Polyamory is the idea that a person can love more than one person at the same time. Not to be confused with cheating and adultery, which involves lies and deception, poly relationships are founded on the idea that their lovers shouldn’t have to be hidden from one another. Many times a poly person’s romantic partners will be friends with one another or even have a romantic relationship of their own. While poly people are open to their significant others, many are closeted to the rest of society. There are many reasons for this secretiveness, one of the most common being their children.
Parents- both monogamous and poly- generally want what is best for their children. We all base our parenting decisions off our own moral compass, our own values and beliefs. Many of us often spend hours upon hours researching various options before deciding which path to take. Despite the fact that poly parents are exactly like monogamous parents on these very basic core issues, poly parents face something that monogamous parents do not when it comes to their love life: stigma.
Our society as a whole has two very separate, very inaccurate images of what a poly family looks like.
On one side of the spectrum you have the religious zealots who are in poly relationships not out of personal desire but out of a feeling of biblical obligation. These people often marry young, reproduce in great numbers, and only allow one gender (usually the male) to have multiple partners.
At the other extreme you have the irresponsible hippies with their free-love. These people are often depicted as selfish and flaky. They do what feels good in the moment without considering the ramifications, and they frequently unload their children onto other people so that they may live life without the constraints of parenting.
Neither of these images are typical of a true poly parent!
So what does a poly parent look like? Well, that is hard to say. They are as diverse as monogamous parents. Some practice attached parenting, some raise free-range children. Some are homeschoolers, others feel public education best suits their family. Some raise their children in large poly communities while others have a small, tight-knit social circle.
Despite being normal, loving parents, many poly people face strong backlash when they first come out. They have had child services called on them* for no reason other than being poly. They have lost custody of their children in divorce cases* for no reason other than being poly. They have had other parents ostracize them (and indirectly ostracize their children) for no reason other than being poly. In extreme cases, poly parents have even received threats of violence.
Besides the issues that face poly parents from outside of their immediate family, the concerns facing poly parents are not unlike the concerns that face monogamous single parents. Mainly, how open are they with their children about their dating and love life? There is no one right answer to this question, however most of the dating parents I know (both poly and monogamous) prefer not to introduce their children to their love interests until they are sure that the person will be around for awhile. Most parents agree that it is unhealthy for a child to have people coming and going throughout their life and as such most parents do their best to provide their children with consistency. This is a difficult thing to do, since we never know what the future will hold, still most parents try their best to make choices they view as healthy for their children.
Beyond these struggles that poly parents face, there is also an up-side. A benefit to raising children in a poly family: more love.
Most children in monogamous families are lucky to have one or two parents, maybe a few grandparents or aunts/uncles in the area who are active in the child’s life. Many children however are raised by a single parent without the support of extended family members.
However, children in poly families are generally always surrounded by people who love and care for them. Often times the partners of the poly parents become like step parents or surrogate aunts & uncles. They spend time with the children, reading to them and taking them to park. They genuinely care for the children and show it by investing their time and their thoughts. In a many poly families, the children only benefit from having more people who love them and look after them.
Beyond that, there are other benefits to raising children in a poly family.
Generally poly people are well-experienced at recognizing their own emotions and communicating those emotions with the ones they love. Open, honest, effective communication is one of the single most important aspects of a poly relationship. Having adults who can model this level of respectful and effective communication is wonderful for raising children who are in-tune with their emotions and able to effectively communicate their needs as well as raising children who are conscious of the emotional needs of those in their life.
Poly communities also are usually places of open-mindedness and acceptance. Because poly people view sexuality as a complex matter and a human right, they are likely to raise children who have similar values of acceptance and non-judgement. And in the event that a child is born homosexual or transgender in a poly family, they will likely have the enormous support of their family.
It is no fairy tale and poly parents have just as many flaws as monogamous parents do, however, like most parents, poly parents try to make the decisions that are in their children’s best interests.
* It is important to note that while some people use the legal system to punish poly parents, there is no law in the US against being poly. There are laws against claiming multiple spouses for reasons of unfair gain in terms of taxes and health insurance, however the actual act of identifying as a poly person and having multiple romantic relationships is not in fact unlawful. When poly parents are threatened with the loss of custody of their children by either CPS or by a divorce court judge, what they are facing is not a legal ramification but rather is a person in a place of power exercising their power in a technically unlawful way. Most states do allow for CPS agents and court officials to make decisions that they view as being “in the best interest of the children.” This vague wording allows for the person in a place of power to make judgement calls based on their own moral compass, which maybe different than the morals that the parents of the child hold. Different morals does not mean that one is right and the other is wrong, it merely means they believe differently. The possibility that one might loose their children because they believe differently than another person is one of the many flaws in our current legal system.