Category Archives: Children

When Our Kids Face Discrimination for Our Relationships

In an ideal world, no one would hurt our kids because of our choices. As we’ve noted before, the world is far from ideal. If we are open about our relationships (and sometimes even if we aren’t) people’s ignorant reactions to polyamory can cause problems for our children. We need to be ready to help them cope with this discrimination, and to respond ourselves when appropriate.

Discrimination from Peers

Being different is hard for kids. That’s true at any age. I remember in 2nd grade a teacher taught my class about adoption. I ended up singled out as the only adopted kid in my class. For about a week, I fielded rude, ignorant questions and curiosity.

In 5th grade, a girl from India joined our (all white) class. I don’t know how much her being alone on the playground was just being the new girl, and how much was being different. But I distinctly remember when she and I became friends, my mother warning me it wasn’t good to become close to her. It would just separate me further from the rest of my class, she said.

And being different as a teenager is just plain hell, any way you slice it.

Our children may face rude or nasty questions about their family. They may be ostracized. They may have people pretend to be their friends only to turn around and make fun of them later.

There isn’t much we can do to protect our children from their peers. In some cases, opening your home can help. Letting their peers come visit and become familiar with their family will make our children stand out less. In these situations “contempt” for the familiar has its advantages.

Depending on what kind of discrimination they face, we can give our children tools to deal with it. Ways to respond to rude questions, taking the time to help them connect with peer groups that don’t ostracize them. They have no friends at school? Get them involved in community service groups, after school activities, 4-H, or whatever.

If at all possible, one of the best things we can do is help them connect with other children in polyamorous families. Let them see that they are not alone, that there are other kids like them, and let them share coping strategies with each other. It goes a long way!

Discrimination from Adults

The most immediately hurtful discrimination our kids face will likely be from peers. But while other children tend to be down on anyone who is different, adults are more likely to be driven by active prejudice and bigotry. (Note: I say more likely—some adults will still just be idiots, and some kids will be bigots).

Adults in a kid’s world tend to be authority figures. This means minor interactions and decisions they make can have a much larger impact on our kids lives. What kind of impact depends on the adult’s relationship with our kids.

Relatives: Discrimination from relatives is most likely to come in the form of nasty comments and gossip, refusal to acknowledge your significant others, and refusal to allow your significant others in their home. We have more leverage over relatives than most adults– “Your talk about my SO has been hurting Dave. I really don’t care what you think about my relationships, but if you can’t stop the nasty comments and gossip, I will not allow Dave to visit anymore.”

While most relatives are decent enough not to use it, in many places your relatives also have a very scary bit of leverage to use on you. Custody battles. If you think your relatives might try taking your children b/c of your relationships, check local laws in your area before putting your foot down.

Family therapy can also be a helpful option in getting relatives to back off if you can find a poly-friendly therapist. In hindsight, my mother’s refusal to try family therapy was a clue that we would never have a healthy relationship. I eventually got a court order for family therapy, but the reality is it wasn’t going to help any when she wasn’t willing to be there.

Authority Figures: Teachers, coaches, religious figures and other adults often have authority over our kids. When these authority figures are bigots, or just ignorant and ill-informed, they can cause problems. Some problems can be bureaucratic—Jean wants Mama Dawn to pick her up after school, but the school requires pick up by legal guardians only. Some problems are social—teachers whose approach to teaching about family is normative and excludes non-nuclear families. This will not only hurt our children in the classroom, but set them up for more problems with their classmates. One solution: approach the teach (or go over their head to the school) about a diverse family day. Chances are that at least one (and possibly several) kids in your child’s classroom have divorced parents, blended families, are being raised by another relative, or have two moms or two dads. You might arrange with the school for non-nuclear families to discuss how their family works.

Religious figures are potentially the most damaging, but also the easiest to avoid. If the local pastor, rabbi, or whatever doesn’t approve and makes their disapproval known in a way that harms your kids, you can switch to a different religious community. Depending on where you live, this choice may lead to social challenges with relatives or neighbors. You’ll need to decide if the disapproval of your relatives for switching churches is worth getting your kids away from a discriminatory pastor. Whether or not it is worth it will largely depend on just how discriminatory the pastor is.

Book Review: Stories from the Polycule, edited by Dr. Eli Sheff

I once again owe Eli Sheff an apology. For whatever reason, I am not able to get reviews of her books up in a timely manner. Granted, “timely” is not something I am good at the best of times.

With that out of the way, let me actually talk about Stories from the Polyculestories from the polycule.

Stories from the Polycule is a collection of stories, essays, poems, and pictures from polyamorous people and their families. Stories of what happens when polyamory goes wrong, of what it’s like when it works. Of raising children in polyamorous families. Some entries are barely a page long, others could be chapters in themselves.

Each one gives a unique and insightful look at polyamorous life.

I could point to specific entries that touched me. Or areas that maybe didn’t work for me. But like all anthologies, what is meaningful or important will be different for each reader.

What I will say is that Stories from the Polycule is the first collection of our stories. The stories of life and love in polyamorous relationships. It is the answer to every “what is it like” question. To “what about jealousy?” to “but don’t you want kids?” It is the collective answer of dozens of poly folks to the question “What does polyamory mean?”

It isn’t a perfect picture of polyamory. It doesn’t show every nuance, every relationship, every challenge. But it is a picture of who we are. And that picture is pretty awesome.

Stories from the Polycule is published by Thorntree Press. I am a contributor to the anthology, and received a free copy in return for my review.

Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)

Six years ago when my husband and new boyfriend all decided to cohabitate under the same roof– I felt pretty smug. I had created a situation where I got to have my husband of 20 years and a new lover as well. We converted our single-family home into a duplex. My husband and his new girlfriend moved into one side of the house, while I lived on the other side with my new man, Oz. Our children had their bedrooms under >But not everyone was thrilled for us. When Oz, told his ex-wife he was giving up his apartment permanently to move in with me, she slapped him with a custody suit. She was determined that their two children would never live in my home. She accused us of all kinds of perversities and insisted the household was unsafe for their children. During the hearings, we were basically investigated for being polyamorous. Thus began my painful education into the fears and bigotry surrounding my alternative chosen family.

It was a baptism of fire. We were evaluated by the courts for over year then suddenly the kids were allowed to move in– almost on a fluke. I wrote about this “best of times & worst of times” in my memoir “Wide Open”.

But even after Oz’s children moved in, we all felt vulnerable. Until there are laws that protect polyamorous people, swingers and those with any openness in their marriage—we are unprotected from people who would use our sexuality to attack us.

Here are three things that I would advise you do if you are confronted with child custody issues:

1) Shift the Focus off Your Sexuality

There are lousy polyamorous parents and lousy monogamous parents, there are also fantastic polyamorous parents and fantastic monogamous parents. Your sexuality does not determine your effectiveness and goodness as a parent. One mistake we made was trying to justify and explain our lifestyle to the courts. In hindsight this further put our sexuality on display. Better to do just the opposite. Focus on your excellent parenting skills. This is assuming you are a good parent. If you aren’t—you’re in trouble. Because similar to other bigotry– you will have to be a better parent than the average monogamous parent.

Your sexual habits will be under scrutiny. But my advice is to respond to attacks and queries in the reverse context. Describe how your bedroom has a lock on it and is on a separate floor. Subtext: Of course we do not have sex in front of our children! Describe your community, your village which supports your excellent parenting. Subtext: We do not have orgies in the living room while the kids play with Legos—we are a kid-orientated responsible family. Get letters of recommendation from teachers’, friends, co-workers, anyone who has witnessed your parenting and can accurately describe your parental strengths.

2. Hire a Good Lawyer.

But don’t stop there– educate your lawyer. Utilize local LGBT organizations for legal strategy. Gay rights activist groups have already dealt with the kind of situations and bigotry that you may be confronted with in court. You will likely need to work with your lawyer on a game plan. Don’t turn your case over to your lawyer without thoroughly discussing how they will represent and fight for you. Don’t hire a lawyer just because they’re polyamorous. This is a mistake. Hire a very sharp, aggressive lawyer with a proven track record in custody cases. Someone who pays attention, is open to collaborating on methods/strategy, understands your situation and will advocate for you with clarity and intelligence.

3. Take Really Good Care of Yourself.

When I look back at this time it was one of the most stressful of my life. I was on edge for the entire two years that we were embroiled with the courts and their appointed evaluator. Reach out to your support network, find ways to calm yourself down and deal with your stress. It’s extremely challenging to deal with the courts and even more so with the potential of losing your children– my heart goes out to anyone going through it.

You can e-mail Gracie X at GracieX.com.

 

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

Gracie X

Gracie X
Gracie X is a Writer, Director, and Actress. She is the author of “Wide Open: My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage and Loving On My Own Terms” now available wherever books are sold.

She started a relationship odyssey nearly a decade ago that inspired her to create an unconventional polyamorous chosen family. For the past several years the idea that people can authentically construct their relationships, marriages, and families while meeting the needs of everyone involved– has cracked her wide open. She can’t stop writing, talking, or thinking about it. Her main message is do it your own way. “There is so much more spaciousness in our relationships to get our needs met—and there’s not one correct way to do it. There are a spectrum of options from monogamy to polyamory and all the nuances in between.” She encourages people to create a unique ‘relationship mission statement’ and set up their marriages, poly relationships and families in the way that works best for them.

She has been a principal on “Nash Bridges”, and numerous local TV and commercials. Her short film which she directed and co-stars premiered in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It has played at “The Outfest” in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Germany, Seattle, Orlando, and on San Jose’s Public TV channel KTEH. Her plays have been produced by ‘Brava! For Women in the Arts”, The Climate Theater, Solo Mio, The Chi Chi Club, The Fringe Festival, The Marsh and Josie’s Juice Joint. Gracie X has toured throughout San Francisco, Vancouver and Los Angeles. A graduate of Bard College, she has worked with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver at the WOW Cafe in New York City.

Legal Options for Multi-Parent Polyamorous Families

(This blog post is based on my knowledge and experience in the US. My research suggests that the same general options apply in many parts of Europe and the Anglosphere. If you have knowledge of other countries, please share in the comments!)

Our social and legal systems are set up on the assumption that a child has two parents. These systems have difficulty handling step-parents, never mind poly families. So it is no surprise that polyamorous families with three or more parents raising kids together often run into red tape.

Whether your family is co-parenting together with all the adults having equal say, or you generally raise kids as couples, but want your poly partners to have some official place in your kid’s life, the social and legal systems are just not set up to work with you.

Luckily, there are a few ways you work around the system.

Doing Separate Paperwork for Each Situation

Most things activities and bureaucracies your kids need to go through will have an option to designate other adults who are allowed to participate, be informed, and interact. At the doctor’s office, you can fill out a form that gives your poly partner the right to take your child to the doctor and get information about your child’s health.

At school you can fill out a form that allows your poly partner to pick your child up, meet your child on school grounds, or participate in class activities.

Hospitals, after school activities, summer camps, and clubs usually have a similar system.

You will need to jump through a slightly different set of hoops for each area of your child’s life you would like your poly partner to be involved in. This has significant hassle but also allows you to pick and choose what access you give your poly partners.

In Loco Parentis

In loco parentis is a legal method of designating another adult to act on your behalf in regard to your child. In the US, when children go on field trips with their school, parents need to sign forms allowing the school to act in loco parentis on the trip—this allows the school to take the child to the hospital in the event of an emergency.

In loco parentis is simple to set up. All it takes is a paper saying that this adult stands in loco parentis, with the right to act on the parents behalf. Sign the paper and you are good. You can set a time limit—for instance giving a babysitter in loco parentis standing for one week while you are on vacation. You can also specify specific rights. For instance giving a poly partner in loco parentis standing for medical care, but not for things related to school or legal matters.

If you want to be a bit more formal about it, you can ask a lawyer to draw up an in loco parentis statement. If you have concerns about relatives or other people who disapprove of your relationship challenging the in loco parentis, this may be a good idea. It is not necessary.

Setting up in loco parentis is the easiest way to give a poly partner some standing regarding your kids. They will need to keep the paper with them and show to officials anytime they are speaking on your behalf. If you don’t set a time limit on the original form, you can revoke their standing at anytime.

Legally Adding a Third Parent

A few (a very few) legal jurisdictions have set a precedent allowing three people to have legal standing as a child’s parents. This is definitely something you will want to speak with a lawyer about ahead of time, and be prepared for a lot of scrutiny and legal hassle.

If you live in a jurisdiction that has not yet allowed 3-parent families, you can attempt to set such a precedent, but expect even more hassle, expense and scrutiny.

Disclaimer

When Your Kids Discover Your Closeted Polyamorous Relationship

(To keep things simple, this post has been written in terms of two parent households. The most of the same issues and choices will apply regardless of your family set up.)

The big problem with being closeted is that you can be outed. While some folks managed to stay closeted for decades, that’s the exception rather than the rule. And relationships that do stay closeted long term are usually not trying to hide the truth from people they live with. Sooner or later, many poly parents will need to deal with their kids learning the truth.

Kids who discover you have other relationships will likely be tweens or teenagers. Younger children generally don’t have enough awareness of social conventions and adult interactions to know the difference between their parents having friends and their parents being in intimate relationships. Tweens and teens who discover their parent’s relationships will make their own assumptions about what is going on. At best they may assume or hope that you have an open relationship. At worst, they may assume that you and/or their other parent are having an affair or are on your way towards divorce.

Unfortunately, not all kids will come to you about what they know or assume. This creates a difficult situation–you think your relationships are secret and their assumptions are running wild. If they are assuming affair or divorce, this can put a huge amount of stress on your kids.

Hopefully, if your kids do discover your relationships, they will be comfortable enough to come to you or your partner about it.

You best approach at that point is just to be honest. Make it clear that no one is cheating, no one is sneaking around, and that your kid’s family is not going to be torn apart by your relationships. They may have questions, they may be upset or feel threatened, they may not care once they know that nothing is going to change for them. Give them some time to absorb everything.

If possible, I recommend giving them an idea of who they can talk with. You being in the closet should not deny your kids a chance to have a support system. They need to have a family friend, relative, therapist, someone they can talk with (who isn’t you). Unless you intend to come out, in general, your kids will need to know that you are in the closet and why. That means they will need to know who is and is not safe to talk with.

If your kids do not come to you, you may notice changes in their behavior, mood, and how they treat you or your partner. Of course, that also describes stereotypical teenagers. It is always hard to tell when tweens or teenagers are dealing with a major problem that needs their parent’s intervention, and when they are dealing with the regular stresses of being a teenager.

If you suspect your child has discovered your relationships, but they say nothing to you, you’ll need to decide how to approach them. You might take the head-on approach of outing yourself. This will make it easier to discuss your relationships and any concerns they may have. However, if they hadn’t yet discovered your relationships you may have outed yourself unnecessarily. Or you can try to get them to tell you what is wrong. This is notoriously difficult with teens, and only slightly easier with tweens. If they have discovered your relationships, or if something else is going on that damages their trust in you, it will be even harder.

Talking with Your Child’s Teacher (or other professional) about Polyamory

Going to Your Kid’s Professionals

Sometimes you are going to need to approach your children’s teachers, doctors, and other adult figures in your kid’s life about polyamory. For instance:

  1. If your children have more than 2 parental figures who will be coming to parent-teacher conferences
  2. If you want one of your poly partner’s to be able to take your children to the doctor’s office
  3. If your child needs therapy for one reason or another–
    1. The therapist will need to know about all the child’s parental figures and/or other adults living with you.
    2. If your child knows about your relationships and it is likely to come up during therapy, you are better off telling the therapist yourself. Otherwise, they may get garbled information and draw the wrong conclusions from what your child says.

Most of the time you will only need to go to your kid’s professionals if you are out about being polyamorous. Whether or not you are closeted, there is one time I highly recommend starting a conversation about polyamory. If you are facing a potential custody battle that will involve polyamory, you need to go to your child’s therapist. By doing so, you ensure your child has the best support possible during a difficult time (custody battle) and may be able to help your case.

Before talking with your child’s professional, read over the post about educating your own poly-friendly professionals.

Start the conversation simply and frankly. Dancing around the topic is not helpful, and may irritate some people. “Our family includes three parental figures, myself, my child’s father, and [third parent]. [Third parent] will sometimes be bringing in Child in to their appointments. What paperwork do I need to fill out so you can talk about our child’s health care with [third parent].”

“Child may mention my boyfriend. Boyfriend spends a lot of time at our house and he and child have a good relationship. Lately, we’ve been talking about my boyfriend moving in with our family.”

“Child doesn’t know this, but Spouse and I have an open relationship. I am dating … and Spouse is dating … Our relationships don’t impact child at all, but I’m worried they might come out in the custody case.”

Try to let the conversation develop naturally from there. Don’t become defensive or apologetic. Answer questions that aren’t too personal or that are relevant to your child’s care or wellbeing. And always remember: you are the parent. If they respond in a negative, prejudiced, or dismissive manner, you can almost always find a different doctor, therapist, and even teacher.

When Your Child’s Professional Comes to You

Sometimes you don’t go to your kid’s professional—sometimes they come to you. If you are in the closet, most conversations with your child’s professionals will start this way.

Professional’s aren’t going to approach you just because they are curious. They are going to be coming to you with a problem.

A call from your child’s guidance counselor: “I’m worried about Child. They’ve been getting in a lot of trouble in class and been in several fights lately. When I tried to talk with them about it, they said they are scared you and Spouse are getting divorced. They think someone is having an affair.”

A therapist in a meeting: “Child is uncomfortable with So-and-So. Child, can you share what you told me?” Child tells you that they don’t like how much time you are spending with your SO and feel like you are neglecting their other parent and your family.

Since these conversations are already starting on a problem, you are going to need to not just explain your relationships, but address the problem. Sometimes this will be relatively simple.

To the guidance counselor: “Oh, I know why they might think I was having an affair. No. No affair, and no divorce. I’ll talk with Child tonight and explain everything. Since they’re already comfortable talking with you, let me give you the full story.”

Others will be more complicated. Explaining polyamory to your child and their therapist might help them understand WHY you are spending so much time with So-and-So. But it does nothing to address your child’s feeling that you are neglecting their parent and your family. You will need to take action—starting with an honest assessment of whether or not you are neglecting your family (remember, NRE can make you do the wacky). If you are neglecting your family, you are going to need to correct that as a first step to helping your child. If you aren’t, you still need to help your child come to terms with your relationships and understand that you can have a life of your own without neglecting your family. Hopefully, your child’s therapist will understand and support you in this.

If one of your child’s professionals is coming to you about something related to your relationships, you will probably need to out yourself to both the professional and your child. It is sometimes possible to avoid outing yourself. Doing so requires first finding a way to address the problem without revealing how the problem relates to your relationships. Second, it requires getting the professionals support in implementing your solution. And many professionals are very good at seeing through bullshit. If they think you are hiding the real cause of the problem, you will have a hard time getting them to work with you.

Helping Our Kids Talk About Polyamory

In an ideal world, no one would be asking our kids about our relationships because private stuff is private stuff and grown-up stuff is grown up stuff. But as one of my favorite authors points out:
“No thinking adult would ask a kid about this stuff, but that just means you’ll need to deal with questions from unthinking adults.” (paraphrased, Lois McMaster Bujold, A Civil Affair)
If we are open about our relationships, sooner or later our kids will be fielding questions, either from other kids are school or unthinking adults who should know better, but don’t.

Young children will need guidance from us on how to deal with the questions that come their way. Older kids, and especially teenagers, will be able to come up with their own strategies for dealing with questions—but providing support and ideas ahead of time is still a good idea.

Fielding questions about polyamory

In general I suggest one of three basic approaches, depending on the situation and the kid’s comfort level.

1) KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid)—Your kid may not be stupid, but any adult asking a kid these questions IS. So kids can keep their answers simple. “So-and-so is part of our family.” “Yes, Mom goes out with a friend some nights.” “No, I don’t want to talk about this.” “You’ll need to ask Dad about that.” One short sentence then go back to what they were doing.

2) Pull the privacy card—It really isn’t anyone else’s business, and it’s okay for your kids to tell people that! “I don’t want to talk about Mom and Dad’s personal stuff.” “That’s my family’s business.” “It’s rude to ask about private stuff.”

3) Open up a bit—if your kid is comfortable with the question, isn’t being put on the spot, and wants to share stuff with friends, that’s okay. “Yes, So-and-so is kind of like my uncle, and he lives with us. We go bowling sometimes.” “Dad’s date night is Thursday, so he goes out with Such-and-such and Mom and I have a special movie night.” Your kid needs to know it is their choice who they open up to, and that they don’t need to talk about your home life with anyone they don’t feel comfortable with. But if you are open about being polyamorous and they want to talk with friends, there is nothing wrong with that.

Teachers and Other Authority Figures

Okay, caveat. While most adults should know better than to poke at kids about your relationships, teachers, doctors, and a few other adults have an ethical and legal responsibility to watch for signs of abuse and neglect. And that means sometimes it is their job to ask prying questions. It would be nice if ethical non-monogamy was universally accepted and people didn’t jump to conclusions. Maybe one day we’ll get that ideal world, but I’m not holding my breath!

In the mean time, the above strategies will generally work in these situations as well. However, if your kids pull the privacy card here, they need to direct the adult to you. An answer of “That’s private stuff” may just make the questioner dig harder. “That’s my parent’s private stuff. You’ll need to ask them about it,” on the other hand is less likely to sound like something is being hidden—and in need of being uncovered.

Should You Tell Your Kids About Polyamory?

For polyamorous parents, choosing whether or not to let our kids know about our relationships is a major decision. There are pros and cons to both choices.

I generally believe you are better off being open with your kids, unless there is some compelling reason not to. Other people will advise the opposite—don’t tell your kids unless you need to. No one can decide what is right for your family—and don’t be afraid to take your time deciding. Very rarely will you face a time crush or deadline on this decision.

Telling Your Kids About Polyamory

Pros:

  • Kids are smart, observant, and not always inclined to go to their parents with their concerns. Telling them yourself can save a lot of heart ache and hassle. If you don’t tell them, sooner or later, they will figure out that someone is having “an affair” with all kinds of problems resulting.
  • You don’t need to keep your poly partners a secret. You can invite them over to the house, openly plan your next get together, and generally not worry about hiding an important part of your life from your kids.
  • You will be practicing what you preach. Openness, honesty, and trust are hallmarks of polyamory. And most of us would like our kids to embrace those values, no matter what relationships they eventually form for themselves. Teaching your kids to be open and honest and trustworthy while keeping a major part of your life secret can be just a bit difficult. If/when they discover your secrets, your teachings will suddenly seem a lot less worthwhile.

Cons:

  • You can just about guarantee that sooner of later a young child who doesn’t understand the idea of personal information, social behavior, and how not to terminally embarrass parents will mention to grandma, or a teacher, or the pastor, mommy’s dates with her boyfriend on Thursdays.
  • Closeted polies only. Your children who are old enough to understand keeping secrets will need to keep your secrets for you—a hard burden to put on any child. This is less of a problem if you have already established clear boundaries between private and public information. If they understand that we don’t talk about so-and-so’s private thing (like Aunt Laura’s difficulty getting pregnant) and only Aunt Laura can choose who to tell, your relationship(s) can fall into the same category. It helps if they understand and trust that THEIR private stuff will remain theirs to share or not.  If they aren’t used to some things being private, and suddenly there is this big thing that they aren’t allowed to talk about with anyone…that’s hard on a kid, and not fair to them.
  • Closeted polies only. Teenagers with teenage resentments may try to blackmail you by threatening to out you. Ideally, our kids have been raised so this type of behavior isn’t an issue. In the real world, kids can learn some pretty shitty behavior, and especially when torn between divorced parents, or put on the spot by peer pressure, etc.
  • Polies married to or otherwise closely entwined with their kids other parent. Your kids may worry that your wanting/needing other partners means your relationship w/ their other parent is in danger. It may take a while for them to be sure your relationship(s) with other people won’t lead to divorce/break up.

Not Telling Your Kids About Polyamory

Pros:

  • Closeted polies. Don’t need to worry about your kids outing you (by accident or on purpose).
  • Closeted polies. No stress on your kids from needing to keep your secrets.
  • No stress on your kids worrying about their parents splitting up.

Cons:

  • Risk that your kids find out for themselves or from someone else. Along with this is the risk that, they will believe you are having an affair. Having your secrets discovered–especially if your kids believe there is an affair going on behind their other parent’s back–can damage their trust and respect for you. Worse, they may not tell you they have discovered your secret. Instead, they may quietly stress and worry about their family being destroyed.
  • Severely restricts your options in your relationships and ability to become entwined with your poly partners.

 

You’ll notice that the “cons” list for not telling your kids is significantly shorter than the “cons” list for telling them. But that first con for not telling the is a killer.

During the lead up to and process of my custody case, my ex and I got a lot of practice trying to keep things secret from our kids. Some things that we just didn’t want the kids to know because it would worry them. Some things we legally weren’t allowed to discuss with or around our kids.

It didn’t take our kids long to figure out we were keeping things from them. We constantly found our daughter eavesdropping at the top of the stairs, staying up late at night (hours after bedtime) to overhear grown up conversations, and otherwise doing everything she could to learn what we weren’t telling her. Much worse, at 7 years old, her ability to trust her parents was completely destroyed.

There are good and valid reasons to keep your lifestyle secret from your kids. But given my own experience, I highly suggest you think once, twice and three times before you decide that is the best course for your family.

Wondering how to tell your kids about polyamory?

Not sure how to introduce your kids to your poly partners?

Introducing Your Polyamory Partners to Your Children

If you got here looking for ideas on explaining polyamory to your kids, try this post.

I am going to stake out an apparently unconventional opinion here. Are you are talking about moving in together, co-parenting, or otherwise creating a situation where your kids and poly partners would need to relate with each other directly? If not, your kids interactions with your poly partners should be no different from with your other friends. And if you are talking about moving in together, co-parenting, etc, your kids should have met your partners long since.

Growing up, I know who my parents friends were. I even knew they had different kinds of friends. There were the friends who were my friend’s parents. My parents got together and hung out with them once a month, but the connection didn’t last when I moved to a different school. There were my father’s friends from work, the people he enjoyed spending time with but also had to stay professional with, so we kids were largely “out of sight, out of mind” when they came over. There were mom’s special friends from way back. We kids actually knew them by their first names. They would come over and drink tea and we had to play with their kids whether we liked them or not.

So let’s pretend you make a new friend at work, you invite your friend over to hang out and watch a movie sometime. What do you say to your kids? Probably something like, “Hey kids my new friend So-and-so is coming over tonight. Be polite, make sure the place isn’t an utter disaster and try not to interrupt too often, okay?”

Or you hit it off with someone at your hiking club and go out for a day. “I’ll be out tomorrow with So-and-so from the hiking club, here’s how you can reach me. Don’t give (other parent/guardian/babysitter) too much trouble.”

Your kids are aware of this friend, but probably don’t pay much attention.

Sooner or later,  your friend runs into our kids for the first time, whether it’s that night or three months down the line. What do you say Probably something like: “This is my friend So-and-so I’ve told you about, So-and-so, these are my kids.”

There is no reason for your kids to know the details of your relationship—anymore than I knew just what my mother talked about with her friends when they came to visit. As a ittle kid, I didn’t want to know anyway. It was grown up stuff, and probably boring. *yuck face* As a teenager, I had my own stuff that I cared about a lot more than making nice with my parents friends.

What about if you get closer to your poly partners and want to entwine your lives a bit more? Well, what if you got really close to a friend and wanted them to be more a part of your life? You’d probably invite them to the summer bar-be-que that has a whole bunch of family friends and what-not. You might invite your kids to related to them in small ways, “Hey, So-and-so just told me they did X this weekend. You were saying you wanted to learn more about X, would you like to talk with them about it?” “The hiking cub is having a family day, I’d love it if you’d come.” Hopefully your friend makes a similar effort, “So-and-so got tickets to (thing) this weekend and was wondering if we’d like to join them.”

Like any other friend, it slowly becomes normal for your poly partner to be around a bit more, participating in your family’s public life. Maybe you meet up to watch a parade and your partner offers to buy flags or something for the kids. Small things, small steps.

First rule of kids: if you don’t treat it like a big deal, they’ll assume it isn’t a big deal.
Second rule of kids: if it’s not going to have a direct impact on their life, they probably won’t care.

So introduce your partner early, as just another friend.

Trust me, even an introverted, house-bound hermit like my partner Michael has friends our kid knows about. That Michael interacts with these friends mostly online or by phone doesn’t change that they are a part of his life and the kid knows about them. “Kid I’m talking with So-and-So right now. Please quiet down so I can hear.” “You want to say hi to So-and-so?” “So-and-so may be coming to visit next week-isn’t that great!”

Parents having relationships with other adults is a normal part of life for most kids. Do your kids really care that your relationship with your cousin is different from your relationship with your friend is different from your relationship with your poly partner? Not unless and until those relationships start to impact them. For children it’s “grown up stuff, yuck!” and for teenagers it’s “Old folks are so out off touch.” In either case, it’s no big deal.

“Kid, this is So-and-so I told you about. We’re going to the movies. I’ll be back later. Don’t burn the house down.”

Do you really need to say more?

Help support Polyamory on Purpose!

Resources for Custody Cases Involving Polyamory

I don’t have nearly as much to offer here as I’d like. Unfortunately, resources for polyamory, and non-monogamy in general, are still slim on the ground. If you know of any additional resources, please include them in the comments.

Dr. Eli Sheff

Dr. Sheff is an educational consultant on sexual and relationship minorites. However she is better known in the polyamory community as one of the top researchers on polyamory. A few years ago she left academia and is now available as an expert witness for folks facing court challenges based on their life- and love-styles. Sheff’s testimony as an experienced researcher who spent 10 years gathering information on children raised in poly relationships can be extremely helpful in establishing that polyamory is not harmful to your children.

Poly-Friendly Professionals Lists

These lists are far from complete, but a good starting place for finding a lawyer or therapist in your area who is open to polyamory. If you can only find one poly-friendly lawyer, and can afford to hire two lawyers, I recommend hiring the poly-friendly lawyer to represent your kids. Your lawyer is required to act like they think polyamory is good for kids regardless of their personal thoughts. Your kid’s lawyer is required to act in what they think is the best interest of the kids. Which means if they support polyamory they are more likely to support you, if they are against polyamory they will almost definitely support your ex.

Poly-Friendly Professionals List

Love More Poly Professionals List

Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund

According to their website, the SFLDEF provides:

  • Money towards legal and litigation expenses, such as attorney fees and expert witness fees.
  • Referrals to attorneys and expert witnesses knowledgeable about alternative sexual expression and willing to take cases dealing with it.
  • Public information and education about alternative sexual expression

for people in alternative sexual lifestyles. Really wish I’d know about these folks during my case. I suggest making them your first call.

This wraps up our review of polyamory in child custody cases.