When I’m asked about polyamory, oftentimes the questions are “What about the kids?” or “Isn’t this confusing to children?” or “Isn’t polyamory harmful to children?” The last one, of course, is more of an accusation than a question. I am a parent, I love my three kids deeply, and I honestly have asked myself some of these same questions. I was not sure of the answers when I first identified as non-monogamous. I did not even know the term polyamory at that point.
I had only one child when I first admitted I was non-monogamous. I was a 24-year-old single mother with a 1-year-old child and a flourishing wedding business — how ironic that seems now. A year later, I was married to a wonderful man who also wanted a non-monogamous relationship. Even though we had decided from the beginning to have an open relationship, we did not have the skills or role models, and settled into a relatively monogamous relationship. We had our second child two years into our marriage.
My husband was building a career, and I was trying to juggle two young children and a growing photography business. Both of us fell into the traditional family routine without even realizing it or wanting it. I shut down my sexuality, and pulled away from men to whom I felt love and sexual attraction. So even though we started out open, and would even talk about possibilities of other people from time to time, we really did not explore polyamory until six or seven years into our marriage.
When we finally decided yes, we were polyamorous, we had a 9 year old, a 5 year old and a baby girl. When our oldest was 11, a lover of mine came to visit me. He was a man I had been in touch with and loved since high school. The plan was for him to visit and stay in a hotel with me, but we would get together for a dinner with my husband. This was the first time we really had to face the question, “What do we tell our kids?”
Our oldest was very bright and perceptive. I had never lied to him about anything, and I didn’t want to start now. So we told him about polyamory, and he was cool with it. I explained that mom and dad had always believed that you could love more then one person, and that we were committed to each other and to each other’s freedom to explore our love with other people. To my surprise, his reaction was, “Cool, Mom,” and we left it at that.
My other two were younger. My daughter was just 2 and my other son was 7. We decided we would be honest if he asked questions, but would not explain just yet. He did not become consciously aware until he was around 12 and overheard a conversation I was having with his brother. He thought I was joking when I talked about my boyfriend. By this time, we ran support groups and hosted poly family campouts. I had been involved with several men he had met. He was completely unaware that they were any more than just friends, or that the campouts were more than just hanging out with friends.
I was surprised, as I thought he knew. I don’t know why, since I had never discussed it with him. For my daughter, polyamory is just her life. I honestly do not think she is really aware consciously that monogamy is what most people do. I do plan to talk with her about this soon.
As I have been around the poly community for the past eight years of running campouts and hanging out with poly people and their children, I have learned something. Poly parents, who are open and honest with their kids, have amazing kids. I am not sure why this is, but my guess is that parents who model honesty and communication give their kids a great foundation. Kids have amazing intuition and perception, often much more than people give them credit. When parents keep a secret from their child, I believe the child feels it. Kids, whose parents have shared their choices honestly and included poly partners in their family life, are amazing. They exude confidence, are honest and curious, are not afraid to ask questions, and seem to be interested in life beyond their peer group. This is not to say that they aren’t like other kids. In fact, they are. They go through growing pains, teen angst, and will probably question even more than their parents did. From what I have seen, however, they are well adjusted and full of life.
Poly parents who share honestly with their kids tend to be great at communication. This goes for their kids as well as for their partners. They are more conscientious about how their kids feel, and what they need to feel secure and safe. They worry about how their choices affect their kids, and they listen to how their kids feel not only about poly but also about school, friends and life. Polyamorous people, for the most part, are good at managing their time, and know how to balance things to give real, quality time to their kids. They are fully present when they are with their kids, which is a skill poly people learn in their relationships. Most of these children I have met have great skills in communicating and interacting with different people, and are mostly engaged in life. From the 2-year-old twins I met with three great parents to the teens of a wonderful single poly mom, these kids are confident and insightful, and despite their struggles to grow up, they navigate the world with skills that are beyond their years.
My answer now is that polyamory is a great thing for kids. Not that it is perfect, but when parents are honest and open with each other and their kids, they develop a real family intimacy you don’t see in many monogamous families these days. Polyamory is not the only way to do this, but unfortunately, so many monogamous families lack the skills that are absolutely needed to make polyamory work. The same skills help families work better, and can translate into kids with skills that will serve them for a lifetime, whether they become polyamorous or monogamous when they grow up.
Every parent who explores polyamory is faced with the question of what to tell kids and when. There is no one right answer, as every family and situation is different.
Parents should be honest as soon as possible, if they do not have custody issues with another non-poly parent or other situations that could jeopardize the child’s well being. Communicate, answer questions, and let kids know that this is just one way to experience life and relationships. Yes, there may be times when kids get upset, question your morals, or even think you’re nuts, but they also may surprise you. My own son, now 18, has transitioned over the years. At 11, he thought our choice of poly as cool. At 15, he thought we were nuts, and lacked commitment. Now he considers himself poly, and struggles to deal with his jealousy so he can make polyamory work in his life.
I have found that diversity is good for kids. Give them stability, but not too much to the point where they would not know how to handle changes. Life is ever changing. People come and go from our lives, loved ones die, jobs change, and financial hardships come. Hiding this from our kids while we’re distressed under the surface makes them feel uneasy even when they don’t understand why.
When we lie to our children, we give them the message that they can’t handle the truth. Either we feel what we are doing is wrong, or what is going on is too dangerous and scary for them to handle. Kids sense these things and internalize them. When we are open and honest, it builds confidence that they can handle the truth and life. If our family experiences financial hardship, we explain to the kids why we are stressed. We don’t go into details, but we do let them know what we are feeling. Whether in relationships, finances or extended family issues, it is important for kids to be informed at whatever level is suitable to that child.
I personally ask my kids what they want to know and go from there. At times, they say, “I don’t want to know.” Other times, they feel heard, and appreciate the honesty and knowledge of what is happening.
Deception of any kind festers and brings distrust, and I personally do not want that with my children. Trust yourself, know your kids, and ask yourself why you want to tell or not to tell them something. It may reveal your own issues about what is going on in your life.
I am proud of my poly family and my kids raised in an open-minded way. We still experience challenges as kids and as parents, but we have developed skills to deal with them, and it has led to great kids I admire and respect. I think poly parents are great and their kids overall are amazing. I can’t wait to see what these kids do as adults, and how it may affect the world.