Category Archives: Family

Explaining Polyamory: Positive Reactions

I updated the suggested resources here. And let me say it’s amazing and wonderful how many more resources for explaining and exploring polyamory there are in the just the five years since I wrote this post. Not much edits otherwise. Neither human nature nor culture have changed enough in the past five years to make much difference here. Updated Aug 2, 2017.

This is the fourth post in the Explaining Polyamory blog series. If you missed the earlier posts, start here.

However you handle the conversation, you will get one of the same basic set of reactions from loved ones you open up to about your lifestyle. They range from amazingly supportive to complete rejection. Most of the time, you’ll get something in the middle. Here a few of the positive (or at least neutral) reactions you might run into. Next week I’ll tackle the negative reactions you hopefully won’t need to deal with.

I need time to think about this: this is a relatively common reaction from parents and other close family members who feel (rightly or wrongly) that your life and theirs will have a major impact on each other. This reaction generally means that they can’t accept your relationship choices right away – maybe they have religious or moral reservations, maybe they’re on the other side of the culture gap and are trying to understand, maybe they just don’t know enough about polyamory to know how to react. Give them their time to think and ask if it might be okay to talk some more in a week or two.

You may also get this reaction from people who want to ignore the whole thing. If they can pretend to themselves that you aren’t polyam, then they can act as if nothing has changed, they don’t need to have a difficult and possibly painful conversation, don’t need to face the reaction of the rest of the family, etc. If someone who has asked for time to think just shuts down and refuses to talk further about it, even months later, then this is what they are doing.

Unfortunately I’ve never found a good way to deal with this approach. One option is to let them ignore it and just keep them out of the parts of your life that involve polyam. This may mean that they become a much smaller part of your life, which can hurt, but it is often better than losing them from your life entirely.

I don’t know what to think, I need more information: not a bad response overall, though unfortunately one of the less common ones. Humans do tend to rush to snap judgments. Get them a copy of When Someone You Love is Polyamorous. Direct them to a good intro-to-polyam blog, invite them to join a (not secret!) polyam forum or FB group. And of course, answer their questions as best you can.

Are you sure you want to do this? Your father and I tried and it really didn’t work, it nearly ruined our marriage/I used to do that/Really? me to!: Yes, non-monogamy has existed prior to this generation. In fact, chances are that if you tell all your friends and family about your relationship choices you will find at least one person who has ‘been there, done that’. Maybe it worked for them, maybe it didn’t. But you can be reasonably sure that they aren’t going to denounce your choice out of moral indignation. In fact, you can probably learn a lot from their experience if they are willing to talk about it.

Okay, it’s your life after all: acceptance without support. Best you can do here is thank them for recognizing that it is your choice and ask if they would like to meet any of your SOs. This person is not going to be wildly enthusiastic and might not think polyamory can work in the long run. But they aren’t going to try and tell you how to live your life. There is a strong chance that if they see you are happy they will become supportive in time.

OMG! Like that show/book/movie/thing I saw the other day! That’s so neat! This reaction is a lot more common than it was when I first wrote this post, thanks to the increase in polyam relationships in the media. In my experience you mostly get this reaction from friends or acquaintances. Family tends to take our life choices seriously. Relax, have a laugh, share some good stories and find out what media thing they are talking about – it might be worth watching yourself!

This post is part of the Explaining Polyamory blog series

(originally published May 2012)

Explaining Polyamory: the Conversation

Mostly grammar and typo corrections here, but I also needed to clean up some ableist language. Some of the example discussions were tweaked so there is less focus on triads. The reference to Sister Wives really dates this post, but I decided against changing it. If you are having this conversation today there are many better examples you can go with. Updated July 16, 2017.

So, you are as prepared as you can be to have a conversation with someone you love and tell them that you are polyamorous/are in a polyamorous relationship/whatever your preferred identification. How do you handle the actual conversation?

You’ll want to try and have this chat in a place where both you and the person you are talking with are comfortable. Maybe this means a favorite restaurant, maybe their home, maybe just take a walk around the neighborhood. For what it is worth, I have found walking and talking defuses many (though definitely not ALL) potentially confrontational discussions – hard to get confrontational when you aren’t looking at each other and less feeling of being ’on the spot’ for all parties. Meh. Go with what you think will work best for you and your loved one.

Go ahead and tell them that you have something important that you want to talk about with them. Then you have three choices: lead in, oblique approach and straightforward bluntness.

Lead in

Leading in works by preparing the person you’re talking with a shock. It involves saying things like ’I know this may upset you, and I don’t want to hurt you. I want to tell you about something that is happening in my life, and I really need you to listen and try and understand.’ The person you are talking with will definitely tense up, they will be expecting you to tell them something horrible. And maybe for them, polyamory is something horrible. You want to walk a fine line between preparing them for a shock and not scaring them into shutting down and shutting you out.

At this point in the discussion, keep it personal. Don’t use the word ’polyamory’ don’t talk about alternative relationships, keep it relevant to you and your life.

  • “I’ve realized I’m not going to be happy spending my life with just one person.”
  • “Gary and I have decided that we want to be in relationships with other people. We’re not breaking up but we’ll both be in multiple relationships.”
  • “Alice and I have been dating other people for the past few years. We’ve fallen in love with Jill and she is going to be moving in with us.”

Just one or two sentences that explain your personal decision or situation.

Give your loved one time to absorb what you said and respond. If you needed to use a lead in approach, then you need to give them space to try to understand.

Use the lead in approach with people who tend to have over-the-top emotional reactions, are reactionary against alternative lifestyles, extremely religious people, and anyone else who can do better with a gradual approach.

Oblique approach

When you don’t want to barrel right in, but don’t need the kind of gradual ground laying of a lead in, you can come at the conversation sideways. This is a pretty simple approach but may fall flat if the person you are talking with is not culturally aware.

  • “Have you heard of polyamory?”
  • “Remember that show Sister Wives?”
  • “What did you think of the alternative lifestyles article in X magazine last week?”

Most people will know where you are going with the conversation, but this approach lets them a change respond to a general idea and you can both ease into the personal.

If the person you are talking with doesn’t know what you are talking about, you will need to give an explanation:

  • “It’s a type of non-monogamous relationship.”
  • “It’s a reality show about four women who are married to the same man, and they are all happy together.”
  • etc

Use an oblique approach when you don’t think the conversation will be a huge emotional shock for the person you are telling, but you or they wouldn’t be comfortable with straightforward bluntness.

Straightforward bluntness

Just what it sounds like. You don’t worry about preparing the ground or ’tip toeing around the issue’. You just say “I am polyamorous.” and explain what that means to you.

 

Explaining Polyamory: Preparation

Minor edits for grammar and readability. Not much has changed here. 7/13/2017

Sorry for the late update. Last week I introduced the Culture Gap, which has a huge influence on how people react to polyamory. This week I’m going to get into some of the how-tos for explaining polyamory. And if anyone has any suggestions or thoughts that I miss, please leave them in the comments.

How to Explain Polyamory

Almost every person in an alternative relationship faces the question eventually – do I tell X about my lifestyle, and if I do, how? Telling someone you love about a non-mainstream lifestyle is scary, because like it or not, people are judgemental, and telling the truth doesn’t always bring acceptance – sometimes it destroys a relationship.

But polyamory is built on openness and honesty, and damn it how can we say we are living openly and honestly when we are hiding from the people who are most important to us? So we bite the bullet, sit down . . . and have really awkward conversations.

There is no way to make these conversations easy, but there are ways to make them a little less awkward and maybe a little less scary.

The first ’rule’ of explaining polyamory is one of the hardest: don’t have expectations. It’s as predictable as Murphy’s law – every time I or someone I know has gone into a discussion explaining polyamory expecting it to go well, it’s been difficult and painful and horrendous. Everytime I or someone I know has expected a difficult or painful discussion, it went well. Our expectation may have influenced the outcome – that by going in overconfident for an easy discussion we created problems or going in prepared for a difficult discussion we made it easier that it would otherwise have been.

Regardless, expectations make the whole thing harder on you. Expectations reinforce and strengthen the rollercoaster of emotions – hope and fear and love and need and anger and . . . yeah. Just don’t go there. Try and keep an open mind and not expect any specific outcome or reaction.

Next, go in prepared. Is there information do you want your loved one to have? What questions can you answer? Overall, what you need to tell your loved one is that ’This lifestyle makes me happy. I am aware of potential problems and am prepared to deal with them.’ Which means before you have this discussion, you’d better make sure you have thought through the problems.

Obviously, if you’ve been in polyamorous relationships for ten years, you’ve probably already dealt with all the problems, but remember your loved one is coming in flat footed. Stuff that is old hat to you will be a big deal to them. So maybe take some time to think about how you can address the common problems and concerns—even if you know they aren’t real problems.

Don’t be afraid to back yourself up with some research. If you know your loved one listens to facts, dig up some of the studies done on polyamory. Psychologists have been investigating non-monogamy for long enough to say that it is indeed a healthy and viable lifestyle.

Unfortunately, the hardest problems to prepare for are religious and moral objections. Beliefs just don’t respond to facts. Hell even when a person’s moral objections contradict the teachings of their own religion they aren’t likely to listen. All you can do is be prepared to emphasize that your beliefs are not those of the person you are talking to and you have a right to your own faith and morality.

(Originally posted May 2012)

This post is part of the Explaining Polyamory blog series

Explaining Polyamory: The Culture Gap

Mostly some typo and grammar fixes here, but I also clarified the importance and right to self care when dealing with people who don’t believe that polyamory can be a viable relationship. June 29, 2017
Had some kind of tech glitch that kept this from posting last Thursday, so It’s going live today instead. Sorry folks!

A while back, a question came up in the Yahoo! PolyResearch group about explaining polyamory to a loved one. It’s not the first time I’ve seen the question come up, and it stuck in the back of my mind as an idea worth exploring. (And these days, an idea that manages to stick in my mind has to be pretty impressive given everything competing with it for attention). I don’t expect this to become a huge series, but to keep it from being a wall o’ text, I’m gonna break it into two or three parts.
Before we talk about explaining polyamory, I want to discuss something that is critical to the way people react to polyam — the Culture Gap.

The Gap is a major issue when explaining the idea of polyamory to many people, but it’s biggest danger is that it is often invisible. We, the folks who believe or know that polyamory can be a functional relationship style (gonna emphasize this — we aren’t talking religious issues, ethics, morality or anything like that, just whether or not polyam can work) are on one side of the Gap. On our side of the Gap are many people who do not like or approve of polyamory, but accept that it can work. The people believe that polyam is flat out impossible are on the other side of the Gap.

Alright, my run-ins with the Gap have been with Baby Boomers, but I’ve met some monogamous people from the Baby Boomer generation who were very easy to talk polyam with. Conversely, I know people who have run into the Gap with people close to my age. 20 and 30 somethings who were old enough and culturally aware enough to be horrified when Ellen Degeneres went public on an airport PA system.

 

There is no easy way to reach across the Polyam Culture Cap.

The Gap, plain and simple, is the division between folks who grew up in a world of relationships where there was one (and only one) True Way. Not in the sense that heterosexual monogamy was necessarily morally right, but in a much more fundamental way. For people on the other side of the Gap, heterosexual monogamy (or in some cases just monogamy or just heterosexual) is a Law of Nature. Anything else is simply impossible to make work because it violates the fundamental nature of relationships. Non-monogamy is as doomed to failure as attempting to make mothers stop loving their children and gravity turn off. When you tell these people you are polyamorous (or any other variety of non-monogamy) they hear the equivalent of “Guess what? Gravity got turned off, and I’m gonna jump off this cliff.” They KNOW, flat out KNOW, fact of life, law of reality, that when you jump off that cliff you are going to fall far and land hard (after all, their feet are still stuck to the ground, ergo gravity still works). Your relationship is doomed to failure because it is IMPOSSIBLE, and you are going to end up heartbroken.In my experience, most younger people in the US are on our side of the Gap — folks under [35], hell most anyone who came of age during or after the Summer of Love. Alternative relationships and alternative lifestyles may not have been approved of. They may have been considered sinful and immoral and wrong. But they clearly happened and were possible. This is also why the Gap isn’t purely a generation gap. There are folks who fought in World War II who were exposed to alternative relationships and know it is possible to have a healthy and happy life while not being heterosexually monogamous. It’s not a blanket thing. But with people who grew up in a culture where they were not exposed to alternative relationships, and know, Law of Nature, that monogamy is the only thing which can possibly work, the Gap is very real and very dangerous.

Explaining polyamory to on this side of the Gap is easier. Many people on this side of the Gap still won’t approve. Whether they have too many ideas based on religious polygamy, moral objections or anything else that makes polyam stick in their craw sideways; there are a number of people who won’t like you being polyam on both sides of the Gap. But people on this side of the Gap are easier to discuss and explain polyam to because you aren’t turning their worldview upside down. Stretching the limits of people’s tolerance isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than convincing them you are suddenly immune to gravity.

So to be clear: no matter how well you explain polyam to folks on the other side of the Gap, no matter how many studies you offer or how persuasive your logic is, the only thing that will convince them that polyamory is safe and won’t lead to inevitable harm and hardship is for them to see you jump off that cliff, and not get hurt. Only experience can change this kind of instinctive knowledge of the way the world is.

Dealing with loved ones who are on the other side of Gap can be very difficult. They will not accept your choice, and they will probably try, repeatedly, to convince you that you are making a mistake. Some may get angry with you, lash out, refuse to speak with you until you come to your senses. Some will assure you, with love and sympathy, that when it all falls apart they will always be there for you to help pick up the pieces of your life. Sometimes the sympathetic ones are the most frustrating.

It can help to keep this in mind: as difficult as dealing with folks on the other side of the Gap can be, they are acting the way they are because they care for you and are afraid for you. They don’t want to see you hurt, so they will do everything they can to pull you away from that cliff. They are, in a really frustrating way, desperately trying to protect you.

That said, also remember that you don’t owe them a place in your life and if you need to step away to take care of yourself, that’s okay.

Image Copyright 1994 João Paulo Lucena used under GNU 1.2 and CC 3.0

(Originally posted April 2012)

Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?

Changed to be inclusive of a wider variety of relationship styles and less heteronormative. Also fixed some typos. Updated June 7, 2017.

Step-parent, aunt, Jennie, Pop, Ma’am, Mr. Smith . . .

Basic rule of thumb: kids need a label for the adults in their lives. A box to put the adult in so they can know what their relationship with the adult is. Any time your kids ask what to call your SO, what they usually mean is, ‘What is this person to me?’

So before worrying about what your kids should call your SOs, take a minute to think about this: Just what is the relationship between your SOs and your kids? Are you raising you children from birth in a group marriage and all the spice are parents? Are you going to be introducing your teenage son to your girlfriend for the first time?

Group marriages who are raising children together tend to take one of two approaches to what I call ‘parent names’. Sometimes the non-biological parents choose terms that mean “Mother,” “Father” or “Parent” (Mama, Papa, Mad for English variants or use other languages—Ima is Hebrew for mom, Padre or Papa from Spanish, etc). Other times the non-biological parents are Aunt or Uncle or just their names. In these polycules, only the bio parents are called anything related to ‘mother’ or ‘father’.

You don’t need to discuss parent names with kids when you are raising them in a polyam relationship from a young age. The same as you never sit down with your toddler and say “I am your mother and you can call me ‘mom’.” You just walk into the room saying “Hi baby, mommy’s here!” and eventually baby learns that ‘mommy’ means you.

If you are introducing an older child to an SO for the first time, you probably want your kid and your SO to get along, but unless the SO is moving in with you or something, they don’t need to interact. So don’t make it complicated. As long as your SO agrees, you child(ren) can call them by their first name. No reason to make a big deal out of it.

Sometimes a previously unentwined or lightly entwined link becomes highly entwined, such as when moving in together. In these cases, advice given for helping kids adjust to having a new step-parent may be helpful. The short version is: let you kids know you want them and your SO to have a good relationship, but that relationship is up to them. They can start out calling your SO by their first name, and if later they decide they would like to call your SO aunt, uncle, Pop or something else, that is up to them. The message you want to give your child here is that they get to choose the label. The relationship they’ll have with your SO is up to them, and they won’t be forced into a relationship they aren’t comfortable with.

This blog post is past 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 Pregnancy: What makes a parent

Since writing this post I have learned that the poem is by Fleur Conkling Heylinger and was probably published in the early 1950s. Unfortunately, my Google-fu is failing me, and aside from one other poem, I haven’t been able to find anything about Fleur Conkling Heylinger. She might or might not be the same as the Fleur Conkling who wrote children’s books during the 1950s.

I still don’t have any words to add. Updated 2/14/17.

The Answer (to my adopted child of choice)

Not flesh of my flesh, nor bone of my bone,
But still, miraculously, my own.
Never forget for a single minute
That you didn’t grow under my heart, but in it.

I don’t know who wrote it, or where it came from, but I grew up with that verse hanging next to my bed. I was adopted, raised by people who I had no blood relation to, but who were my family as truly as if I had been born among them.

Perhaps it is that upbringing that makes it so easy for me to see others as parents for my children. To say that being a parent is as much a matter of the love and commitment, as it is conception.

I don’t have any profound words to add. For me, that simple verse says it all. Within your polycule, you need to decide who will be a parental figure to the baby, and who will be an aunt/uncle, friend of the family, god/dess parent, or whatever works.

But if a child grows within your heart, and if you let that feeling become action – to care for and raise and guide, to walk the floor with through an infant’s first cold, hold her hand as she takes her first steps, make him endless lunches for endless school days, bandage his hurts, praise her successes and be there in all things, because of the love you have for them, then you are a parent. Biology be damned.

This post is part of the Polyamory and Pregnancy blog series.

Family Names: Legal Stuff

Nothing much changed here. Laws in the UK and the US don’t seem to have changed much the last few years. If know anything about the laws in other countries, please share in the comments! Revised Jan 29, 2017.

Disclaimer part 1: I am not a lawyer, or more than a moderately competent researcher, please do not consider any info here as legal advice.

Disclaimer part 2: I am surprised and gratified by the international following this blog has picked up. There are readers from several different countries in Europe, England, Australia, Canada and possibly more. That said, I’m an (insert preferred pejorative) American.  I will occasionally (as with the UK below) stretch my research skills to dig up legal info for other countries. In general, legal stuff will be strictly US law.

So, that said, let’s get to the good stuff.

As discussed in the first post on family names,  some polyam family groups want to share a family name. For some families, having a name that they use day-to-day will be enough. Others will want to go the legal route and make their polyam family name official.

UK Name Change Laws

When it comes to name changes, folks across the pond have it sweet  – though not as sweet as it was ten years ago. In order to change your name in the UK, legally and officially, you fill out a ‘Deed  Poll’, sign it before an ‘independent witness’ (which from examples given means someone not related to you) and . . . that seems to be pretty much it. You can have the deed poll written up by a solicitor or by a company that specializes in them. Be careful– some companies’ deed poll documents aren’t universally accepted. Have to admit I’m not clear on that bit.

Anyway, once you have your deed poll, you provide a copy to your bank, the UK equivalent of the DMV, and any other official document organization you need to in order to get all your documents showing your new name. According to UK Deed Poll Service,  you should only need to pay for an updated passport. You’d need to pay UK Deed Poll Service 33 pounds for the first deed poll, and a reduced fee for others ordered at the same time.

There are places on the  internet that claim that a deed poll isn’t necessary and you can just start using a new name. From what I’ve been able to find, that was true up until 9/11, but new laws since then have made the deed poll mandatory.

American Name Changes

Ok, so welcome to confusion and insanity.

  • Federal law and legal precedent give two very contradictory pieces of information regarding changing your name:
  • Any person can change their name at any time, just by starting to use the new name. There’s some caveat’s and quibbles, but that’s the gist.

State’s have the right to determine who is allowed to change their name, and what the process will be.

Welcome to the joys of federation.

As near as I can parse this contradiction, you can simply start using a new name for anything that doesn’t require proof of ID. No one can stop you using whatever name you want. However, the standard proof of ID is issued by the states. So if you want to update your state issued ID (and thus open a bank account, get a job or do anything else that requires ID) under your new name, you need to jump through the state-ordained hoops.

While  these hoops do vary, the general tendency includes filing a petition for name change (and paying a filing fee), going before a judge to  explain why you want the name change (and paying court fees), going  through whatever additional steps are necessary (PA requires you to  publish the change in at least 2 newspapers), finally get the official  court documents saying your name is changed, then going ahead and updating all those legal documents (and paying the necessary fees for  those). If UKDPS is to be believed, our friends across the pond can get everything taken care of in around 3 weeks. Given the fact that court hearings are often scheduled months ahead of time, I think I can stand by my early statement – folks across the pond have it sweet. (And that doesn’t even count the monetary cost).

So how bad is it really?

I  feel like I’m being a bit of a downer here, probably at least partly because in my experience things involving the courts are a royal pain in the ass. That said, from everything I can find, name changes in the US,  while involved and expensive, are usually pretty straight forward. People who have been through it say it’s not much more hassle than getting your driver’s license or registering a child for school.

Name Change Law is a website that has both a list of the steps required in all 50  states (and D.C.) for changing your name and will (for a fee) supply an appropriate name change document that you can fill out for yourself.  For an additional fee, they’ll fill it out for you. All hail capitalism.

Or,  of course, you can start using a new name tomorrow, as long as you don’t mind you’re old name being on all your legal documents.

 

Family Name – Decisions, Decisions

This post really reflects my original bias towards highly entwined group relationships. The original was also heavily heteronormative. I think I’ve managed to remove all the heteronormativity, but the focus on entwined group relationships is kind of built into the topic. Also the usual grammar and readability fixes. Revised Jan 17, 2017.

As seems to be frequently the case, writing the last post – about picking names for a new baby – reminded me of other stuff. For instance, the discussions I have been in, and had with others, about everyone in a polyamorous family wanting to share the same last name.

It’s kind of ironic. Women are increasingly enforcing their equality and independence by keeping their maiden names, making families with two last names common. At the same time, some polyam families sometimes put great importance on sharing the same last name.

Perhaps it isn’t surprising that some polyam families want very much to have the same last name. A shared last name is still the most recognized indication of family relationship. And having our relationships recognized and acknowledged is a pretty big deal for a lot of polyam folk.

Next week, I’ll tackle the legal stuff involved with name changes and what not. (Recently I learned something that has me seriously envying UK polyam folks on this one!) For now, I’ll toss out some thoughts for polyamorous families that want to share a last name.

Picking a Family Name

Everyone taking one person’s name would be the culturally traditional choice, in as much as monogamous culture works applied to polyamory. And in this case, it often doesn’t. A hinged triad might all take the last name of the hinge partner. A leather family or D/s family where there is one person in charge, everyone taking that person’s name might be generally acceptable. But in many polyam families, whose name would people take? There isn’t often a clear answer.

Picking a new name is an option. Possibilities range from smashing together the first syllables of everyone’s last name to baby-name type brainstorming. Toss out ideas, talk about them, and see what sticks.

And once you’ve decided on a name, what then do you do with it?

New Naming Conventions?

Everyone changes their name: this would be the obvious answer. It has some social advantages, and all the professional disadvantages of a woman changing her maiden name (all you documentation, diplomas, etc will be in the old names). Taking a new name might upset extended family and involves much legal hassle.

-Name: I loved this idea in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – everyone who married into the line family added the family name as a hyphenated name. This has a very nice bonus of allowing everyone to keep their old family name, which can be very important to some people. It may be possible to hyphenate the name informally and keep your family-of-origin name as your legal last name, saving on legal fees and hassle.

This one comes from the wonderful Poly Mom, and I would love to have heard of it years ago. Polly is in a triad with two men, when she legally married one, she took his name, and she is getting her name hyphenated with her other husband’s name. Apparently, there was talk of the men hyphenating their names as well, but even if they don’t, this is a neat idea. I could see this working for a quad as well as a triad, though any bigger than that and there may be problems. Neat tip: in some states, when a woman gets married, she can change her name to anything, not just her husband’s name, and it is automatically her legal name. So you can get legally married to spouse1, and make your name Spouse1-Spouse2 and avoid all the hassle of the usual insane process for getting a name change.

 

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Pregnancy and Polyamory: Picking Baby Names

Did my best to removed gendered language and fixed some really poorly written sentences. Other than that, it’s much the same as it always was. Revised 1/16/17.

Picking baby names is one of the great joys of pregnancy. Also a real pain in the you-know-what. There are two extremes of name picking: those who have known the names they want for their children since they were children and those who don’t figure it out until after the baby is born. (I had a friend in high school who was named after a brand of soap. The hospital wouldn’t let them leave until her mother picked a name).

In between the two extremes are things like those who pore over baby-name books for hours, folks who want to name the baby after a relative, and the stereotypical ’run every possible name by your best friend to see what they think’. Oh – and don’t forget some families have naming traditions!

Like everything polyamory, if a decision is hard for two people, it is ridiculous for more people.

But why does it have to be more than two people? Why not just have the bio parents pick the name? First, you won’t always know who the second bio parent is. And some people may want to involve their polyam family in the decision, especially if everyone in the family is going to raising the children as parents. So, if you know for certain who the bio parents are, and it works for you, then certainly the bio parents can decide on the name themselves. If not . . . well, the ‘if not’ is why I wrote this blog post 😉

When my first child was born, I was in a triad. We did not know who the father was and we decided not to find out the assumed gender until the birth. One of my husbands didn’t want to discuss baby names. When he was born his parents had been arguing between two different names. They saw him and immediately knew which was the right one. So he was convinced that as soon as he saw the baby the perfect name would come to him. (He somehow didn’t notice the difference between picking one of two names and picking a name out of the blue). I wanted the three of us to go through baby books, rate names, make lists, and generally bored both of them to tears. My other husband seemed at least a little interested in the baby name books and my lists, but he wasn’t good at speaking up and voicing his opinion.

When my second child was born, we found out the assumed gender, boy, and the name was pretty much automatic. Both my family and one of my husband’s families have naming traditions for boys. And we were so focused on that, it didn’t even occur to us it left my other husband out of the discussion entirely. Much hard feelings from that.

Unfortunately, and as I’m afraid seems to be common for this blog, I don’t have any concrete suggestions on this one. It will be different for each family and each child. The usually polyam stuff of communication, honesty and respect will probably get you through somehow.

Last Names

Of course, as difficult as it can be picking the first name for your child, it kinda pales in comparison to how high feelings run when you are discussing last names.

It is traditional, in America, for a child to have their father’s last name. It is becoming more and more acceptable (if unwieldy) to hyphenate both parents’ names. Either of these options works well when the bio parents are known.

But what if you don’t know the second bio parent? Oy oy oy this one can be a real problem. For once, though, I actually have a few suggestions, none of which are perfect, but all of which can work:

  •     Use the mother’s name for the children: nice and simple, can work for all relationship configurations, and drs, teachers, etc won’t even blink at it.
  •     Hyphenate everyone’s name: not even gonna go into the problems with this one, but in a triad, especially if two members of the triad are legally married and have taken the same name, it is actually feasible
  •     Middle names: it is somewhat common to use the mother’s maiden name as a middle name for a child. There is no reason this can’t be adapted to polyam. And I have a cousin (child of a mono relationship) with three middle names and a last name, I’ve heard of people with more. So everyone can be included.
  •     Combine names: this one . . . is a stretch. But, if you don’t mind going for the odd and unusual, you can combine syllables from everyone’s last name to create a new name. Can’t say I like this one, and socially would cause a lot of problems, because it’s expected that a kid will have the same last name as at least 1 parent. But, it’s an option.

If you’ve had a child in a polyamorous family, how did you pick a name, and what was done for a last name?