It truly does take a village: polyamorous parenting and creating space for children

July 12 | Guest post by Anie

First, a disclaimer: This is a story about poly parenting — not so much about polyamory. I figured Offbeat Mama isn't really the place for Polyamory 101. But to sum it up for those of you who aren't familiar, polyamory is about believing that love does not have to be limited to one partner anymore than it would have to be limited to one child or one friend.

Photo by Flickr user OmniNate, used by Creative Commons license

When my roommate finally moved his stuff out, I was eager to begin moving new stuff in. From the much ignored room in the basement I grabbed my colorful scrap rug, my matching papasan chair and the big, bold, popart-esque motorcycle painting that had been sitting down there, un-hung, since we moved in. I left the TV and the Playstation (to serve as a DVD player), but moved out his queen sized bed to the newly vacated downstairs. A toddler bed was pulled out of someone's storage closet and a little rug with roads and cars went down on top of the big rug. To top it all off I bought an $18 rocket ship tent – because every kids' room needs something awesome! Considering that, for the most part, I was just throwing together already owned odds and ends, I think I made a pretty good room for two young boys.

So why did I suddenly find myself building a nursery for a 4 year old and a 2 year old? I mean, children normally come into your life in predictable stages. You have 9ish months to build a baby nursery and then age it gradually as the child grows. But I never saw these kids as infants. They sprang fully formed into my life. After knowing them for a little less than a year, I figured it was time they had their own room in my house.

I am not their stepmother. Even though I am Daddy's girlfriend, I am not even a potential stepmother. Daddy doesn't live with me. He lives in a small town in rural Georgia with his loving wife and beautiful young boys. I live three hours away in Atlanta with my amazing husband and a strict budget that does not (yet!) allow for children.

My boyfriend originally was coming to Atlanta every other weekend to play in our local LARP, but after we started dating he tended to find excuses to come up every weekend. It wasn't just for me, though. Small town Georgia can easily drive a social person like my boy to psychotic levels of cabin fever. He wanted to get out, see his friends, be social and, of course, see me.

And that's all totally understandable, but what about Mom? Doesn't she also deserve a social life? Friends and chatting and a chance to date? So she came out a few times, too. But if Mommy and Daddy are both coming to Atlanta, that means the kids are probably coming, as well. Now these are notably good looking, well behaved, intelligent children. Pretty much everyone in the social group took to them immediately.

As much as we may have liked having them around (me especially), it was clear that they didn't quite fit. They crashed in whatever room was available (sharing the air mattress in the library, or bumping us from the master bedroom because it had a door that could be closed) and were constantly bombarded with "don't play with that," "don't go in there,"and "what are you doing?" As much as they liked us, the fact that they didn't have their own space clearly kept them from being fully comfortable – especially around bedtime.

As a result, Mommy tended to limit her trips to when she could find a relative to babysit, which wasn't nearly as often as we might like. At this point, in addition to liking her as a person, I was also beginning to suspect that she and my husband were falling for each other and I really wanted to give that situation the time and space it needed to develop. Plus, I really liked those kids, and wanted to hang out with them almost as much as their parents. So when my roommate said he was moving out, I told him we'd miss him and all, but then immediately started planning how to redecorate his room. The results were everything I could have hoped for!

The boys were super enthusiastic about the bed they could bounce on, the rocket ship they could play in (and dismantle) and the box of toys which were brought to permanently live at our house (which means that they now only get to be played with when they're here). They now have their own beds to sleep in, a room to watch movies in, and a variety of options for entertainment.

All in all, I'd say it was a win-win for everyone. Daddy doesn't have to feel bad about leaving his wife in rural Georgia while he goes to the city to play. Mommy has a place to come have a social life of her own. My husband has an awesome new girlfriend. The boys have yet another place to feel like they are included and loved. And me? I get a kid's room in my house – screw what the budget says.

  1. It is SO refreshing to hear happy-poly stories. Congrats, and I hope the successful relationships continue!

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  2. Thank you! I've been waiting for a story involving polyamory. On a side note, WoD or oWoD?

    • Can you decipher your acronyms please? I try my hardest to keep acronyms off Offbeat Mama, so help a sista out! :)

      • Oops! Sorry about that. I just have a feeling I know what organization she belongs to. WoD = World of Darkness oWoD = old World of Darkness.

        • Stacy, We're an Old World of Darkness One World by Night participant game. The email address and web site I've included are ours. Feel free to drop us a line.

          Karma
          -the boy in the article.

          • Note to self: try the OWbN games down in Atlanta. And here I thought I was the only poly, kinky Jewish nerd girl in the Org!

            More on topic–a GREAT write up. Thank you so much for sharing your experience!

  3. Lovely to know there are otehr mommas who delve into BDSM. Althought we are not a poly household right now, we are a BDSM family that shares the kids with my ex husband.

  4. A lovely read, my previous relationship was polyamorous and a lot of the literature I read focused on the relationship side of things often skirting around family matters.

    • Yeah, I wrote Ariel and was like "Why isn't anyone posting about polyamory and kids and family?" And she was like "I don't know. Why aren't you?" and I was like "Oh, good point." And then I wrote an article!

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  5. Huzzah! I grew up with poly parents. I was really disappointed by all the people I saw in the poly community who stopped being poly because they were going to have kids. Poly parents ROCK. :) Also, YAY BDSM.

    I'm just glad to see folks have managed to have kids and still be themselves.

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    • You grew up with poly parents? Would you ever consider writing an entry about that? We have all the logic in the world for why what we're doing isn't going to screw up our kids, but everything anecdotal I can find to read about poly families are talking about ones where the kids are still … well … *kids*. I would love the reassurance of reading about someone who could say "My parents were poly. I knew about it. I'm fine!"

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      • Not quite a story but an anecdote: about 2 years ago, I was bringing about 20 friends to my parents place to go sledding in winter (parent's place = 3-floor Victorian farmhouse about an hour from the city, with an amazing sledding hill out back). Among the group I was bringing were: both my boyfriends, one boyfriend's other girlfriend, and his daughter (his wife was staying home with her partner).

        All things considered, I thought I should let my mother know who these people were before descending on her house with them all, so there was a conversation over dinner a few weeks before. My mother's response was to shrug and say "Oh, that's ok dear, your father and I have an open relationship.'

        … and both boyfriends were welcomed with open arms, and my mother went BONKERS over the year-old child.

        In conclusion: my family is awesome.

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      • *blush* Sure! I've been invited to write a piece for OBM, so I'll be more in-depth in that. Hope this offers some insight until then. :)

        Yes, absolutely, my parents were poly, I knew about it, and I'm fine. :) I just turned 24 this year, for the record.

        I didn't have the words to describe the situation as a child, even if I had completely understood it. I just had three parents: Mom, Mommy P, and Dad (it was a V, Mom in the middle) who all slept in the same bed (they were together for 28-some years). That's just how it was. Mommy P was great for homework help and serious discussion, Dad was fun for play and paleontology, and Mom was snuggly and maternal. I think it was a fabulous way to grow up. All those parents! :) That's a lot of support and love for growing children. Plus we had two incomes and a stay-at-home Mom.

        We were closeted, though… Mommy P was "a friend of the family." I hear that anyone who was open-minded enough was able to see the truth.

        About the hardest thing for me was when I started dating. I wanted to follow my parents' patterns…hah! Not bloody likely in high school. XD I tried, though. Poly and bisexual were definitely my defaults…it was hard for me to accept that I'm not open to poly at the moment (I tend instead to think of it as a closed relationship…with only two people). I never really came out of the closet – for me it was "What, you mean you _don't_ find both sexes attractive?" Oh, and that I couldn't have friends over for a sleepover because we were closeted. I hear there was some drama behind the scenes, but I never saw anything of it…which is just (IMHO) how it should be.

        So yeah. Both me and my sister are just fine. We've both been poly at various times in our lives (I think she's mono at the moment…) and we're both bisexual (femme-pref). I don't know whether our orientations were influenced by our family structure. Any problems that we've had were unrelated to the poly.

        Is there a specific kind of screwed-up-ness you're worried about?

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        • Thank you so much for your perspective! I'm pregnant with mine and my husband's first kid, and he sprang the whole, "Actually, I'm poly and I'd like to pursue a relationship with this other lady…" thing on me about two weeks ago, so it's nice to hear about a situation rather like my own that didn't irrevocably screw up the kids!

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          • ouch. probably not the best way/time to go about broaching the subject, huh?

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        • Thanks for that story! It makes me very warm and fuzzy inside. And no, there's nothing I'm particularly worried about, but there's always that nagging fear, ya know?

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          • Yeah, I think I can empathize. I'm reminded that non-monogamy has been around for a long, long time…and the human species has managed to survive. So it can't do too much harm. ­čśë But seriously, having a relatively stable environment with good healthy people and a lack of abuse were probably more important in my upbringing than the specific family structure. Genie of the Shell's comment is spot-on.

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        • I can definitely see how, in a situation like Rose's parents', a poly family could be very healthy for kids – it sounds like it was stable and consistent and not really confusing at all for kids who grew up in that situation. More love is great, right? I guess I would question whether the majority of poly situations are like that (and I'm truly questioning, not judging – I don't know a whole lot about this stuff). Are most poly families so stable and unchanging in their makeup, or do they tend to shift around a lot? I can imagine that a constantly shifting cast of characters could be very confusing for kids. (And yes, I am very aware that in mono families there is often a constantly shifting cast of characters, too)

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          • Ash,

            I think Anie and are on the same page in that we'd really like our happy little quad to stay that way until…well….forever.

            There will likely be things on the side here and there, but they won't be main-stagers and they won't get brought home.

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          • I always end up comparing poly to divorced/single parents. Yeah, sometimes Daddy's girlfriend becomes your new step-mom, and sometimes she doesn't end up staying around. Like (I imagine) most responsible single parents, the trick to dating as a poly parent would be to not introduce a new significant other into a parenting role with the kids until you're pretty darn sure they're gonna be around for the long haul. The only difference I see between poly and the separated/dating parent scenario is that through it all Mommy and Daddy are still together and still in love, which could be seen as making the whole situation more stable.

            There are definitely poly relationships where taking on lovers is more casual than the serious commitments involved in our quad. But most of the time, I can't imagine kids being aware that those lovers are anything other than their parent's friends. How aware was the average person of their parent's sex lives? I know that if my parents had been sleeping with the neighbors who came to our Oyster Roasts and New Years lunches and the like, I would never have known. They were my parent's friends. My only real interest in them was when they gave me gifts.

            As for us specifically, I'm pretty confident my boy spoke for all involved when he said that we're hoping this is a permanent arrangement :)

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      • I am a poly parent, and while I didn't grow up with poly parents, I did grow up with four parents that were very close — an amicable divorce for my mom and dad when I was 2, and then dad married my mom's best friend, and my mom remarried, and while the houses were separate, all four of my parents were close. So transitioning from my base idea of family being two bio-and two-step parents who are close to more than two parents who are all in the same house was rather less than a no-brainer for me. My triad has been together for a decade now, and our kids (6 and 5) seem to be pretty happy campers so far. :) I bow down in great respect to any parents who manage in a situation where the children outnumber the parents, because there are definitely still days when the two of them manage to wear all three of us out!

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  6. Seriously awesome poly story! I've been hoping for a poly article on offbeat mama! :) And YAY for creating a kids' room – it sounds awesome.

  7. As someone who's studied psychology and still reads up on research, I don't see any reason why having poly parents in itself would harm a child. Unhealthy parental fighting harms children (not that anyone doesn't ever fight). Divorce is usually traumatic on some level, but not necessarily catastrophic.

    But these are all things that can happen to traditional, straight couples as well as anyone else. Children of lesbians do at least as well socially and academically as children of straight parents. I don't know of any research on gay male parents or polyamorous parents specifically, but I don't see how parental sexuality is relevant to a child's well being.

    Bottom line is, I think that if the parents are happy and honest and loving with their children, their sexuality or family structure doesn't matter. And having more than two adults deeply involved in a child's life is healthy for development–whether those adults are grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, or polyamorous partners.

    Intuitively, I would also guess that growing up in a loving, nontraditional household would lead a child to be more open-minded and empathetic than most.

    Thanks for this article! I don't know anyone living this lifestyle (nothing beyond old-school swinging), but it's freeing just to think about how many ways there are for romantic partners and families to love each other.

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  8. I can't even say how fantastic this was to read. Thank you thank you thank you.

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  9. Amazing article. I hope some of the other folks who have commented on growing up poly write articles themselves.

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  10. OH NO!!! I meant to click the reply button and clicked the spam button instead! This is not what I meant to happen! ABORT! ABORT!

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  11. Glorious post and comments… confirms my long-held belief that LOVE is what makes a family, not just blood or law.

    Some of the great perspectives Genie of the Shell offered are ones that I've applied to my own experiences as a very well-adjusted and successful child of divorce – the most important thing for a child is happy and honest and loving parents, no matter what the configuration.

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  12. This is an awesome read, as are the comments. My husband and I are expecting, and have some awesome friends down the street who are poly (dad has girlfriend who has another primary partner) and all four of them (parents, gf and her partner) are moving in together soon into a big house with their 7mo daughter. It seems to be going swimmingly for them.

    The comments regarding kids awareness of parent's relationships were interesting to me…while we're not poly, we identify as being on the 'poly spectrum' as it were, since we tend to have deep friendships both together and individually that include a physical component in many cases. Our kids are going to have a lot of active adults in their lives, and it will be interesting to see how it develops, with so many 'aunts' and 'uncles' around. Reassuring to think that this, and our more private interactions with our friends, will probably not have a negative effect if we handle it responsibly.

    I feel like for us, the line between 'caregiver' and 'friend of the family' is going to get rather blurred. It takes a village…!

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  13. Great read! I'm a poly parent who was raised by one poly, one mono parent (they were divorced). I think the best thing for my little girl is this extended family of aunts and uncles who help give her love and attention.

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  14. Oh, thank you so much for this article! My husband and I invited our best friend into our bed about eight months ago for what was originally going to be a one-off. It rather quickly became something much, much more. As over-the-moon as I am that my boys and I are together (as often as airlines will allow), I admit to the occasional fret session about how to approach this with my preschooler. It's so good read both your story and the comments of other poly families. (Especially those of you with poly parents of your own. I have hope!)

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  15. I love hearing about other poly families.

    We are struggling with space issues at the moment – we really need two extra bedrooms that we just don't have at the moment! We'll be selling our home and moving in the next several months, though – so hopefully our issues will be short-lived.

    I also want to say how nice it is to have adult children of poly parents post about how they are happy adults now (and not "screwed up" by having poly parents)! It's great for us poly parents to hear!!

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  16. Hey, rock! That was a very thoughtful thing to do, and a great solution.

    Mind if I pass this one on to the PolyFamilies yahoogroup?

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  17. I actually just submitted a post about being scared of Kindergarten being an Offbeat Mama, but my first passion was going to be about being a Poly practicing mama. I chose to put that post off but now its already cooking! I am so excited to see poly families being accepted here since I've dealt with some crushing discrimination since announcing my poly lifestyle to my family. :(

  18. I know I'm three years late on this… but I just wanted to say that I read this as an individual planning a monogamous, closed, hetero future, and I thought, "Aw man, that seems so awesome! Warm fuzzies! I'm really jealous!" :)

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