Category Archives: Children

Polyamory and Children: Research Update

List has been updated with more recent work by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff. I haven’t heard back from other researchers yet, but if I do I’ll add their newer work as well. A lot of the newer stuff is publicly available, so skip to the bottom if you want something you can read and don’t have access to academic journals. Updated April 6, 2017.

Being a bit lazy this week, though I hope this may be helpful to polyam parents. The Yahoo! PolyResearchers group recently compiled this list of studies covering polyamory/modern forms of non-monogamy and its impact on children. While it isn’t the easiest thing for a lay person to get access to academic journals (they tend to run expensive and not be carried in the local library), this list may be a resource for any professionals you deal with who are seeking to educated themselves on how your lifestyle may impact your children.

I have read very few of these myself, but the general discussion on the Yahoo! group indicated that no one there knew of any study which found any harm to children raised in ethically non-monogamous families.

Barker, Meg & Langdridge, Darren.  (2010).  Understanding Non-monogamies.  London: Routledge.

Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria.  (2010).  Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

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.  New York, NY: Routledge.

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.  London: Springer.

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.  London: Routledge.

Older studies:

Constantine, Larry L., & Constantine, Joan M.  (1976).  Treasures of the Island: Children in Alternative Families.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Constantine, Larry L., & Constantine, Joan M.  Group Marriage: A Study of Contemporary Multilateral Marriage.  New York: Macmillan, 1973, pp. 148-162.

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).  Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman & Co.

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: LEA Press.

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.

(Originally posted January 2012)

New Studies and Articles

(Unlike the original list, not all of these are peer reviewed. The ones that aren’t peer reviewed are more like to be available to anyone, so use them to inform yourself and your friends. The peer reviewed are harder to access, but can be very useful when dealing with medical or legal professionals who need “proof”.)

2016 Sheff, Elisabeth. When Someone you Love is Polyamorous. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

2016 Sheff, Elisabeth. “Resilient Polyamorous Families” in Critical Dimensions of Sex & Gender Diversity: Clinical Perspectivesedited by Karian, Previn.

2015 Sheff, Elisbeth. “Polyamorous Parenting” in The Sage Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies edited by Goldberg, Abbie. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

2015 Sheff, Elisabeth (Editor). Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

2014 Sheff, Elisabeth. The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple Partner Relationships and Families. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

2013 Goldfeder, Mark and Sheff, Elisabeth. “Children in Polyamorous Families: A First Empirical Look,” The Journal of Law and Social Deviance.  Volume 5, pages 150 – 243. http://www.lsd-journal.net/archives/Volume5/ChildrenOfPolyamorousFamilies.pdf

2012 Sheff, Elisabeth. “Polyamory and Divorce” in Cultural Sociology of Divorce, an Encyclopedia, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Polyamory and Children: Introducting New SOs

There’s a fair bit of revision here. Partly to make the post inclusive of single parents and LGBT families. But a lot because my view on this has evolved over the years. My opinion at this point is decidedly non-standard, but my approach has worked well with my family and other’s I have known. Like so much else, treating romantic relationships like any other relationship makes your kids and SOs meeting a lot simpler. Reposted 4/6/17.

Much like a single parent entering the dating scene again, how children react and respond to new SOs is a major issue for polyam folk. Of course, it’s also a secondary issue. First, you need to decide if you will be introducing your SOs to the kids.

This is very much a ’use your own judgment’ rule, but in general, you want to keep your children’s lives (regardless of how old they are) as stable as possible. So it’s important to keep in mind the difference between introducing your SO and making your SO a part of your kids’ lives.

Most of the time when people ask about “introducing” an SO to their kids, they are conflating the two. As if you would never introduce someone to your kids unless that person was going to be a major and long-term part of their lives.

Why?

I mean, you introduce a babysitter to your kids, you and the kids both know they may never see the babysitter again. If your new co-worker stops by to drop off chicken soup when you are sick, do you tell them to sneak in the back door so your kid won’t see them or do you have them come to the front door and ring the bell? If your kid answers it just say, “Oh, this is Carla from work, Carla, this is my kid.” They say polite how-do-yous and that’s it. If your company does those company family picnic things, next time your kid will at least recognize one other person there.

If you are in the closet about being polyam, don’t introduce your SO to your kids. If you aren’t in the closet and you and your SO aren’t talking entwinement, then if SO and kid happen to be in the same place, introduce them. If not, don’t worry about it.

The key here is expectations. If you are open with your kids, it’s important that they understand that not everyone you date is a potential new parent. There is a presumption in monogamy that anyone who is dating is automatically looking for a spouse. Do your kids the favor of debunking this early. It will make it easier for them to accept your relationships and easier for them when THEY are figuring out what kind of relationships they want.

“Hey, kid, you know how I’m doing the polyamory thing, right? Well, sometimes my SOs will be coming by to pick me up. I want you to know now that I’m not trying any of them out for a new/another spouse and if you meet them it doesn’t mean this is some big deal. It’s like when I introduced you to my friend Carl—someone you may see around and I want you to know who they are so you have a name to go with the face.”

Then when enbyfriend gets the time mixed up and comes half an hour early, it’s easy to say, “Oh, kid, thanks for getting the door. This is enbyfriend. I’m gonna park them in the living room while I finish getting ready. Go do your thing, okay?”

See? Introductions don’t need to be a big deal.

Okay, but let’s assume you and your SO have been in a relationship for a while, and you want to be more involved in each other’s lives. That can mean anything from wanting to share holidays to talking about moving in together. If your kid hasn’t met your SO yet you may want a more in-depth introduction.

A lot will be depending on how your family handles things and what you and your SO are looking to change. For instance, our family holidays, especially big celebration holidays like Passover, we invite a whole bunch of friends and family over to celebrate with us. While we have special family time during holidays, the main celebration is a (for us) large get together that always has room for one more. For polyam families with similar holiday traditions, inviting an SO to join the Seder or Christmas dinner is a non-threatening first meeting. The children won’t need to interact with them beyond saying ’hello’ unless they want to, the SO’s presence won’t be an intrusion, and any awkwardness gets lost in the fun and insanity of a three hour meal that involves origami frogs hopping around the table, singing songs, and pelting each other with marshmallows (or whatever your holiday traditions might be).

For another family, whose holidays tend to be private affairs, inviting a new person to a holiday celebration would be a horrible way to introduce them. It all depends on how your family handles things.

It can also depend on the child. For some children, bring your SO to your home to introduce them will make the child more comfortable – they are on their home turf. For others, it will feel like their space is being invaded. In that case, a get together at a park, a diner, or some other neutral space is a better idea.

Personally, I like the idea of having some activity to help people break the ice. A museum trip, a sports outing, whatever. But again, for some kids, a better idea is just to have them meet in a quiet place where they can talk and ask questions.

What to Say

Here, a lot depends on the child(ren)’s age, but in general, keep it simple.

Before your child(ren) and SO meet, sit down with your kids and (if you live with them) your children’s other parent/your primary partner(s). Just tell them that you are going to be introducing them to X, that X is important to you, but that it is ok is they don’t like X. Explain how your relationship with X is changing and how it will affect your child(ren). “X and I want to be more part of each other’s lives, so they are going to be coming over sometimes to hang out with me or watch movies together. I’m also going to be inviting them to our family barbecues this summer. You don’t need to talk with them if you don’t want to, but I’d like you to meet them.” Answer any questions they may have. (By now you should long ago have had the ’we are/I am polyamorous’ discussion.)

Depending on how your child(ren) tends to handle things, you can have this discussion a couple of days beforehand so they can think about it, or right before meeting your SO. You know your children best.

When you introduce them, keep it simple again. ‘Child, this is X. X, this is Child.’ Younger children generally aren’t much interested in strange adults, so you may want to mention something they have in common to help young children see your SO as a person, rather than Random Adult 1.

Take it slow, and keep it easy, let the children set their own pace. Remember that even if they have known about polyamory from a young age, they have grown up in a monogamous culture. They may be jealous on their other parent’s behalf, may feel (and resent) that the SO is taking time and attention away from them. Basically (again) everything that a divorced or single parent can face introducing an SO to their children, you might run into as well.

Introducing an SO to your children can definitely be a major step, especially if you want your SO to be a part of your family life. But with some thought and care, you can tone down the stress and pressure, and make it easier for everyone involved.

This post is part of the raising children in a polyamorous family blog series.

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Telling Your Children about Polyamory

Not much changed here on the main topic, but original version was pretty heterocentric. I’ve tried to correct that and be more inclusive of single-parent families. Revised 3/26/17

Children who are born into a polyamorous relationship do not need anyone to explain their parents’ relationships, any more than children born into a monogamous relationship. Because they grow up with it, they understand it. It’s normal to them.

Children whose parent(s) become polyamorous after the children are born may have difficulty understanding change in their parents’ relationships. If you choose to be open about your lifestyle choices, it’s important to present them in a way that leaves your children secure in knowing that their family will not be hurt by the changes you are making.

Discussing Polyamory with Young Children

Young children are still learning the societal norms. They need things simple, and in terms they can understand, with a focus on how it affects them. They certainly don’t need a long explanation of what polyamory is, why it is ethically ok, etc.

For some children, and some relationships, you won’t need to discuss anything. Just say at dinner ‘Mommy’s going out on a date, so I’m putting you to bed tonight.’ If you’d like, make it something of a treat for them ‘Mommy’s going out on a date, so you kids and I will be having a special movie night.’ Handling it this way tells them 1) that their Mom is dating someone, 2) that their other parent is cool with this, and 3) that this is something that is normal and they don’t need to worry about it. This goes equally for single parents with several polyam relationships and families with a parent and step parent. ‘Boyfriend will be baby-sitting while Mommy goes on a date with Girlfriend’ works just as well as ‘Daddy/Mommy/Step-Parent is putting you kids to bed tonight’.

If the kids ask questions, answer them without long explanations. Best advice I ever got about explaining things to little kids – answer the exact question they ask in the simplest terms possible, and then shut up. If they want more information, they’ll keep asking.

Some children will need more explanation, or reassurance, than others. If their friend’s parents just divorced because ‘Linda’s mommy was going on dates with another man, and her daddy left them,’ you will definitely need to do some reassuring. In general, treat your relationships as normal, answer questions, and make it clear with how you behave and act that there is nothing for the children to worry about, their world won’t be changing because their parents are in several relationships.

Discussing Polyamory with Older Children/Teenagers

Older children and teenagers will definitely be fully aware of the social norms against polyamory. They may or may not have heard of open relationships and polyam from their friends and acquaintances (if they haven’t yet, they will eventually). They are also probably old enough and enough on their dignity to need and deserve a more formal approach to your decision to enter into polyamory.

I would suggest sitting down with your child or teenager (together!) and explain that you have decided you are going to start dating again, that you still love each other and have no intention of splitting up, and that you are telling them this so that they know what is going on, and don’t get surprised later.

Depending on the child the reaction can range from ‘You’re talking about polyamory? That’s cool,’ to ‘ok, whatever,’ to ‘OMG HOW CAN YOU DO THIS TO ME!!!!’ (Yes, at this age it is all about them. Expect it and accept it. I honestly don’t see much difference between this and the way many adults act, but people seem to think it’s a big deal that teenagers do this. Meh.)

Listen to them (communication is just as important with children as it is with adult relationships). Give them a chance to flip out, ask questions, shrug it off or whatever their deal is. Answer any questions, be clear that it is your lives and your choice, but that you respect them enough to tell them yourselves about this decision. If they don’t see anything to talk about, let it be.

The most important thing about discussing it this way is it lets them know the floor is open. Whatever their reaction, they know that you are okay with them knowing about your relationships, and are willing to discuss it with them. Near equal in importance if you are married is they know that you are both in agreement on this, and no one is sneaking around or cheating.

In general, as long as they see that their lives and their relationships with you aren’t changing in a massive way, older children and teenagers will move on to something else to be worked up and angry about eventually, no matter how badly they react.

Not Discussing Polyamory with your Children

There is, always, the option to keep your lifestyle hidden from your children. Pros and cons of this one can be argued all over the map. I’m not going to get into it here. If you choose not to discuss and inform your children of your lifestyle, be prepared for them to know about it eventually. As self-centered as they are, kids are very attuned to anything that threatens their lives and families. You having other relationships will be seen as a threat, simply because they have been taught that this is a betrayal of their other parent, and may lead to divorce.

Hopefully if they become aware of your relationships without you saying anything, they will come to you to ask about it. In that case it is simple enough to say ‘yes, your other parent knows and approves, beyond that it is private.’ I suggest getting the other parent in the room so they know you are telling the truth.

This post is part of the Raising Children in a Polyamorous Family blog series.

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Polyamory and Children: Should I tell my kids about polyamory?

Several additional years of experience has only strengthened my original opinion–so no major changes here. I haven’t gotten around to updating it yet, but for those interested here is a post on how to tell your kids about polyamory. Revised 3/19/17. Sorry for the late post.

Probably one of the hardest choices polyam parents face is whether or not to tell their children about their relationships and lifestyle.

When it comes to older children, I firmly believe they should know age-appropriate information about their parents’ relationship choices. They are exploring relationships for themselves and figuring out how they want to live their lives. Your kids (and if they know you, your partners’ kids) will see you as an example of how to live. Not being honest about your experiences and relationships is like sending them out in a rowboat with only one oar. They may decide to take a different path from you, but they deserve your help, support, and advice. And kids are smart – they will know if you are hiding something, and they are not going to be honest with you if you are not honest with them.

Following up on ’kids are damn smart,’ if you are in a relationship with your kid’s other parent, you do not want your kid to think you are cheating. (And they likely will if they discover you are hiding other relationships.) I can’t begin to list all the reasons that would be a BAD THING, but let’s just mention them feeling forced to choice between keeping “your secret” (and lying to their other parent) or telling their other parent (and possibly destroying your relationship and their home). That is a 100% fucked up place to put your kids.

That said, and with the best of intentions, the world doesn’t always work the way we want, and there may be situations where telling your children of any age is a bad idea. For instance, it is generally recommended that polyam folk in a custody agreement with a monogamous co-parent stay in the closet. Being polyamorous can get your custody taken away. Laws on this one vary (and let’s take a minute out here to root for the overturning of Canada’s anti-polygamy laws, judge’s decision coming up the end of this month [note: judge’s decision on that case was a mixed victory but definitely a step forward]), but in general if you think of the situation gay and lesbian parents were in 20-30 years ago, you have the right idea. (More on polyamory and custody)

With younger kids, it gets a bit more complicated. Basically, if you are out to the world there is no real reason to hide from little kids, as long as you keep it at their level. ’Mommy has a boyfriend/Daddy has a different boyfriend.’ However, if you aren’t out about your relationships, at least to close friends and family, telling a young child is a recipe to be outed – ’Granma guess what! Daddy and I had special time last night while Mommy went out with her boyfriend!’ More than one polyam family has been outed that way.

It definitely is not fair to ask little children to keep your relationships a secret. The hypocrisy of teaching them to have open and honest relationships, and lie about them with not be lost on them, and will seriously confuse their world view. Nevermind the fact that asking kids to keep grownup’s secrets just isn’t fair and is placing way too much on the kid’s shoulders. If you don’t want your little kids talking about your relationships, don’t tell them.

That said, this can be a place to teach kids about privacy. Little kids are always taught there are some things we don’t talk about. We don’t announce to the world at large that Aunt Salma had a miscarriage—that’s up to Aunt Salma to share if she wants to.You can treat your polyam relationships the same way. “Our relationships are private and it is up to us who we tell about them.” This approach MAY allow you to thread the path of being in the closet, being out to your kids, and not modeling being ashamed or secretive about your relationships.

Of course, you kids may still out you by accident, so that’s still a problem.

Now, the oddball here is children born into a polyam relationship. A child born into a quad or triad that is living together, or born when a pregnancy occurs in a relationship that is not cohabiting will know about it. When the family is living together, this is pretty obvious. When the parents don’t live together and are involved with other people you get ‘Mommy and Daddy are my parents but Daddy is married to Auntie and he and Mommy go out together sometimes.’ In this situation definitely be honest, don’t try and hide anything, and answer questions in an age appropriate way.

Children view whatever they experience as normal, and adults who were raised in polyam families have mentioned feeling sorry for other kids who only had two parents. So the younger a child is when they learn about your relationships, the easier, and more normal it will be for them. Older children, who already have a clear idea of societal norms and how things ’should’ be, may have more difficulty adjusting – especially if the see outside relationships as a betrayal of your marriage.

This post is part of a series on raising children in polyamorous families.

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Polyamory and Children: Where is the Research At?

Nothing I wrote here has changed substantially in the last few years. However, there was a great deal more research on children raised in polyam families than I was aware of when I wrote this. And more research has been done since then. Most of that research has been small scale and not longitudinal, so more research is still needed. But what we have gives us a generally positive outlook. Find the full polyamory and children research list here. Revised 3/5/17

Anytime you suggest doing something that is different, unconventional, and socially unacceptable the cry goes up ’think of the children!’ And society demands that people outside the mainstream prove our choices are not threatening to children.

Unfortunately, at the moment, that proof is a bit hard to come by. Studies on polyamorous relationships with children are few and far between. Research on polyamory is complicated by the fact that there are so many possible polyamorous arrangements. A primary couple who are part of a polyam network will have a different experience raising children in a polyam household compared to a group marriage. Several researchers are currently working to address this lack of information, but research is not a fast process.

If there has been little research into polyamorous relationships, there is a lot of research into a wide variety of other lifestyles. Taken all together, looking what we know about raising children in LGBT households, in alternative religions, in foster homes, adoptive families, single parent homes, cross-cultural studies of children raised in family compounds in Asia, studies of the matrilineal Musou who don’t have marriages, and so much other research that has been done, on so many aspects of life, culture, family and child rearing . . . The conclusion seems clear: children are raised in stable, loving homes, where healthy relationships are modeled, are not harmed by any non-conventional living arrangements. They will usually grow up to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted adults.

In fact, children in non-traditional families are most harmed by the discrimination they and their families face, not their upbringing.

Alan of Poly in the News has drawn together the publically available info on the impact of raising children in a polyamorous household. As of when he published his compilation in February of 2010, polyamory is looking like it can be a pretty good way to raise children.

While we do not yet have “proof” for detractors that our lifestyle is safe for our children, what information there is looks promising. And there is no evidence that healthy polyamorous relationships are detrimental to children.

(Originally published Oct 2011)

A Personal Digression: Custody Case

I’ve fixed a few typos here and changed one instance of “polies” to “polyam folk.” Otherwise this is exactly as I posted it in the fall of 2011, including signed with a name I no longer use. My ex’s lawyer did in fact print this post out and ask me, while on the witness stand, to read my letter to the judge. Sadly, the judge was exactly as bigoted as I was afraid, and, well, the case ended badly. Though some long term good did come of it. Re-posted (but NOT revised) March 1, 2017.

I have nothing to say about pregnancy today. I’m having a bit of trouble focusing on much of anything at the moment.

You see, the fact that I write this blog is being used against me in a custody case. Posts from this blog have been printed out and brought into hearings to prove that I engage in polyamory and am therefore an unfit parent.

In a few weeks, I will be going into court for the custody trial. A court that will not care about all the research proving that polyamory is a healthy and ethical lifestyle, the published studies by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, Dr. Geri Weitzman, and so many others. A court that will have no interest in the paper by law professor Ann Tweedy the Michigan University College of Law examining polyamory and its possible status as a sexual orientation and/or embedded personality trait (ie not a choice but a part of a person). A court that will be prejudging me – the root word of prejudice – based on nothing other then an assumption that anything other then monogamy is wrong, even though there is no evidence, no basis, no reason, other then knee-jerk ‘that’s not the way things are supposed to be’ emotional reaction behind the judging.

My saving grace is that for over a year I have only been in a relationship with my fiance, Michael. That I have previously written, on this blog, that that is the only relationship I am in.

Part of me is disgusted at my cowardice. That I am willing to hide behind that fact and not stand up in court and openly denounce their prejudice and hypocrisy. That I am not willing to fight for a lifestyle that is in no way unsafe or dangerous for my children.

But I can’t risk my children. And if the court demands that I live monogamously from now on I will do so.

Because I am judged guilty without benefit of trial.

I’ve seen the arguments in the community about whether polyam folk should push for legal rights, become politically active. So many say that ‘we shouldn’t rock the boat’, that ‘as long as keep our heads down we will be fine’, that ‘there is no point in exposing ourselves’.

Well, the courts will not educate themselves. The laws will not change themselves. And until other people stand up and say this is wrong, the attacks that are being made on me will keep happening to other people.

And what the hell, since I know people are printing out my blog to show the judge:

Your Honor,

If you should happen to read this, I will say here that to allow polyamory to be used against me in court, without knowledge of the nature of the lifestyle, or research which has been done on it is wrong. That there is no basis or reason to believe that polyamory is dangerous to my children, and that regardless of anything else, if I did choose to have other relationships when my children are with their father it would not affect them at all and should be nobody’s business but my own and my fiance’s.

Maybe this post will be used against me as well. Will you judge on my beliefs, your Honor? Does my willingness to say openly that there is nothing wrong with alternative lifestyles automatically make me an unfit parent, whether I engage in those lifestyles or not?

I will continue writing this blog, your Honor. I will continue to support everyone’s right to pursuit of happiness and freedom of expression – those grand words that are so often trampled in the cry of ‘shame! immoral! shame!’ with no basis other than the righteous indignation of those who think there is only one right way.

I just wish I was brave enough to stand up in court and say all this there.

Sincerely,
Jessica Burde

Random Babble Post – For the Children

I fixed some typos, otherwise I’m letting this stand, bad grammar and all. Since I first wrote this I have seen many polyam families navigate healthy endings to relationships between polyam partners and children. But I think the central point here stands. Don’t forcibly sever your or  your partner’s parental relationship with children in the polycule just because relationships between adults have ended. Revised Dec 25, 2016

So, I’m too exhausted to think clearly, don’t have a post written, and refuse to be late again. What’s a person to do then? Babble.

In theory, I should be writing another post on pregnancy. If I tried in this exhausted state, what would come out is my own emotions and reactions to my experiences of pregnancy in polyamorous relationships, not all of which were good. I guess if I were to sum up the badness it would be: it was difficult and hurtful for a woman who was supposed to be part of a quad with me, to want me to have nothing to do with her pregnancy, and then want to be heavily involved in my own pregnancy later that same year. Of course, that whole relationship was a disaster. None of us handled the situation well, and a lot of people were very hurt before it ended.

Probably the one who was hurt the most was my husband, who left the relationship, left behind me, his brother, and the two children of his heart who he now never sees, living half way across the country. Thankfully, and due to a series of very messed up circumstances, involving extended family, Division of Youth and Family Services, and a messed up legal system, the children had been living with my parents and had barely seen him for a year, as well as being young enough that now, three years later, they barely remember him, so they weren’t nearly as hurt as they could have been by his leaving. Though, sometimes, a few times a year maybe, my daughter asks for him.

And I suppose if this post has a point, that should be it. There are no legal ties to the children of our poly partners. And if things end, it can be so easy to walk away, so much less hurtful to leave them behind rather then see them constantly and be reminded of what we lost.

But if we chose to bring children into a polyam relationship, whether we are the biological parents or not, we have a responsibility to them. I hear it said so often in polyam forums that a relationship that ends is not a failure if it simply ran its course and everyone moved on . . . but, when you bring children in, whether they are born into the relationship, or brought in from previous relationships, we owe it to them not to let the end of a relationship with our partners, take us away from the children who also have a relationship with us.

There is a little girl who called me her parent, and whose face lights up whenever she sees me, who is not allowed to spend time with me. There are two children sleeping upstairs who have a father they will probably never see again. This is wrong, and I cannot change it. But I can hope and pray that those of you who read this, will do everything in your power to make sure these things never happen to the children in your life.

Because our children deserve better than this.

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Etiquette for Polyamory Partners and Children

I talked about interactions between poly partners and children a couple of times in the Raising Children in a Poly Family blog series. But this apparently an issue a lot of people stress about, so I’m going to pull it all together in one place.

This article assumes that you want your children to meet your poly partners. If you don’t, that’s okay. Do what works for your family and relationships. (Should I be out to my children?)

The First Rule is KISS

Keep It Simple, Stupid. This rule will get you through large parts of life and especially large chunks of parenting. Kid’s are smart. But they are also…let’s go with focused. They don’t care about the details of your job (unless they are planning on going into the same field). They don’t care about what you and your friend do when you go Tuesday nights. And they don’t really care about the details of your relationship with your poly partners. Answer the questions they ask–the exact questions they ask–as simply as possible. Then stop. If they want to know more, they’ll ask.

Introducing Your Poly Partners to Your Children

Short version: Follow the same general guidelines as introducing anyone. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Your poly partner is another adult friend of their parents, of no immediate interest to your kids unless you make it a big deal.

The long version is here.

What Should my Children Call my Poly Partner?

Short version: Let the kid decide. If you are in the closet and worried about the kid outting you by calling a poly partner “Aunt” or “Mom 2,” then this is a good time to teach them about formal and informal interactions. This is a useful tool in other areas of life, such as dealing with their boss at work or teachers at school. Some situations are informal and we can call each other nicknames, some situations are formal and we use formal names or Mr. and Ms.

The long version is here.

How Should I Interact with my Poly Partner’s Children?

Keep it relaxed and casual. If you want to keep a bit of distance in your relationship, treat them like a co-workers children. Polite, but don’t interact beyond basic courtesy:

Poly partner: Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend [you.]
Jason: Hi, [you].
You: Hi Jason, nice to meet you. [Poly partner], are you ready to go?

If you want to interact with the kid directly, and maybe develop a relationship with them, act like a family friend:

Poly partner: Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend [you.]
Jason: Hi, [you].
You: Hi Jason, nice to meet you. Cool shirt.

(next time you bump into each other)

You: Hi Jason, how you doing?
Jason: I’m okay. School sucks, though.
You: Yeah, I always hated math class. (pause, let Jason respond more if he wants, if not) I’m supposed to be picking up your mom. Do you know if she’s ready?

When you see the kid, engage a bit, ask how they are doing, what’s going on. If they mention one day they are practicing guitar, the next time you see them ask if they learned to play any new songs. This shows that you paid attention and are interested in what they are doing.

Do NOT force a conversation when the kid isn’t interested. Don’t let things get awkward. If the kid doesn’t respond to something you say or seems like they want to be doing something else, give them a graceful escape and return your focus to your partner.

When Your Relationship With Your Poly Partner Changes

A lot of emotional upset gets spent on how traumatic it can be for kids when their parent’s poly partner leaves their lives. The mistake in this is that adults kids like and relate to leave their lives all the time. That teacher who changed your life in fourth grade? Were you really traumatized when you moved onto fifth grade and she wasn’t your teacher anymore? When I played softball as a kid, we had a different coach almost every year. Some of those coaches I really connected with, but when the season ended, the team split and I didn’t see the coach until next year–if I saw them again at all.

I can’t say I was particularly traumatized by most of the adults who moved in and out of my life. The only one I remember with any real hurt is a priest who had a big impact on me. He left my life (moved to a different congregation) and when I ran into him years later he didn’t remember me. His leaving didn’t hurt-his forgetting did.

If you are going to leave the lives of your partner’s kids, here are some guidelines for how to make it work:

1) Give them some warning and a timeline. Yes, it is hard to do this when a relationship with a poly partner is changing or ending. But you and your partner can still say “This isn’t working anymore. Let’s stop seeing each other gradually over the next two months.” Which gives you and the kids time to adjust.

2) Give them some way to stay in contact if they choose to.

3) Allow them to be hurt or upset.

You: Hey Vanessa. I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you and talking about your artwork. I need to let you know that my relationship with my parent is changing. After the next few months, I probably won’t be coming by anymore. Here’s my phone number. If you ever need to talk, you can give me a call okay? And I’ll still be around for a little while longer.
Vanessa: But…I’m gonna miss you.
You: I know, I’m going to miss you too. We can cry about it a bit. Change is sad. I won’t stop caring about you just because I’m not coming over a lot. And like I said, you can always call me.

If you and the child in question wants, changing your relationship with their parent doesn’t need to change your relationship with the kid. If you have taken on a large role in the kid’s life, this can be an important option.

1) Tell them about the change in your relationship with the partner

2) Reassure them that it doesn’t change your relationship with them

3) Give them a way to control how your relationship develops from there.

You: Hey Vanessa. I’ve got some tough news. Your parent and I aren’t going to be seeing each other anymore.
Vanessa: Does that mean you won’t come hang with me?
You: Of course I’ll come over if you want me to. Parent and I are changing our relationship, but you and I can still be (friends/family/what have you).
Vanessa: Good. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come to my art show next week.
You: I’ll be there. And you have my phone number. Anytime you want to get together, just give me a call.

(For younger kids: Parent has my phone number. Anytime you want to hang out, ask them to call me.)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Raising Children in A Polyamorous Family Wrap Up

With some reluctance, I’m wrapping up the PoP blog series on raising children in polyamorous families. I hope I’ve been able to answer some questions and give some reassurances. I think I’ve covered everything I intended to cover. If you have any questions or concerns I missed, please contact me. I’m always happy to add another post or two! For now, here’s the complete…

Raising Children in A Polyamorous Family Blog Series

  1. Random Babble Post – For the Children
  2. Polyamory and Children: Where is the Research At?
  3. Polyamory and Children: It’s a complicated subject
  4. Polyamory and Children: Opening up?
  5. Telling Your Children about Polyamory
  6. Polyamory and Children: Introducing New SOs
  7. Polyamory and Children: Research Update
  8. Polyamory and Children: Legal Stuff
  9. Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?
  10. Polyamory and Children Guest Blog: Marmoset, Metamour and Ice Cream
  11. Polyamory Hurts Kids? Not in the Real World
  12. Laws and legal practices affecting our children
  13. Polyamory and Children: Child Custody Review
  14. Child Custody and Polyamory: Who is at Risk
  15. Child Custody Cases: How to Protect Yourself
  16. Resources for Custody Cases Involving Polyamory
  17. Introducing Your Polyamory Partners to Your Children
  18. Should You Tell Your Kids About Polyamory?
  19. Helping Our Kids Talk About Polyamory
  20. Talking with Your Child’s Teacher (or other professional) about Polyamory
  21. When Your Kids Discover Your Closeted Polyamorous Relationship
  22. Legal Options for Multi-Parent Polyamorous Families
  23. Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)
  24. When Our Kids Face Discrimination for Our Relationships
  25. Meeting Other Polyamorous Families

The next couple of Sundays I’ll be catching up on book reviews, so if you’ve been looking for a new poly-related read make sure you stop by!

Meeting Other Polyamorous Families

For children in minority families, nothing can be so powerful as meeting others like them. As an adoptee, I remember the first time I met other kids who were adopted. For the first time, there were other people who understood, really understood, what it was like. The questions and uncertainties of having other parents out there…somewhere.

I’ve heard similar experiences from mixed race children, children of LGBT parents, children living with chronic illness, and others. Not being alone is a very powerful thing, and especially powerful for a child, who has very little power over their own lives.

Meeting other polyamorous families can go a long way towards helping your child deal with any discrimination they face, to not feeling alone and misunderstood by all the other kids they know and more. It can give them their own community and peer group. They can talk together about the problems and challenges and joys of growing up in a non-traditional family.

So… meeting other polyamorous families is pretty awesome—but how do you do it? Most of us don’t exactly take out ads in the yellow pages! Actually, it may be easier than you think. Here are a few places you can connect with other poly families.

OKCupid

Yup, the dating site. If you’ve never been on OKCupid, you may not know that they have a search setting for “just friends”–that is, you can use the dating site as a way to connect with people locally for no other reason than to make a friend. OKCupid is also (as of this writing, and I don’t expect it to change soon) the go-to dating site for poly folk.

You can hop on OKC, do a search for folks with “poly” or “polyamory” in their profiles who are looking for friends. And see if anyone mentioned having kids in their profiles. If they do, send a quick message:

Hey, I see you are polyamorous and interested in making friends. We are looking to connect with other poly families in the area. We’d really like for our kids to have a chance to meet other kids growing up in poly families. Would you be interested in getting together sometime? I noticed you like Italian food, I make a mean manicotti.

If you live in a small town or rural region, you may need to search pretty far out. But kids today are real social media savvy. Even if you can’t meet in person, your kids can still connect through Skype, G-chat, or other online platform.

Local Polyamory Groups

There are two ways of meeting other polyamorous families through a local poly group. The first is to go to group meetings and connect with people directly. Some local groups having Family Nights and other kid-friendly gatherings. If your local group doesn’t, you can always suggest they start one or volunteer to host or organize one.

If you can’t make it to the group meetings, you can join the local groups mailing list and connect with other families that way. Let folks know that you can’t make the meetings for whatever reason, but would love to meet other polyamorous families. Would anyone in the group w/ kids who’d be interested in meeting send you a message?

MeetUp and Facebook are both good places to find local poly groups.

Polyamory Conferences

Cons are always a great place to meet people. Some poly cons have activities specifically for kids. When I want to APW a few years ago they had a kids and family room set up. Parents took turns helping out, and volunteers ran kid-friendly activities. Other cons set up informal networks for parents to trade kid-sitting while attending adult-only parts of the con. Parents can also arrange activities together and generally let the kids hang out. You can find a list of poly cons for the next year on Alan’s List of Poly Events.

Be aware—some cons and poly events are 18+ (or local equivalent) ONLY. If you aren’t certain, make sure you check with the con organizers before bringing your kids.

 

My family will be attending Loving Move’s Poly Living 2016 in Philadelphia. We’d love to meet you and your family. If you plan on attending, please get in touch!

 

This post is part of  the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series.