by withholding my love, and by making her feel as if she didn’t matter to me. On the other hand, my father’s openness meant that I saw him as a human being for the first time. We had many more stove-lit conversations throughout my teenage years. In that time, he became a person in my eyes, navigating love and life, while my mother became the spectre of instability that I would unfairly reject for years. ...
● Polyamory Weekly podcast number 538: Coming out to kids. "Casey Blake is a South African sex educator who helps parents to break the silent taboo of speaking about our lives in ways that can make a difference for our children."
Also on Polyamory Weekly, a two-parter on poly parenting with Terisa Greenan and Matt Bullen: episodes 249 and 250.
● Hey, Siri, Should I Have a Baby With My Boyfriend & His Wife? in the Parenting section of the women's mag SheKnows (Jan. 5, 2018)
By A. M. O'Connor
...“Do you want to have kids?” one woman asked me.
“How would that… work?” asked another.
TL;DR: I’m dating a person who is married to another person. We all date other people. We also all love each other and are committed to each other and our poly fam, whatever shape it takes.
...In some ways, having kids is a thing that scratches at the limits of the architecture of non-monogamy (perhaps unsurprisingly since having kids can also serve as the ultimate benchmark of any “real” heterosexual relationship).
So, for the time being, I suggested the only reasonable response. “Ask Siri.”
My friend in the front seat produced her phone and held the microphone to her mouth. “Hey Siri, should Acacia have a baby with her boyfriend and his wife?”
The car erupted with laughter and then hushed as we waited for the phone’s proclamation.
“I’m sorry. Only Acacia can answer that question.”
Parenting had come up early in my relationship in hypothetical terms. My boyfriend and I were plotting our “relationship map,” prodding its probable expansions into uncharted territory. ...
My boyfriend’s wife and I also freely fantasized about being pregnant at the same time. ...
My boyfriend and I joked too, but the question of co-parenting also felt weighty, with real implications. One day, a theoretical conversation about public schools became concrete. “I can never give you a stigma-free kid,” he said, and we talked about what that would mean. The choose-your-own-adventure quality of our relationship emboldened me to ask questions I might not have had the courage to ask a monogamous partner. It also built a rock-solid foundation of communication and trust that has made everything else in our relationship possible.
We established early that it would be hypothetically possible for us all to co-parent happily and successfully. But questions hung in the air: questions of whether we would authentically choose to go down that path together — the two of us and the three of us — and when and on what terms. ...
● Let's toss in a Kimchi Cuddles here. Orange-haired Pumpkin is the artist's daughter.
Used by permission. Here are Tikva Wolf's many other strips tagged poly parent or poly kids (click "previous").
● At Offbeat Home, part of the Offbeat Empire: Parents going poly: how to begin a polyamorous relationship when you already have kids (April 24, 2013)
...The truth is, it's probably not as complicated as you think. For a young child (under eight or so), social conventions are not as understood and accepted as they are for us adults. If you raise a child in a polyamorous home, they will probably never really find it odd.
I recently went to a panel by Dr. Sheff on poly families. One of the points she made that really stuck with me is that young children are very self-centered. They define everyone in terms of how they relate to themselves. Your new partner will not be "Mommy's Boyfriend" or "Daddy's Girlfriend", they will be "The one who gives back rides" or (in a less positive possibility) "The one who takes Mommy's time." If your new partner is already an established part of your lives, chances are they already have an established relationship with your child. Make a conscious effort to build on that. ... Age-appropriate questions will come up organically and should simply be given age appropriate answers as they happen.
Of course, you still need to consider all the usual step-parent questions. Who has the right to discipline your child? What are acceptable methods of disciplining? ... A lot of parents have an "Always back each other up" policy that prevents them from contradicting each other in front of the kid, but poly families are time sinks, and you don't always have a chance to talk later about why you think sitting on the counter doesn't deserve time-out.
There are also non-discipline questions to consider. Who is expected to make it to soccer games and school plays? Do you need a Writ of In Loco Parentis so your partner can make medical decisions if your child is hospitalized and you aren't available? Will your will grant your partner custody if something should happen to you and your husband? A lot of these are more long-term questions, but they should definitely be simmering in your mind.
● Also on Offbeat Home by the same author: It truly does take a village: polyamorous parenting and creating space for children:
So why did I suddenly find myself building a nursery for a 4 year old and a 2 year old? I mean, children normally come into your life in predictable stages. ... But I never saw these kids as infants. They sprang fully formed into my life. After knowing them for a little less than a year, I figured it was time they had their own room in my house.
...At this point, in addition to liking [other partner] as a person, I was also beginning to suspect that she and my husband were falling for each other and I really wanted to give that situation the time and space it needed to develop. Plus, I really liked those kids, and wanted to hang out with them almost as much as their parents. So when my roommate said he was moving out, I told him we'd miss him and all, but then immediately started planning how to redecorate his room. The results were everything I could have hoped for!
The boys were super enthusiastic about the bed they could bounce on, the rocket ship they could play in (and dismantle) and the box of toys which were brought to permanently live at our house (which means that they now only get to be played with when they're here). They now have their own beds to sleep in, a room to watch movies in, and a variety of options for entertainment.
All in all, I'd say it was a win-win for everyone. Daddy doesn't have to feel bad about leaving his wife in rural Georgia while he goes to the city to play. Mommy has a place to come have a social life of her own. My husband has an awesome new girlfriend. The boys have yet another place to feel like they are included and loved. And me? I get a kid's room in my house – screw what the budget says.
● On Mic.com: What It's Really Like to Live In a Polyamorous Household (July 5, 2016)
...Polyamory might seem like a new and cutting-edge parenting method, but some poly parents feel their families actually represent a return to the past. As Ben pointed out, it's common in other cultures for people other than parents — such as members of extended families — to help raise children, and multi-generational households have made a resurgence in the United States.
"We're returning back to our roots," he said. "It's great for the child because they get so much exposure to so many different gifts people have that they can share with them." ...
● On the popular parenting site Romper ("for millennial moms"): Why I'm Honest With My Kids About My Open Relationship (March 28, 2016)
By Margaret e Jacobsen
The first thing people always ask when I tell them about my open/polyamorous relationship is ""but what will you tell your children?!" The question always catches me off guard when I hear the panic in their voice, but my response is always the same: "I'll tell them the truth." What else would you tell a child?
...I've chosen to talk about my open relationship with my kids, who are 6 and 7, so that they understand what love and relationships look like for me, for some of my friends, and for other people around the world. My hope is that their ideas about love and relationships are formed without judgment, without boundaries, and that they're both open to possibilities, whatever they might be.
I tell them a story about when my daughter was 4 or 5. I was doing her hair, and she asked me, "Mama, when are you going to get a boyfriend?" At the time I did have a boyfriend, but my husband and I hadn't told the kids. I asked her why she thought this, and she responded, "I just want more adults to love me, and I want you to have more people to love you. I want a large family."
...When my kids talk about falling in love and having partners, it's not just limited to only one person, but to different possibilities with different people. Their beliefs surrounding love are beautiful because they understand that love looks different with different people, that it's not a one-size-fits-all experience. ... And no matter what they choose, I hope they know how happy all of their parents will be for them.
Also by the same author on Romper: Why I'm So Proud To Be A Mom In An Open Relationship (June 9, 2016).
● Also on Romper: Here's What It's Really Like To Parent When You're Polyamorous (Nov. 22, 2016)
Courtesy B R Sanders
By B R Sanders
My kid has three parents. There’s me, his dad Jon, and his mom Sam. We are polyamorous, meaning that the three of us are in a relationship and raise our child Arthur together.
...Sometimes, parenting with two other people is a godsend. Sometimes, it’s close to impossible, and occasionally it can be heartbreaking. But I do know one thing: If I didn’t have both of my partners around to co-parent with me, I don't know if I would feel like my own person.
The biggest advantage of having two co-parents is purely practical: we save a bundle on daycare, because there's always a parent around. So much of parenting consists of the mundane questions of child care: who is going to fix the kid a sandwich? Who can take him to the doctor? Who can take him to school?
With three people, the burden is a little lighter. ... Arthur always has a well-rested, engaged parent at his disposal — and sometimes two. If he’s lucky, he gets all three of us at once showering him with affection.
...With the three of us co-parenting, I can work and write and be a parent, while Jon can work and play music and Sam can be an activist. We get what we need from life and from each other, and we give everything we have to the family because we feel energized in all these spheres of our lives.
That said, poly parenting isn't all roses and sunshine. It’s hard enough navigating Important Parenting Decisions with one other person, so it's much harder navigating them with two. ...
Most polyamorous families grapple with not being treated as a legitimate family in one way or another, with some partners being turned away from a sick child's hospital bed and some even being fired from their jobs for being polyamorous. Because polyamorous families aren't yet recognized under the law, the best we can do for non-biological poly parents is form a non-binding co-parenting agreement. ... I have had to create files on files of legal documents to make sure my family stays intact without me in the event of my death, that Arthur stays with Sam, that what few assets I've managed to cobble together will go to all three of them. We are a square peg, and the legal system is a round hole.
Yet even though the law might not recognize us as a real family, we're a real family to the one person that truly matters: Arthur. ...
● And also on Romper, the parents of a 1-year-old plan for the future: Why We Are Going To Tell Our Son About Our Polyamorous Marriage (Jan. 25, 2016):
By David Clover
...In the simplest form, we plan to tell our son the truth. Secret keeping can be stressful for young children, so we want to do our very best to be open with him, and with others, without giving him information that he doesn’t need or that isn’t age appropriate. So he’ll probably know, for example, that his parents sometimes spend quality time with other adults, but I won't ever feel like I need to explain my sex life to him. Just like I don’t feel the need to tell him about the sex I have with his mom. ...
We’ll explain that our relationship is not about ownership, and that we allow each other (and ourselves!) the freedom to explore romantically out of love and respect. [That] I am in love with my wife. I think she’s one of the coolest people around, and I’m excited to get to share life with her. ...
We’ll explain that relationships are what you make them to be, and this is just one example. ... What a relationship is, and how it works, is up to the people in that relationship.
We’ll also explain how we got here. When my wife and I met, we both already identified as non-monogamous. It was something that brought us closer together, rather than a stumbling block for our relationship. Even so, we spent a lot of time talking it out, making sure that we were always respectful and aware of one and others feelings. ...
We’ll tell our baby boy that no matter what happens, he’s safe. ...
I think it's a very good thing for our son to grow up with a firm understanding of how his family is different from others, rather than us trying to put on a more “normal” face. My wife and I don't want to send the message to our son that we need to fit in, or that fitting in is the model of life to which he should subscribe to. ...
● In the parenting column of the mainstream Portland Mercury, Open Married with Children (online Feb. 9, 2016)
By Heather Arndt Anderson
I’ll admit to having a few assumptions about people who engage in open relationships. ... But were any of these hunches correct?
Out of curiosity (and as a trained biologist with a fairly solid foundation in statistical analysis), I decided to collect data on the subject — which is to say I created a survey and shared it on social media. ...
“But... but... what about the children?”
That’s the second most common question poly folks are asked. With the growing prevalence and social acceptance of blended families, it’s not uncommon for children to grow up with multiple sets of parents; seeing kids with families that include adults other than their biological parents is not unusual, and so kids with non-monogamous parents are rarely outed. And growing up in open families doesn’t seem to have any of the negative impacts one might assume; studies from as early as the 1970s show that kids from households with multiple adults tend to have better self esteem, communication skills, and academic performance.
To gain a bit of perspective, I talked to my friend, “Esmeralda” about her experiences with polyamory. Unlike most poly families, Esmeralda has had the unique circumstance of having non-monogamous parents in addition to having an open marriage of her own. But more than having influenced her preference for sexual inclusivity, her parents instilled qualities that have carried on into relationships with all of her partners.
“I was raised in a very value-centric household — love and mutual support were primary,” she said, adding that she and her husband (who began dating in college) have always maintained an openness. “We were explicit in writing our marriage vows that we would commit to mutual support — not sexual or romantic fidelity.”
Like other poly parents (or most parents, for that matter), Esmeralda finds time and space management to be among her biggest challenges. This is especially true during the exciting beginnings of new relationships and during break-ups. Both situations can turn into a huge emotional sinkhole, running the risk of drawing too much energy away from her primary commitments — Esmeralda’s husband and kids.
Her kids, by the way, are fabulous, from what I’ve witnessed. Consistent with what studies of kids with poly parents have shown, they’re smart, imaginative, and kind, as well as being very articulate young people. With so many caring grown-ups around, it’s no surprise. Esmeralda says she and her husband don’t try to hide their lovers from their kids, and they talk to their children about everything — but they also exercise common sense regarding how much information to give them when they’re still so young.
“The kids are only starting to [understand the idea] there are different kinds of 'friends,’” Esmeralda said, “but they know and hang out with everyone I date. I feel the crucial thing is to not let it be a shameful thing, or a secret that they need to keep. So we’re open about it to the extent that makes sense.”...
● The LGBT world led the way on all matters of coming out, including to one's kids. This appeared in Curve magazine, covering both gay and poly households: 5 Tips for Coming Out to Your Kids, by Yana Tallon Hicks (Nov. 5, 2009). "Give your child the right tools for the job."
● Jessica Mahler's bibliography of research on the effects of ethical nonmonogamy on children, as of 2017. She writes, "We need a lot more research into children raised in polyamorous relationships before we can say anything definite." However,
What we know at the moment is that children raised in healthy polyamorous families are just as healthy, confident and well-adjusted as children raised in monogamous families. Children who have been raised in polyamorous families report that they having additional adults in their lives to spend time with, support their interests, etc. Contrary to many expectations, changes in a polyamorous relationships do not appear to affect kids the way divorce often does. Instead, the children manage to adjust to the transition fairly well. This may be because the children’s home and parental structure is rarely disrupted by the change, or because their parents (bio and poly) report making an effort to allow children to continue relationships with poly partners who are no longer part of the family.
Most studies have focused on families where the parents are “out” about being polyamorous. There is a common belief (one I share) that hiding a polyamorous relationships from children will harm them, as children are very good at finding out their parent’s secrets, and children are more likely to assume their parents are having an affair leading to fears about the break up of their family, in addition to loss of trust and anger with their parents.
Mahler also wrote the books Polyamory and Pregnancy (2013), The Polyamorous Home (2017), and Safer Sex for the Non-Monogamous (2019).
● And finally, Kim and her daughter Pumpkin clear things up: