“Have you thought about how a polyamorous relationship works with kids?” my colleague asked as I suppressed a smile. I’ve written a book about it, I was tempted to say.
Do they sense any instability? I’ve spent hours at a time analysing their actions and reactions. Are they at more risk from bullying due to the unconventional nature of their parents’ relationship? We’ve carefully cultivated their environment from schools to friends and even countries. Do they get confused? They’re kids, so sometimes yes, sometimes no — what matters more is how we handle it. Thus the answer to that and all three is, it depends.
A polyamorous relationship changes the environment your kids grow up in. Those who live and love inside polyamorous relationships know this, because polyamory isn’t something you do like badminton on a Thursday night. It’s a philosophy, some say an inclination, a way of living which opens the world up to potential — both positive and negative. New risks, new love, and new influences, not only for you but for the people you love. That’s one of the things I didn’t have to learn in order to know it, but here’s seven I have.
I learned that parallel polyamory is not an option for me…
My kids are always a priority. They also adore their father, as do I. We spend a lot of time together as a family. Which presents a deal-breaker for some prospective partners and relationships. Some folk in a polyamorous configuration manage to keep their relationships, even with open and full disclosure, fairly separate. They conduct them in parallel, with the odd “How do you do?'” on rare social occasions. I choose not to get involved with folk who require that for whatever reason, because I believe that long-term relationships — my preferred kind — need and deserve an investment of time.
I am not willing to spend much of that time away from my family, which means my partners have to spend nearly as much time together with each other as I do with them. I’m looking to build and nurture an integrated family as well as multiple relationships.
I learned that my love for adults is conditional…
Maybe I knew it without knowing it before, but new partners have brought a more conscious awareness about the type of love I am capable of. I make sure, by my words and actions, that my kids know I value them unconditionally, that I will listen and promote their concerns above my own love for a partner. It’s my job to ensure they can turn to me if they have a worry which needs to be heard.
When my son had a nightmare about family members turning into monsters that only he could see, I took it as an opportunity to tell him that I would fight against all and any monsters to protect him, without hesitation and no matter whether I thought I loved “those monsters” or not. That night and in many conversations since, we’ve examined power dynamics and potential for both unconscious and conscious abuse. Polyamory has also highlighted for me the fact that my love for my partners, no matter how strong, is conditional, and that the condition is my kids’ health, well-being, and safety.
I learned that kids benefit from different role models who are not me…
I focus on being true to myself, because my integrity is important. But that means I model my own decisions, values, and sometimes, yes, my more unattractive qualities. I have rebelled against the capitalist system. I have embraced my particular brand of feminism. I often judge, even though I am acutely aware that my judgements are the product of my experience.
I once thought that my egalitarian vision of a loving and expansive life was the “right” one and that I was bringing my children up the “right” way, until I realised that even though what I want for my children above all is agency, my stubborn vision meant I wasn’t supporting their way enough.
My metamour — my partner’s partner — has followed a path through corporate life. She has her own interpretation of the world. She is another model. And whilst we don’t always see eye to eye, one of the biggest values she brings is precisely those differences between us. My children see first-hand that there is no one way of being, which means they are more free to choose.
I learned that sometimes I need to be dishonest to protect my kids…
When I met a second partner, and before we decided that our relationship was for the long term, I was unwilling to introduce him as any more than a friend (who only visited rarely). We were careful not to demonstrate any intimacy, including holding hands. Why? My children are small and impressionable. They’re more likely to trust who they see me trusting, and holding hands is an indicator of trust. So we built our relationship slowly, carefully. I had no need to lie, because friends (and more) is what we became, but over a long period of time. Four years later I, who pride myself on honesty as many polyamorous folk do, must admit that I lied by omission. Still I would do it again.
I learned that one of the biggest impacts on a kid’s environment is stress…
I have a conflict of interest regarding polyamory and parenting. Of course I want to believe my choices are not harmful to my children! It’s one of the reasons why — along with the enormous love for my children — I threw myself into researching childhood developmental psychology. I hoped that peer-reviewed science would shine a light on any bias and help me evaluate my choices more carefully. During my studies, I learned that stress greatly impacts the development of the brain. Unstable and acrimonious relationships — monogamous or polyamorous — can be conducive to a level of stress known as toxic. At the same time, some stress is needed for healthy development.
That research made it easier to manage the level and frequency of changes in my kids’ environment. Whilst I support freedom to choose, my own interpretation of what is stressful means that I choose very few stable relationships. Society’s attitudes played a part here too. Without such a strong vilification against polyamorous relationships clashing with my own inclination, I doubt I would be as well-informed a parent as I am today.
I’m not a fool. Relationships do break up, but we have control about how they are handled. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but the surprise stress from divorce and the consequent upheaval is so prevalent in our society that it often passes as normal. As the child of acrimoniously divorced parents, my own trauma was overlooked and left a lasting legacy. I hope that for my kids, forewarned is forearmed.
More Radical Reads: Lovingkindness: How to Deal With Parenting Mistakes
I learned that sex negativity is harmful to mothers and their children…
Society called my morality into question when I adopted a more open lifestyle. They called me a slut. Sex-mad. Greedy. For many, my perceived immorality bled across to my capabilities as a mother. I listened, I reflected, and I understood.
Forty years before, the world had said the same about my mother, seduced by an abusive man and coerced into giving me up for adoption. It was the way of things back then, because as an unmarried woman, she was deemed an unfit mother. I’ve met her since then, and frankly her other children are respectful, loving, and above all kind, as is she.
One of the many curses of living in our system is the relentless objectification of women as possessions. Our sexuality is owned and shamed by others. Most of us inflict these beliefs or perpetuate them, or both. I am committed to expressing my sexual desires consensually, considerately, and joyously. I am also committed to undoing my harmful upbringing so that my children can experience their sexuality in the way they choose.
More Radical Reads: You Are Not Your Parents: How Making Peace With the Past Shifted My Parenting Skills
I learned what immense privilege I have, and now my kids know that too…
Did I mention the potential for bullying? It’s out of my hands unless we hide ourselves — who we love and how we love. Unless we pretend to be conventional. Except for the fact that we’re a privileged family. Nothing eliminates human nature, but we have the possibility to lessen discrimination by choosing our environment. We have racial privilege. We also have class privilege, which enables a certain financial flexibility to choose. Right now we have chosen to live in Berlin, an accepting city full of diversity. I have not earned this privilege, and I recognise how it benefits me and my choices. It protects my kids.
I can’t predict “what if”s. I hope I would have become aware of my privilege anyway, but I do know that polyamory is what first brought my own privilege to my attention ten years ago. The extent of the oppression for those less privileged than I is hideous and shocking. My discoveries changed the direction of my life and my career from finance director to activist journalist. I consider it my responsibility to call out my own failings, my own ignorance, and to fight inequality. And I’m bringing my children up to do it too.
[Featured Image: A photo of a two children in silhouette. Their hair is back lit. Their backs are to the camera. Source: Samuel Ramkalawan]