Category Archives: Family

Explaining Polyamory: The Wrap Up

Not much to fix here. Added a few links and fixed some typos/grammar. Updated 9/28/17

So far, we’ve covered an introduction to the Culture Gap, preparations, discussion, and possible reactions. Hopefully, hitting the high points of stuff you should know before explaining your relationship choose to friends or family.

The good news is, the more people you tell the easier it gets. But the first time can still be terrifying.

Whatever your approach, and whoever you open up to, make sure you take care of yourself. Whether it is your polyam partners, folks in the local polyam munch, a good friend or someone else, have support you can lean on when you start opening up to people. You’ll be putting yourself through an emotional roller coaster, and having a shoulder to cry on, friend to come over with chocolate ice cream, or folks to celebrate good news with, having other people you can trust can help a lot.

On that note, you will probably do best opening up to close friends before family. It is a sad truth that friends are often more accepting and supportive than family – possibly because family feel your choices reflect on them, while friends know that your choices are your choices, and aren’t about them.

Explaining Polyamory Blog Posts:

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Explaining Polyamory: Negative Reactions

Mostly grammar and typo fixes here, but I also updated info on how things turned out for me when I got some of these reactions and removed some of emphasis on being polite to people who are being assholes. While I still believe that being polite to people you love who are reacting badly can sometimes keep bad from from becoming “burnt to the ground and sown with salt,” it’s ultimately up to you and we certainly don’t owe politeness to people who are treating us badly. 8/23/17

It would be great if we could be sure of getting acceptance and support from friends and family. The reality is, pure ’nilla monogamous relationships often don’t get the support of family and friends, so it isn’t surprising that non-traditional relationship styles can cause less-than-stellar-reactions from the people we care about.

Thankfully, people who love us are more likely to go for a neutral reaction, and at least try and understand. But negative reactions are way more common than any of us likes. I hope you never need to deal with any of these, but here are a few of the bad reactions you might run into – and a few suggestions that may help you get through it.

I don’t know what to think about this, please don’t tell anyone else, I’m afraid of how X will react (runs and tells the whole family about your horrid choice and how awful it is)

Dishonest, manipulative, and mean, this is worse than someone who rejects. This is someone who rejects, lies to you about it, and then sabotages your chance to discuss your life with who you want, when you want, plus spreading gossip behind your back.

On the surface, this looks like one of the neutral reactions. They may really just need time to deal with their own reaction before dealing with other people’s reactions. You just can’t know if this is an honest, neutral reaction or a dishonest, bad reaction until the gossip gets back to you, possibly months later.

Ultimately, the people who care will ask you about it directly about gossip they hear or will listen to your side with an open mind when you approach them yourself. The people who believe the gossip without at least listening to your perspective are people who probably wouldn’t have accepted your lifestyle anyway. Which sucks beyond belief. IMO, the best you can do in this situation is treat it like an honest request for time, possibly make it clear that you want to be the one to tell others in your own time, but you will wait while this person has time to think for a few weeks (or however long).

I don’t want to hear this.

As negative reactions go, this one… isn’t the worst. This person is utterly refusing to listen and rejecting your relationships. But they aren’t being dishonest about it, aren’t rejecting you, aren’t going into a moral rant. They are basically saying ’I recognize this is your decision, but I don’t like it and I don’t want to know about it.’ It’s their right to feel this way. Let it go, and don’t bring it up again. Don’t try and introduce your OSOs, and just let it be. If you don’t want to go to family or holiday parties where all your partners aren’t welcome, decline any invitations, and explain why when you are asked. How much of a relationship you maintain with them is up to you. In the past, I’ve tried to include people like this in my life as much as possible. We usually end up drifting apart over time.

Long lecture about immorality/shameful behavior/sin/disappointed in you/etc etc

This person is either a parent or someone who thinks they have a right to act like your parent. You can listen to the end or cut them off, which ever suits you best, and tell them that you are sorry they feel this way, but you will live your life the way you choose. It is up to them if they wish to be a part of your life in spite of their beliefs, and you hope they will eventually understand and accept.

Unfortunately, there really isn’t anything else you can do in this circumstance unless you are ready to just cut them off and never talk with them again. These people aren’t going to listen to anything you have to say, feel they have some authority over you and are likely to continue to pull this crap. Personally, I’ll politely listen through the first lecture, explain that it is my life and they have no say in it, and that I want to continue our relationship but will not allow them to dictate my life. After that, if I see them at a family gathering or whatever and they start another lecture, I will walk away without saying anything.

Angry/yelling/denouncing/etc etc – Angry reactions can take a lot of forms, but all basically tell you the same thing. For whatever reason, this person is hurt by and rejecting your choice and is turning that hurt into anger. Their anger will usually be directed at you or possibly the person they believe ’lured you into it’. Get up and leave. As much as it may hurt, do not stay to be abused this way. Tell them you love them, you are sorry that your choice has hurt them, and when they calm down, you can try talking again. Then leave.

Once they calm down, they may take any other imaginable reaction, including coming to you and saying ’I’m sorry, I love you and support you, and I’m going to try and understand.’ A different one of the negative reactions is more likely than a positive reaction, but positive reactions after calming down and thinking can happen. You’ll just need to deal with whatever other reaction they have as it comes.

Shut down/ice

This person will not go into a rage, lecture, or really say anything at all. They just shut you or your choice out. In the ’better’ form of this, they will still welcome you in their life but will turn icy and shut out any attempt at discussing your lifestyle. They are, then, basically trying to pretend that you never told them anything. It is up to you whether you let them pretend, or choose not to be a part of your life.

The more extreme version of this is when they choose to shut you out. They may or may not say anything immediately, but after this conversation, they will not speak with you again, not return your phone calls, and ignore you at family gatherings where you bump into each other.

There is a third form this can take, which is also very hurtful and can be confusing until you figure out what is going on. The person is friendly and polite, gives a neutral reaction to your explanation, and you part on good terms. They will invite you to holiday and other events the rest of the family is invited to because it is expected. They will be socially polite and say how much they’ve missed you since they last saw you. But if you try to call them, they will not answer, if you invite them somewhere, they will decline, basically they will put on a mask of good feeling at any event they feel they must, for politeness sake, include you in, but otherwise shut you out. If this is someone you were never very close to, this probably won’t make any difference in your interactions – if you only saw them on holidays and weddings and funerals, you may not even notice any difference. If you were very close to them, getting together regularly, talking on the phone, whatever, this can be extremely hurtful.

Unfortunately, I have not found any productive or useful responses to these reactions. The best you can do is cut them out of their life if it gets too hurtful to deal with.

Disown you

This is the reaction many polyam folk and people in other alternative lifestyles live in terror of. Thankfully, it actually is fairly rare. Most people who love us will at least try to either bring us to our senses or understand why we have made the choice to be polyamorous. This person tries to do neither. They will simply tell you that you are no longer their relative/friend, and they never want to see you again.

All you can do is walk away and grieve. In time, they may change their mind, especially if other family members still welcome you in their lives. But right now, that is little comfort.

“Beat the devil out of ’im”/Abusive ’intervention’

Okay, I had a serious debate with myself about including this one, but it IS a possible reaction to someone learning about polyamory, and unlike the other possible reactions, it is DANGEROUS. Reality is that it is (thank god) rare. But it does happen. And even something that only happens one time in a million is one time too many if you are that one. If you think anyone you know could react like this, make sure they have no power or authority over you. Get out of their house if you live with them, get a job or other income if you depend on them financially, get help from friends or other family, get the hell out. Do NOT talk with these people about polyamory. If you absolutely must tell them for some reason, send a letter when you are someplace where they cannot influence you. If you cannot get out and away from these people, make sure that some one you trusts knows about your fears and will be prepared to help if things go wrong and they find out about your lifestyle from another source. Thankfully, most of us will never need to deal with this kind of horror, but if you know someone who is like this, protect yourself.

Wrapping Up

I wish none of you would ever need to deal with any negative reactions. Unfortunately, chances are that if you choose to live openly as a polyamorous person, you will run into at least one, and likely several negative reactions from people you care about. I wish there was more advice or help that I could offer. Keep your head up, and hold onto the positive reactions you get. Good luck.

This post is part of the

Explaining Polyamory Blog Series.

 

(Originally posted June 2012)

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.