Tag Archives: Children

Polyamory and Children Guest Blog: Marmoset, Metamour and Ice Cream

Sadly, The Poly Man Whore stopped updating his blog a couple years ago, but you can still check out his old posts. Reposted: June 15, 2017

A few months ago, The Poly Man Whore put up a blog post about the night he and his daughter (the Marmoset) met his wife’s boyfriend (Mister Alvin). He’s been good enough to let me share some of his post, for an inside look on  how one poly family handles the first meet between kids and metamours.

My daughter, The Maromset, just met my wife’s boyfriend, Alvin. She shared the story at circle time at school. She saw Miss Jeanette all the time, but it was the first time that she met Mister Alvin. Even to a five year old, that is a Big Deal. The grown-up version of the double date was just as entertaining, so now is the time for me to share during circle time.

Mrs. Manwhore went over to Mister Alvin’s house, and then the two of them drove to Allyoucaneat-iban Sushi. Miss Jeanette came over to my house, so we met them there. Marmoset and her now-adult brother stayed home, with the promise of going to Tastee-Tastee Yogurt after dinner.

I’ve chatted with Alvin before when my wife and he would Facetime or Skype or talk on the speakerphone and I knew he was a decent enough guy, clearly caring deeply for Mrs. Manwhore, good sense of humor… Still, I got the feeling he was very willing to not like me at all. He is very new to the whole poly thing and I am sure he was concerned with how I would react to meeting the “man who is having sex with my wife.”

We walked into Allyoucaneat-iban and finally, he and I met. He had a good handshake and a nice smile. The Mrs. was very obviously nerve-wracked. The two of them sat across from Jeanette and me. The stress seemed to melt away pretty quickly, to me, anyway. My wife later told me that she was sweaty and stomach-clenchy all night long, but I thought it went really well…

After dinner, Jeanette and I went home to collect the Marmoset and had to Tastee-Tastee Yogurt. She was squeaking with excitement on our way over there, and when we got out of the car she went straight up to him and said, “Hi, Mister Alvin! I’m Marmoset!” She put her hand out, gave him a real handshake, and then went skipping off to the door of the yogurt store. I could not possibly be prouder of her.

Meanwhile, I took my wife aside and we had a little pep talk check-in moment. She was still very nervous. Hug, kiss, high-five, off we go! Inside for yogurt. Naturally, Marmoset’s concoction was of a singular magnitude, containing bits of stardust and faerie wings and cookie dough. We did some more talking, but mostly let the Marmoset steal the show. She and Mister Alvin played hide and seek in the yogurt store. Mister Alvin brought her a book from her favorite series and we read it. She did some dancing, she did some singing, she looked at the baby at the table behind us… Again, a really nice time.

The Poly Man Whore balances his family and several partners and is openly out as polyamorous in all areas of his life. He is not finding it at all difficult to date as a poly man and has a unique perspective that contributes to his poly success and offers up his distinct blend of bullshit free wisdom and advice to poly folk everywhere. He specializes in helping despairing and dateless poly men learn to stop their whining and start having relationships.

This post is part of the <a href=”http://polyamoryonpurpose.com/popular-blog-series/#ChildrenRaisedinPolyamorousRelationships”> Raising Children in Polyamorous Families</a> blog series.

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(Originally posted May 2012)

Polyamory and Children: Research Update

List has been updated with more recent work by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff. I haven’t heard back from other researchers yet, but if I do I’ll add their newer work as well. A lot of the newer stuff is publicly available, so skip to the bottom if you want something you can read and don’t have access to academic journals. Updated April 6, 2017.

Being a bit lazy this week, though I hope this may be helpful to polyam parents. The Yahoo! PolyResearchers group recently compiled this list of studies covering polyamory/modern forms of non-monogamy and its impact on children. While it isn’t the easiest thing for a lay person to get access to academic journals (they tend to run expensive and not be carried in the local library), this list may be a resource for any professionals you deal with who are seeking to educated themselves on how your lifestyle may impact your children.

I have read very few of these myself, but the general discussion on the Yahoo! group indicated that no one there knew of any study which found any harm to children raised in ethically non-monogamous families.

Barker, Meg & Langdridge, Darren.  (2010).  Understanding Non-monogamies.  London: Routledge.

Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria.  (2010).  Border Sexualities, Border Families in Schools.  Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria (2006).  Polyparents Having Children, Raising Children, Schooling Children.  Lesbian and Gay Psychology Review, 7 (1), (March 2006), 48-53.

Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria.  (2010).  To Pass, Border or Pollute: Polyfamilies Go to School.  In Meg Barker & Darren Langridge (Eds.), Understanding Non-Monogamies.  New York, NY: Routledge.

Pallotta-Chiarolli, Maria, Haydon, Peter; & Hunter, Anne.  (In press, 2012).  These Are Our Children: Polyamorous Parenting.  In Katherine Allen & Abbie Goldberg (Eds.), LGBT-Parent Families: Possibilities for New Research and Implications for Practice.  London: Springer.

Sheff, Elisabeth.  (2011).  Polyamorous Families, Same-Sex Marriage, and the Slippery Slope.  Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 40 (5), (October 2011), 487-520,

Sheff, Elisabeth.  (2010).  Strategies in Polyamorous Parenting.  In Meg Barker & Darren Langridge (Eds.), Understanding Non-Monogamies.  London: Routledge.

Older studies:

Constantine, Larry L., & Constantine, Joan M.  (1976).  Treasures of the Island: Children in Alternative Families.  Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications.

Constantine, Larry L., & Constantine, Joan M.  Group Marriage: A Study of Contemporary Multilateral Marriage.  New York: Macmillan, 1973, pp. 148-162.

Constantine, Larry L.  (1977) Where are the kids? Children in Alternative Life Styles.  In Libby, Roger W., & Robert N. Whitehurst (Eds.), Marriage and Alternatives: Exploring Intimate Relationships (pp. 257-263).  Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman & Co.

Johnston, C., & R. Deisher.  (1973).  Contemporary communal child rearing: a first analysis.  Pediatrics, 52(3), (September 1973), 319-326.

Salsburg, Sheldon (1973).  Is group marriage viable?  Journal of Sex Research 9(4), (November 1973), 325-333.

Weisner, T.S.  (1986).  Implementing New Relationship Styles in Conventional and Nonconventional American Families.  In Hartup, W., & Z. Rubin (Eds.), Relationships and Development (pp. 185-206).  New Jersey: LEA Press.

Weisner, T. S., & H. Garnier.  (1992).  Nonconventional family lifestyles and school achievement: A 12-year longitudinal study.  American Educational Research Journal 29(3), 605-632.

(Originally posted January 2012)

New Studies and Articles

(Unlike the original list, not all of these are peer reviewed. The ones that aren’t peer reviewed are more like to be available to anyone, so use them to inform yourself and your friends. The peer reviewed are harder to access, but can be very useful when dealing with medical or legal professionals who need “proof”.)

2016 Sheff, Elisabeth. When Someone you Love is Polyamorous. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

2016 Sheff, Elisabeth. “Resilient Polyamorous Families” in Critical Dimensions of Sex & Gender Diversity: Clinical Perspectivesedited by Karian, Previn.

2015 Sheff, Elisbeth. “Polyamorous Parenting” in The Sage Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies edited by Goldberg, Abbie. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

2015 Sheff, Elisabeth (Editor). Stories from the Polycule: Real Life in Polyamorous Families. Portland, OR: Thorntree Press.

2014 Sheff, Elisabeth. The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple Partner Relationships and Families. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

2013 Goldfeder, Mark and Sheff, Elisabeth. “Children in Polyamorous Families: A First Empirical Look,” The Journal of Law and Social Deviance.  Volume 5, pages 150 – 243. http://www.lsd-journal.net/archives/Volume5/ChildrenOfPolyamorousFamilies.pdf

2012 Sheff, Elisabeth. “Polyamory and Divorce” in Cultural Sociology of Divorce, an Encyclopedia, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

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 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)

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.

Helping Our Kids Talk About Polyamory

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

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

Fielding questions about polyamory

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

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

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

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

Teachers and Other Authority Figures

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

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

Should You Tell Your Kids About Polyamory?

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

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

Telling Your Kids About Polyamory

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

Not Telling Your Kids About Polyamory

Pros:

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

Cons:

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

 

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

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

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

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

Wondering how to tell your kids about polyamory?

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

Introducing Your Polyamory Partners to Your Children

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So introduce your partner early, as just another friend.

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

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

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

Do you really need to say more?

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Laws and legal practices affecting our children

If you’re been following this blog for a while, you’ll understand why today’s topic is a personally painful one. I’m not going to go as in depth as a usually do, in an attempt to avoid triggering myself.

If anyone else has knowledge or personal experience in this area, please feel free to share in the comics.

Our children are, for many people, both our most precious gift, and our greatest vulnerability. “Think of the children!” is an effective rallying cry for the defense of the status quo because even criminals want nothing to do with those who harm children.

I’ve previously covered how there is no evidence that polyamory is harmful to children, but until legal shit catches up with the research (and for tha matter, until we have more extensive and definitive research), people who are in poly relationships will face threats to their children.

Custody Laws

This will vary widely by jurisdiction. In the US there is no state that fully protects poly children in a custody dispute. Pennsylvania as some protection, but the precedent setting that protection is full of loopholes, and it’s going to take another poly family being dragged through the mud to determine the full extent of that protection.

Anywhere else in the US, the judge can summarily give your children to your ex just because you are polyamorous. In states that have grandparents laws, or otherwise allow third parties to sue for custody or visitation, your relatives, in-laws, and in some cases friends, can use polyamory as a justification to ask the legal system to give them control of your children.

From what I can tell, in the European Union the “best interests of the children” rule applies, leaving the door open for exes to claim that being raised in a poly home is not in the best interests f their child. How “best interests of the children” is determined will vary from country to country. I have no knowledge of custody in the rest of the world, and invite those with experience or knowledge to comment below.

Child Protective Services

Again, varies hugely by jurisdiction. Personal experience and anecdotal evidence is that child protective services usually don’t want to get involved in polyamory or non-monogamy. They have really cases of child abuse that puts kids in the hospital to deal with, they don’t want to worry about kids who are healthy, happy, and cared for, who just happen to have an unconventional home life.

That doesn’t mean a particularly bigoted or closed minded child protective agent can’t fuck with your family. Child protective services usually have broad powers to take children, and prove the abuse afterwards. Needing to prove abuse first leaves the risk the child will be further injured or even killed during the time needed to prove anything. Most child protective reps are careful exercising this power, because if a judge determines later they overstepped, they will be in trouble. But some reps may think they can trump up  reason to take your kids, and in some jurisdictions poly may be ruled a sufficient reason to take your kids–especially if the judge handling child protection cases is bigoted or closed minded themselves.

Paternity Laws

Laws establishing paternity, and a father’s responsibilities, vary widely. In some jurisdictions, the law assumes that a woman’s husband is the father of any children she has. Jurisdictions with this kind of law will often have hoops poly families need to jump through to establish a non-spousal father.

Not getting a legal marriage can avoid this issue, unless you run into common law marriage statutes.

Two Parent Laws

The assumption that every child has two, and only two, parents is legally common. it is also very hurtful to children raised in poly families who may lose all contact with a beloved parent due to their lack of custody or visitation rights.

A recent towards allowing three parents on a birth certificate has developed in the US and England, though only in limited cases.

 

Standard disclaimer– I’m not a lawyer, talk to a professional about any legal issues/concerns you may have.

 

Again, please leave a comment if you have any experience or knowledge to add to this topic.

 

More on laws affecting polyamory.

Polyamory Hurts Kids? Not in the Real World

Any parent who chooses to enter a polyamorous relationship will sooner or later run into the charge that polyamory hurts kids, and they are being selfish by putting their desires over their kids’ well-being.

I recently ran across a blog post claiming to be based on psychological research that used big fancy words to say just that. I am taking the time to write an extra post this week specifically to refute this and other misinformation about raising kids in poly relationships.

First, the short version:

There is absolutely no evidence that children are harmed by healthy polyamorous relationships. (See: research list!)

There is some as yet inconclusive evidence that polyamory may provide benefits for children.

A lot more research needs to be done before anything else is known for certain.

The Long Version: Polyamory Doesn’t Hurt Kids

Most critics say that polyamory hurts kids in one of two ways:

  1. Unhealthy emotional development/abandonment issues—the idea is that because poly parents are constantly bringing new partners into their kids lives, who then leave again, children of poly parents face the equivalent of going through a divorce over and over again, but with bonus trauma. Because poly partners don’t get visitation rights, the kids will never again see the adults they have formed emotional bonds with.
  2. Family secrets—forcing children to keep family secrets places an unfair burden on them. Forcing children to lie to their peers, teachers, and other adults not only teaches them unethical behavior but is emotionally damaging. The alternative, lying to kids about their parents relationship, is obviously equally damaging, because sooner or later they will find out the truth and be hurt/resentful/betrayed about being lied to.

The idea that children of poly parents will be damaged in some way by their parents various partners coming in and out of their lives is an understandable concern. Though perhaps misplaced. According to sociologist Andrew Cherlin, “…family life in the United States involves more transitions than anywhere else. There is more marriage but also more divorce. There are more lone parents but also more repartnering. Cohabiting relationships are shorter. Over the course of people’s adult lives, there is more movement into and out of marriages and cohabiting relationships than in other countries (The Marriage-Go-Round, p. 19)”.

So let’s be blunt: the issue is not that polyamory is bad for children because poly relationships are unstable and transitory. Unstable and transitory relationships with adults can be unhealthy for children. Unstable and transitory relationships can happen in any type of relationship, but critics of polyamory assume it is more common to poly relationships than mono relationships.

The real question is, is there something about polyamory that encourages increased relationship instability in a way that affects kids? So far, the answer seems to be “No.”

Poly parents who have taken part in research studies have shared these concerns, and taken steps to reduce the impact on their kids. Common steps include:

  • Only introducing poly partners if/when the relationship is stable and can be expected to last a long time (and sometimes not even then.)
  • Encouraging kids to see poly partners as members of the parent’s general social circle of friends, and as such, not expected to necessarily be a permanent part of the kids lives.
  • Making an effort to give kids time with former poly partners, so that relationships between kid and ex can continue even though the relationships between the adults have ended. (You know, just like mono parents do when a relationship ends.)

The kids of poly parents who have taken part in studies haven’t shared their parents concerns, and have rarely expressed any sense of abandonment or trauma from their parent’s partners moving in and out of their lives.

As far as family secrets go, what research has been done suggests a variety of common sense approaches tends to prevent problems. Approaches such as simply being open about the family lifestyle, so there are no secrets to hide. Or teaching children about privacy and boundaries (much the way my parent’s taught me to respond to rude questions about why my brother didn’t look like the rest of the family—he and I were both adopted, but I was lucky enough to blend in with our adoptive family).

In fact, the only negative researchers have found to raising children in a poly household is the stigma they may face from those who don’t approve of polyamory. Even this stigma is less than many would expect because poly families tend to blend. Is that group of three “parents” a blended family of Mother, Father, and Step-mother? Or is that a couple and their best friend who is an unofficial “Aunt?” Most school officials, other kids, and playmates’ parents see multiple adults involved in raising kids every day of the week, so it just doesn’t raise eyebrows very often.

polyamory hurts kids

By Serolynne, Creative Commons LicensedCan you tell what relationship these adults have?

The Long Version: Polyamory May Help Kids

This section comes with tons of caveats. Basically, we just don’t have enough research, and the research we do have is not a wide enough sample. However, there is some evidence that polyamory may provide a better environment for children than monogamy.

Ian Baker provides a well thought out and compelling example of how he believes growing up in a poly family benefited him in his article “Growing Up Poor With Three Parents.”

Ian’s story is anecdotal, but it lines up very well with what research has found so far.

For kids, polyamory can mean:

  • More income, so they are better provided for
  • More adults to take of them
  • With more adults to take care of them, more rested and healthy adults who can give them more attention, time, and energy
  • The ability to have a stay at home parent and multiple incomes
  • And generally a number of other benefits that all boil down to “More adults=more resources=better for kids” whether those resources are skills, life experience, money, time, or anything else.

In Conclusion

Polyamory may or may not be good for kids (we’re waiting on more research), but there is absolutely no evidence that polyamory hurts them. The charge that polyamory hurts kids is the same line that has been used (and disproven) on interracial marriage, LGBT, and every other relationship that someone in society has disapproved of for personal reasons, dressed up in new clothes and flung at polyamory. As of this date (01/05/2015) anyone who claims they have evidence to the contrary is either misinformed or lying.

Finally, a disclaimer:

We need more research into the impact of polyamory on kids. No one who is honestly assessing the facts will disagree. The vast majority of existing research is small scale studies that need to be replicated in larger and more varied groups. There are multiple challenges facing researchers, including:

  1. Getting funding to study polyamory is very difficult
  2. Find a broad enough group of poly-folk for a truly large scale study is even more difficult
  3. The lack of preliminary research into polyamory (we don’t even have a good idea of how many people are polyamorous) makes it harder to do specific research, such as the impact on kids.

Anyone who claims that we know everything we need to know about the impact of polyamory on kids is just flat wrong. What we do know so far is that there is no evidence polyamory hurts kids, that unhealthy or unstable relationships of any variety are bad for kids, and the research so far is consistent across monogamous, heterosexual, LGBT, polyamorous and even kinky relationships: love, consistent parenting, and availability of resources are the keys to raising healthy, happy kids. Everything else is window-dressing.