The Heart of Polyamory: Not Half the Parent You Used to Be
By Millie Jackson
A common argument against polyamory is that it is not a healthy life-style for the children involved. I have never found this argument to hold up. Although I do not have children, I have been involved with people who do. What I have witnessed are very content children getting a lot of positive attention. They are being raised in a diverse and accepting environment while witnessing communication, negotiation, and a team mentality. Often times, they are completely unaware that their “extended family” includes partners of their mommy and/or daddy.
The same guidelines of what is appropriate in regards to what children see and hear about sex are basically the same whether parents are monogamous or polyamorous. How parents portray sex and relationships to their children and how they approach conversations about sex varies greatly from one parenting style to the next. A room full of parents who are proclaimed monogamists will disagree, perhaps passionately, on when and how to approach these topics with children. There will, similarly, be a variety of approaches among polyamorous parents too. Keep in mind that there are not wild orgies happening in front of the children. Nobody should be having sex in front of children regardless of the family dynamics.
The local support group of polyamorists that I currently help organize has hosted discussions on “Poly Parenting”. Of the parents who sat on panels, there were clearly different approaches on how to address children regarding polyamory specifically, and sex in general. Within one married couple, the father had an “it’s none of their business” approach and the mother employed an “answer their questions in an age appropriate way if and when they ask” strategy.
The children of the people I dated never knew I was having sex with their parents, but they sure liked having me around as “one of the family”. They got extra attention and additional exposure to new activities and interests. For instance, during one particular relationship, they all joined me for an NCAA Women’s Basketball game, and it became a new activity that the family enjoyed together.
Many of us can only imagine the extent of stressors involved with being a single parent. Even two people raising a family can be fraught with exhaustion and self-sacrifice, where having sex, alone time or a date becomes a feat in and of itself. But imagine what a 3rd or 4th adult could add to the mix. People who are less stressed, more fulfilled and getting additional support are more likely to be better parents. With two or three incomes AND a stay at home parent, chances are that the children will come out way ahead. There are many other possible scenarios, and even if the children never have any interaction with their parents’ lovers, they still reap the benefits of having parents who are more content.
A friend of mine who is polyamorous sums it up nicely in regard to parenting: He can’t imagine being one of only two parents, but he can see raising children with 1/3 or ¼ of the parenting role. For him, this is an ideal scenario. It would be for me, too. Although I have absolutely no desire to give birth to a child, I would happily be part of a family and play a major role in raising children.
Children raised within the poly paradigm may be able to escape the cultural indoctrination that possessiveness, jealousy and codependence are unavoidable if not desirable behaviors within an intimate relationship. Imagine having the natural human tendency to love more than one person actually normalized for children.
Hopefully, we can spare future generations unnecessary guilt and shame for the common failings of aspiring monogamists who continually miss the mark but keep aiming for what is an unrealistic target for them. Whether the children grow up to be polyamorous, monogamous or some other style of relating, they will probably be better communicators and more content partners because they will have made an informed choice regarding which relationship orientation best suits them.