Category Archives: Family

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?

Random Babble Post – For the Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because our children deserve better than this.

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Polyamory Holidays

Some minor changes and updates here. Mostly edited for readability and to remove an old bias towards group relationships. This post originally went up in July just before the US Independence Day, but with US Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and a host of other holidays in the next month+ it’s even more relevant now.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, also known in the US as ‘Independence Day’. For my international readers, Fourth of July is traditionally a family-focused holiday. Family cookouts and bar-b-ques are as ubiquitous as illegal backyard fireworks displays. (Yes, Americans have issues with following laws we don’t like, probably why we have an Independence Day to celebrate in the first place. Though some in states you can legally risk setting their homes on fire with exploding rockets)

 

Subtract the tuba and this could be 90% of the 4th of July celebrations ever. Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

Subtract the tuba and this could be 90% of the 4th of July celebrations ever.
Photo by Infrogmation of New Orleans. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

But, like many holidays, the focus on family causes problems for polyam folk. How do you handle family holidays when your family refuses to accept your partner? When you have invitations to spend the holiday with four different families, whose do you choose?

Like pretty much everything polyam, there is no easy answer or even easy set of answers. But here’s a few thoughts that can work, for Fourth of July or any holiday. For simplicity, I’m assuming everyone is out to their families of origin and lives close enough to visit. Having everyone’s families of origin halfway the country away does have the advantage of simplifying things.

Ideas for Polyamory Holidays

Host the Party Yourself

First heard this idea from a friend on a polyamory forum and couldn’t believe it never occurred to me. As long as you have the room, invite everyone’s family to your place for the holiday. No worries over who to spend the holiday with, you can spend it with everyone. And you don’t need to worry about how to deal with family who doesn’t accept your partners. Instead, unaccepting family gets to decide whether spending the holiday with you is important enough to be polite for a few hours.

Rotate Holidays

Traditional in some monogamous families, spend Christmas with one side of the family and Thanksgiving with the other. Having extra families to visit complicates things. Works well when all families are accepting of your relationship. Works really well when they celebrate different holidays.

Each Visit Your Own Family

You hit your parent’s place, partner 1 hits his parent’s place, partner 2 checks out her family’s yearly bash, etc.

Create Your Own Thing

Sometimes, it’s best just to move on. Family holidays are wonderful fun, and it hurts not to participate with them anymore, but maybe it’s time to start your own traditions. What if, instead of heading over to the family of origin bar-b-que, your polyam family has a picnic at the local parade? There are lots of options, so why not have a family chat about what works for you.

I hope some of these ideas can get you thinking, and that you can enjoy your holiday (tomorrow and all the future ones) happy and healthy.

Polyamory and Pregnancy: Planning for the Unexpected

Revised 11/6/16. Minor updates here, fixed some typos and that kind of thing.

I ran across a discussion on a polyamory forum once where a woman said she absolutely could not deal with the possibility of her husband getting someone else pregnant. A bunch of people were trying to reassure her of how unlikely it was, how with birth control, yadda yadda yadda.

They were right, but they were also wrong. There is no 100% foolproof method of birth control. Would be great if there was, and maybe one day we’ll get one. IUDs and implants seem to be heading in the right direction, but we aren’t there yet. There is no perfect birth control. Accepting that is part of accepting a polyamorous relationship.

Because pregnancy can be so life changing, it is important to discuss what you and your partners will do in the event of an unexpected pregnancy.

 

polyamory unexpected pregnancy

It can happen to just about anyone.

Each relationship will have to work out for themselves what options and possibilities they need to discuss. A lot of things will be specific to different polyamory relationship styles (a polyfi family that lives together, doesn’t need to worry about a secondary who lives across the country getting pregnant after a visit) and it would take several dozen blog posts to cover all the possibilities. But here are a few considerations to start you off:

Obviously, abortion is the mother’s decision. Knowing if they might want an abortion gives a starting point for the rest of the discussion. All the following assumes that the mother does not wish to abort.

  • If you have more than one relationship (primary/secondary, DADT, polyamorous networks, etc), discuss options with each relationship separately.
  • Potential mothers – there is no guarantee you will even be able to guess who the father is. Think about that.
  • Other potential parents – if your primary gets pregnant it WILL affect your secondary. And vise versa. Discuss it with them individually. (This applies whether or not you have a hierarchy, whether or not you live together. Do not kid yourself, life will not go on as normal if there is a baby on the way, it will affect ALL your relationships.)
  • I shouldn’t need to say it, but potential mothers, if you get pregnant it will affect all of your relationships, regardless of who may or may not be the other bio parent.

There is a lot to think about, and you don’t need to hash over everything down to what hospital you’d want to give birth at. If all you say is ‘How would we handle it?’ ’I don’t know, but we’d find a way,’ you both (all) know that you are aware of the possibility, and no one is likely to utterly freak out if it happens. That’s enough.

It should go without saying that ‘How would we handle it?’ ‘I refuse to discuss it because you will not let it happen.’ is an indication that you have a lot more to talk about it, though not necessarily regarding pregnancy.

What do you think needs to be considered when discussing an unexpected pregnancy in a polyamorous relationship? Please leave a comment with your ideas.

Originally posted June 30, 2011

 

Polyamory Meal Planning

Revised and re-posted 10/11/16. My polycule has changed several times over the past few years, and the details of my meal lists have changed as people moved in and out of my life. But I still keep these three lists. Main changes here are fixing grammar and typos.

meal planning polyamory

Are family meals ever really this idealistic?

In a few weeks, my metamour will be coming to visit. She’s allergic to vitamin K. My partner is on a restricted diet due to heartburn. And I keep Kosher. My metamour’s husband is staying home this time, so we don’t need to eat vegetarian.

Yup, polyam meals can get complicated. If you live together, the process can become habit, but sometimes it will still be a hassle. Luckily, there are ways to make life easier.

Polyam Meal Lists

My favorite trick for putting together polyam meals is to keep these three lists. The first two I keep saved on my computer though if you live together it might be easier to post them in the kitchen. The last one I keep in my head.

  • Food restrictions – what doesn’t each person eat.
  • Food preferences – what does each person like to eat.
  • Emergency meals – what can you throw together on the fly that everyone can eat.

Here is an example of my food restrictions list. I combine this with food preferences, and I have a pretty good guideline for planning meals, depending on who is going to be there.

Restrictions list:

My partner –

  • tomato-based sauces
  • ‘hot’ foods
  • broccoli (he just can’t stand it)

My metamour –

  • Anything with vitamin K including
    • Dark leafy vegetables
    • Broccoli
    • Asparagus

Me –

  • Pork
  • Anything that mixes dairy and meat
  • Organ meats
  • Shellfish

My sister –

  • Oregano
  • Rosemary

Metamour’s Husband –

  • Meat (includes fish)

One time, when my metamour and her husband came down, the ‘vegetarian’ boxed meal I picked up, wasn’t. It was a massive scramble to find something everyone could eat. That’s when I came up with my emergency meals list. It’s 3 meals that everyone I might expect to be at my home can eat and that I can throw together quickly. This way, if a planned meal falls through, I have alternatives.
My emergency meals list is:

  • Pasta with light pesto sauce
  • Rice balls with corn or another veggie filling
  • Grilled cheese sandwiches

These are meals that I reliably have the ingredients for, and can cook practically in my sleep.

I hope somewhere there exists a polyamorous relationship that doesn’t need to jump through hoops to make a meal everyone can enjoy. So far, every polyam family I’ve been in has had multiple food restrictions, often contradictory ones! A bit of thought, planning ahead, and most of all keeping these lists, makes meal time a lot easier, and a lot more enjoyable.

What are you polyam meal tips? Share them in the comments!

Formal Invitations for Poly Folk

The nice thing about formal invitations is you are expected to list everyone who is invited. If someone’s name isn’t on there, they aren’t invited. This solves a lot of this “who is included?” of informal invitations.

This post generally assumes you are issuing an invite to people who are out about being poly. If your guests are in the closet, respect that and address their invites to match the way they publicly present themselves.

So let’s look at some of the problems that do come up with formal invites.

How Do You Address an Invite to a Triad, Quad, etc?

If you can fit it on the paper, you could list everyone on one invite. Or you can send separate invites to each person. If you are paying to have the invites professionally printed that ups the cost, so take finances into consideration too.

I Don’t Know Everyone’s Names!

You want to invite your poly cousin to your wedding. You know they are living with tow other people, but you don’t know the names of their poly partners. The first choice would be to call up and ask. If for some reason this isn’t an option, you can do a variation on the old +1. [Name]+1 is traditionally used for single people to tell them they can bring a guest. But there is no reason you can’t address the invite to [Cousin]+2, so they know both their partners are welcome.

I Don’t Know How Big Their Family Is!

Poly families can be confusing. So you love your sister, you want her to have everyone special in her life at your big event, but you don’t really know exactly how many that is. The three people that live with her? The boyfriend that doesn’t live with her? the partners of the people that live with her? Who do you include?

I’d go with [Sister]+family, and drop a quiet word that “family” means whoever she wants it to mean.

They Have a Huge Network and I’m On a Budget

Not everyone can afford to invite an unknown number of people to a big shindig. And if it’s a choice between including your cousins and your brother’s boyfriend’s wife who you’ve never met, I gotta admit I’d go with the cousin too. Here the old +1 standby can again be a great tool.

Figure out how many people you can afford to include from each family. Maybe you are including kids, and none of your guests has more than three kids, so you go for a max family size of 5. Your brother’s invite can be [Brother]+4. This allows your brother and his family to decide among themselves who is going and who isn’t. If there is someone in your brother’s family that you have a separate relationship with–say your brother’s boyfriend and you hit it off over Superman and have been getting together weekly to watch old Smallville reruns, send boyfriend a separate invitation so he knows you want him there as your friend, and not “just” as your brother’s boyfriend.

If you need to do this with a group relationship as opposed to a poly network, again drop a quiet word: you can’t afford to include everyone, and you hope they understand.

Ideally, we want all of our poly families to be welcome and included in our lives and with our families. But reality is a thing, and reality includes by budget limits and (in many places at least) fire codes dictating how many people can be in the building. As long as your poly friends and relatives don’t feel like they are being deliberately excluded or forced to “pass” as monogamous, they’ll understand.

Polyamory Etiquette: Meeting Family About Town

The great thing about living in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is you are always running into people you know. The terrifying thing about being poly in a small town or close-knit neighborhood is…you are always running into people you know.

Meeting your SOs parents for the first time is always interesting. Meeting your SOs parents at the mall while you are out with your OSO takes interesting to a whole new level. Especially if you and your SO aren’t out about being poly.

When You Are Out

If everyone involved is out about being poly, or willing to be out, then just go with common courtesy and don’t worry about it.

You and SO1 are out when you run into SO2’s sister.
You: Hi, [sister]. [SO2] told us your birthday is coming up, hope it’s a good one!
sister: Uh. Yeah. Thanks.

Unless they are prepared to be an ass in public, the worst they can do is make a mumbled reply and hurry away. If they are prepared to be an ass in public, you can always turn and walk away. On the other hand, if they are cool with your relationships, or trying to be cool with them, you can have a nice conversation and add another brick to their understanding that your relationships are just a different way of doing things.

When Someone Isn’t Out

Often, one or more people in your polycule won’t be out about being poly. This can make running into friends and family awkward at best, and potentially life destroying at worst.

Take a deep breath. Repeat after me: “None of their business.”

The biggest and worst temptation when you are “caught” in public together is to give excuses and explanations. Don’t. You do not owe anyone an explanation of your relationships. Even if you weren’t polyamorous, you’d have friends, relatives, co-workers, etc, that you might be doing something around town with. So be polite, introduce the partner you’re with, but don’t give any explanation for your relationship.

You: Hi [sister]. [SO2] told me your birthday is coming up. Hope its a good one!
Sister: Hi [you]. Thanks. Who’s your friend?
You: [Sister] this is [SO1], [SO1] this is [SO2]’s sister, [sister.]
Sister & SO1: Hi. How you doing?
polite chit-chat
You: Well, nice running into you. We need to get going if I’m going to get back in time for dinner. Hope to see you gain soon, [sister].

If sister asked how you know each other, you can probably find a “safe” way to tell her how you met: through a local meet up, at a convention, online, etc. You don’t need to say which meetup or convention. Asking how you met or how long you’ve known each other is polite chit-chat. Pushing for details is prying. “Look sis, I like you, but I don’t owe you my life story. Now if you’ll excuse us, I have to [X].”

If you need to pull this line, or one like it, SO2 will probably be getting a call later, so make sure they know about what happened.

Sister: Sis, did you know that [you] was out with [SO1] today? I tried to find what they were doing together and [you] got snarky at me.
SO2: My sis, the private eye. Did it maybe occur to you that [you] is allowed to have friends and doesn’t owe you an explanation for them? Yes, I know about SO2. Thanks for worrying, and chill.

[h3]You Can’t Afford PDAs[/h3]
When my ex got involved with a cowgirl, I thought her insistence that we could not have PDAs was one more part of her trying to get him to herself. Right along with her (literally) picking a locked door to prevent us from having any alone time.

Well, I wasn’t smart enough to cut my losses. Instead, I finally put a foot down and said: “There is no one here who knows us, I’m tired of being treated like a shameful secret, I want you to kiss me.”

Wrong thing to put my foot down about. It seems her ex was in the crowd that day, and even though we didn’t see him, he saw us. And the picture he took of me and my ex kissing was used as evidence that the cowgirl was lying to the court. She lost custody of her kids and became even more obsessed with separating my ex and me permanently.

I have no sympathy for the cowgirl, but her kids did not deserve to be caught in the middle of our feuding.

The larger point of this story, of course, is that unless you are in a private room with a closed door, you can never know who is around. If anyone in your polycule needs to be in the closet, avoid PDAs. Depending on your culture a hug or a kiss on the cheek can be passed off as a gesture between friends. More than that? Well, you may not be risking anything–or you may be risking everything.

And if, like in my case, there is feuding in your polycule, don’t use PDAs as a lever. A PDA in the wrong place can destroy the life of people who are in the closet.

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Book Review: When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff

book review when someone you love is polyamorousA few years ago, I said that with Dr. Sheff’s The Polyamorist’s Next Door we finaly had a book to share with friends and family trying to understand polyamory. Dr. Sheff has done herself one better.

When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous is a clearly laid out book that introduces the basic concepts of polyamory in simple, easy to understand language. Topics include advantages and challenges of polyamory, why are people polyamorous, and children in polyamory.

Dr. Sheff doesn’t sugarcoat the problems in polyamory, including the lack of diversity among people willing and able to be openly polyamorous. She does lay out clearly what polyamory is, why it works for some people, and why it isn’t cheating or religious-style polygyny. I especially appreciate Dr. Sheff’s taking the time to explain why many poly folk want to “come out” to friends and family, and how friends and family can be supportive.

There are two things I would have liked to see in this book. The first is an explicit acknowledgement of the variety in polyamory. Dr. Sheff does describe several different ways people structure polyamorous relationships. Still I would have liked to see something like “Every polyamorous relationship is different. What you see in TV or the media may not be anything like the relationships your loved ones form.”

The other I would have liked to see addressed is abuse. You’d think “non-abusive” would be covered under “ethical” “honest” and “consensual.” But I’ve known a number of people who believed a poly relationship had to be abusive or coercive. Best to grasp that bull by the horns. “People who don’t understand polyamory may fear their loved one is being abused. The vast majority of polyamorous relationships are non-abusive and abuse seems to occur in polyamory (about as often/slightly more often/slightly less often) than in monogamy. If you have specific concerns about the way your loved one is being treated in their relationships, don’t focus on polyamory. Instead talk with your lloved ones about the specific issues that concern you.”

Those two points aside, When Someone You Love Is Polyamorous is a well written and useful book. I recommend it for anyone considering coming out to their friends and family, or anyone who has come out but is having trouble getting their loved ones to understand and accept their relationships.

Etiquette for Polyamory Partners and Children

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

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

The First Rule is KISS

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

Introducing Your Poly Partners to Your Children

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

The long version is here.

What Should my Children Call my Poly Partner?

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

The long version is here.

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

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

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

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

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

(next time you bump into each other)

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

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

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

When Your Relationship With Your Poly Partner Changes

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

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

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

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

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

3) Allow them to be hurt or upset.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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