Polyamory and Children: Where is the Research At?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Originally published Oct 2011)

5 responses to “Polyamory and Children: Where is the Research At?

  1. I know there are vast cultural differences, but there are some societies in the Amazon that provide examples of rearing children in polyamorous situations. This post puts me in mind of “Partible Paternity”–the idea that all men who have sex with a women during her pregnancy contribute to positive aspects of the child. Clearly, from a biological standpoint, this is not correct; however, it provides for multiple fathers invested in the child and may provide far more benefit in that capacity than a single father could provide. But it doesn’t seem to be causing horrible problems for kids, at any rate? Here is a link in case anyone is interested. Our Western nuclear family isn’t the only model historically or even presently. And we should have options.

    From the research paper:

    “Previous work has emphasized the fitness benefits for women where partible paternity beliefs facilitate paternal investment from multiple men and may reduce the risk of infanticide. In this comparative study of 128 lowland South American societies, the prevalence of partible paternity beliefs may be as much as two times as common as biologically correct beliefs in singular paternity…Partible paternity may have benefits for both sexes, especially in societies where essentially all offspring are said to have multiple fathers.”

    http://www.pnas.org/content/107/45/19195.full

    • Good point. I’ve heard of partible paternity but hadn’t thought about it much in this context. There are many other approaches to relationships and parenting around the world. Thanks for sharing the study link.

      Would you mind if I copied this comment onto the post about Marriage Around the World?

  2. Please feel free to use anything I ever post at your blog, or anywhere publicly. I appreciate what you’re doing. I think it’s important to move away from the idea that the nuclear family and the sexually exclusive+life-time marriage model are the only, or even best, models for human happiness and well being.

  3. I’m wondering if you’re able to give me some advice.

    I’m joining a polyfi family. We will be FMF and both women want to have children. I’m comfortable with biological children I give birth to calling both of us some variation of mom/momma etc. The other is concerned that I may feel differently when I do get pregnant. I’ve been trawling through and I haven’t found anything on this topic though.

    I’d be grateful to hear any thoughts/stories on this 🙂

    • I know I addressed this in my book Polyamory and Pregnancy. I don’t believe I’ve covered it on the blog.

      Feelings do change sometimes, both during pregnancy and after the birth. In my first triad, MFM, one of my partners was sure he’d be fine being a parent to kids not biologically his. The other wasn’t sure how he’d handle it but was willing to try. After our first child was born, the one who was sure he’d be fine ended up eaten up over whether or not the baby was biologically his and (when we learned the bio father was my other partner) dealing jealous and bitter over it. Later on, my other partner (who was worried about being a father to kids not biologically his) ended up becoming a step-father to two young girls, and they are “his” in his heart just as much as his bio kids.

      So yes, the way you feel may change. At this point, before there is any pregnancy or kids, it’s best to keep plans flexible. Talk about what you ideally want or think you would want, but allow some room for things to change and discuss options for handling those changes.

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