Parenting is tough. Kids are what seems like almost always on our last nerve. Living with tiny humans who have their own wants, needs, preferences, etc. when they can’t always voice those things, and you’re responsible for making sure everything runs smoothly and is taken care of…forget about it. It can be downright overwhelming, and very exhausting. If there is more than one parent the kids might end up picking favorites, or pitting the parents against each other because they know one might be more okay with something the other will say no to. Throw more parental figures into the mix, it can be chaos. Or, sometimes it can be more blissful. It depends on the people involved and the way the dynamics all play out.
More help with children? Big bonus! IF the kids are up for taking on another parent-like person. And IF the new adult and the child connect reasonably well. There is a lot at play when it comes to new adults entering into a child’s life. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried multiple different approaching and I’ve seen multiple different dynamics at play. I’ve gone through my children seeing only me as a parent, to seeing grandparents and an aunt as a parent, to having step-parents, and seeing new partners as parents. I’ve also seen the other side of things where parents decide to take on a less than parental role (I’ve seen that one play out 2 different ways, the first with the other parent never being a part of the child’s life from the beginning, and the second time with them becoming less involved later on). I’ve seen how all these things have affected my children. It’s been a lot.
I don’t want to sit around and give specific parenting advice, because the fact of the matter is that everyone will parent differently regardless and there isn’t 1 magical way to make things amazing as each parent is different and everyone’s way of living is different, and each little tiny human you become a parent to (through birth, adoption, or otherwise) is going to want and need completely different things than the ones before. Everybody is different. That’s really what I’m trying to get at here. You can’t force a child to be somebody anymore than you can force an adult to, and why would you want to? Allowing people to be themselves is the most beautiful and pure thing out there. However, when it comes to children you have to be a little more careful about how and when you introduce people into their life. It takes more planning. And NO, I’m not talking about making sure your child isn’t badly impacted (though there’s always that risk to look out for, too), but I’m talking about the impact on the other adults being let into your child’s life.
Happy Parents, Happy Parenting
Let’s start first with the initial parent figures. If you, or your partner, becomes pregnant and you both want the child – GREAT! If you both decided you don’t want the child, there are a few options (abortion, adoption, etc.). Of course, making that decision sooner than later is beneficial. It’s easier for a newborn to adjust to new parents than it is for a young child or teenager. However, if at any point you decide you can’t handle it or you no longer feel capable, calling in backup is always an option – whether that means sending the child to live with family, or friends, or putting them up for adoption. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Putting the child’s needs first is most important, and they need happy, healthy parents.
Now, let’s move forward. Assuming you, or your partner, wants to keep the baby (or wants to adopt, etc.) … what if the other person doesn’t? Movies make this kind of decision super dramatic, and it really doesn’t have to be. If you want the child and your partner doesn’t, then it’s up to you to decide what to do. (Unless your partner is the one that is pregnant, then it’s fully up to them whether they want to go through with the pregnancy.) If you’re pregnant and your partner doesn’t want kids, you could A) split up and be a single parent, B) split up and find a new partner to raise the child with you, or ….and this is the one they don’t allow as an option in movies… C) stay together as partners, but raise the child alone. If your partner is the one that’s pregnant, and they decide to go through with the pregnancy, but then decide they don’t want to keep the baby – you can still take the baby and raise them, whether or not you stay with your partner. Of course, those dynamics are all things that have to be talked through and worked out. Same goes for adoption. If one partner wants to adopt – they don’t have to adopt WITH their partner, they can adopt a child by themselves. Each adult can make their own decisions about whether or not they want to be a parent.
Let me stop right here and make a brief comment. Men not using proper protection while having sex, and just knocking up women willy nilly, don’t have the same right to be like “I don’t want to be a father.” WRAP UP YOUR DICK! And if you do get someone pregnant and you don’t want to be a parent, you better be ready to pay child support, because bringing a child into this world and then not doing shit about it is FUCKED up. You can decide not to be a dad, but you can’t get off scott free. There are consequences to your actions gentlemen. Take responsibility!
Why Forcibly Sticking Together Isn’t Better
Sometimes parents will stay together because they think it’s better for the kids that way, even if they hate each other. This one we can use for two different scenarios. 1) The parents no longer want to be together, but they are sticking together in order to both be there for the kids, and 2) The parents want to be together, but they don’t both want kids, one of them does, and they think parenting together or splitting up are the only two options so they decide to both be parents.
To address #1….just no. I’m sorry, but no. No amount of care for your kids will make a situation in which you despise your partner a good one for them. My parents stayed together through my teen years thinking they were doing what was best for me and my younger sister. Nope. All the fighting and crap we had to deal with, so not worth it. I would have preferred 2 happy, but separate parents. Ever since they split they’ve both been much more pleasant to be around, and I actually enjoy them. It was hell dealing with them both because they weren’t happy and I could tell and it affected my emotions in a negative way. Kids are more receptive than you think. I kept wishing they’d split up so they’d stop fighting, but the whole time they thought they were doing something good for us. Just no. If you aren’t happy with someone, it doesn’t matter if there are children involved – leave them! If you’re both that worried about the children then stay civil and workout a nice custody agreement where you are both able to love and care for the kids as much as possible, just separately. The children will be much happier under 2 different roofs than they would be under 1 roof in which the house is full of chaos and animosity.
Moving on to number 2. People don’t seem to be able to consider this as a thing, most of the time, but I don’t see why not? I suppose if you’re monogamous it could be kind of hard if you’re wanting to be with someone, but you really want them to raise kids with you, and they don’t want to, and then if you stayed with them…you’d be fucked out of having anyone to raise kids with. But hey! Lucky you that you’re polyamorous. You’ve got options! If you’re with someone who doesn’t want kids, and you want kids, but you want to stay with that person. Then stay with them. And then also find someone who wants to have kids with you. If, by chance, it isn’t important if you have a parenting partner, then it shouldn’t make a difference if you’re monogamous or polyamorous, because you won’t be looking for someone else to parent with anyway. Not every partner you have has to be fully invested, or at all invested, in your children.
The point at which I was trying to address with #2, however, was that you don’t have to stay together as co-parents in order to stay together as partners. In fact, you don’t have to stay together as partners (or even be partners to begin with) in order to be co-parents. Forcing a person to be a parent when they don’t want to be will end terribly for the child and the parent, as well as your partnership. It will put extra strain on your partnership. And a child interacting with an adult who is supposed to be their parent, who doesn’t want to be their parent… is just fucked. A child deserves to feel loved and wanted by their parents, not resented. If a child feels unloved and unwanted by a parent who is forced into being their parent – you’re just wrecking the child. It isn’t about making sure the other person does their “fair share” when someone else is involved like that. Would you want someone to spend time with you as your best friend just because someone else told them they had to be, if you felt all the hate and distance from them constantly? What is the point of that? If someone wants to dip out – clip a child support payment to their belt, not an unwanted parentship, and save both you and your child some peace.
If you want to be partners, but don’t want to co-parent, there are a billion ways to go about it. This also includes any new partner. It all depends on whether they’ll be in your life a lot or not, whether you’ll live together, whether they’ll play another role in your child’s life or not be in it at all. All of these are options, but they need to be discussed at full length before making any decisions. Remember, you can’t make this decision for your partners, only for yourself, but you can make sure you know what their decision is before moving forward.
Choosing Family Life
You can’t have full independence and full family life, it just isn’t possible. It isn’t possible to have whatever you want whenever you want AND family life. Those things cannot coexist. People who want to live fully independently decide not to have children for a reason. Family life is something you commit to 100%. If it is predetermined that you’ll play a smaller role – like aunt/uncle, friend, etc. (or even a lesser, more distanced role but under the father/mother label) then that’s fine. As long as it’s been talked through ahead of time. There are lots of ways to be in a child’s life besides being a parent, and they are all good and valuable. Not everyone is meant to be a full-time parent, but if you choose to be you have to embrace that.
What does that look like?
If you decide to have a child, your child now comes first. Always. This doesn’t mean you don’t take care of yourself. Self-care and self-love is super important. It doesn’t mean you have to ditch your career and move to a farm where you take on child-rearing 24/7. And it doesn’t mean you don’t get to go out and have fun with friends, or date, or whatever. It simply means that you have to consider your child in every decision you make, and that your child will come first before anything else you choose to do. Therefore, if you want to go out with your friends – you can’t just ditch the kid, you need to find them a sitter. If a sitter isn’t available, well, tough shit! You’re a parent, and you’ve got to stay home and take care of your kid. You can’t run away from parenting and you can’t throw the responsibility off on someone else, unless you’re paying them. Working full-time and choosing a childcare option is fully acceptable.
Point is you can’t have both. You can’t do whatever you want whenever you want, and be fully committed to your family. You can’t have the big happy family if you only commit to it 50%. Being a parent is something you have to take on full force, there’s no half-assing it. Yes, you can have an independent life outside of being a parent, but you can’t be fully independent and separate from your role as parent. Anything family related you have to look at as if you’re a single parent (easy to do if you are), because otherwise you aren’t taking your fair share of responsibility for the children. Even if that responsibility is just the worrying about them or the planning their childcare.
Why It’s Important
Imagine you’re a single parent. You have the kids full-time. Your friends invite you somewhere you REALLY want to go but the kids can’t go and you can’t find anybody to watch them. You can’t just say, “This is what I want to do so I’m going to do it.” Because that means you’re just ditching your kids for your own selfish interests. You have to stay with your kids, even if you don’t WANT to. That’s what being a parent means. Putting your kids first. Always. Even if you have another parent who can watch the kids, you can’t just automatically assume they will. You can’t just throw your portion of responsibility onto someone else, without first asking and getting their permission. If you ask if they can watch the kids and they say yes, then great. But maybe they already had plans, or maybe they just don’t feel like they can handle the kids alone right now. Whatever it is, you can’t just dip out and leave them with a partner, even if that partner is also their parent.
Consent and respect needs to be drilled in here, because all too often one partner assumes the other one is the default. I don’t want to deal with the kids…no problem, I’ll hand them off. That’s not how parenthood works. Be an adult. Talk to your partner, or co-parent. Tell them what you’re wanting or needing and see if they can accommodate, or see if you two (or three, or four) can compromise. With many things in relationships, most things in fact, I feel like compromise is bullshit. If you don’t want to do it then don’t. You shouldn’t have to give or take if you don’t want to. HOWEVER, it’s different when it comes to children, because SOMEONE has to take that on. If it isn’t you then it’s someone else, and it’s not fair to put that on someone else without making sure it’s okay.
When you look at the situation as “There’s another parent so I can just leave whenever I want to because they’ve got it covered.” Not only are you being selfish because you aren’t being there for your kids. You’re also being selfish because you’re putting unnecessary responsibility and pressure on the other parent to pick up your slack, and taking away their ability to do things they’d like to do. Seeing your own wants as more important than theirs is complete crap. When you parent with other people it is a partnership. A partnership you have to fully commit to. Otherwise it’s just one-sided bullshit that WILL cause the other parent to loath you in the end.
Prioritizing and Balance
You CAN have a family AND an independent adult life separate from your family life. But that adult life is dependent on your family life. On the partnerships you form, and the agreements you make, and the promises you uphold. It’s about you taking FULL responsibility for your children, FULL responsibility for your role as a parent and what that means and what that involves and includes and excludes. Meaning being a good role model and taking care of your children even when you’re sick or exhausted. As well as putting self-care at the top of your priorities, too. (Your children’s needs are more important than your wants, but YOUR needs are more important then THEIR wants. And depending on the needs, you or them could be more important to cater to in the moment. You can wait to eat til after you change a diaper, and you can wait to sleep til you’ve dealt with a child’s injury; but if you’re feeling like you’re going to flip your lid it’s perfectly acceptable to tell the kids to wait a minute and give you space so you can take a breather and make sure you’re putting your best foot forward as a parent. *Let’s pause right here to make sure you’re aware that you can take care of your needs before you reach the breaking point.) Either way, your children and your own health are top priority.
That all FIRST. And then if you can find people to watch your kids for you, or programs to put them in, or whatever, then that comes SECOND. And allows you time to yourself to live a more independent adult life (be it work, school, social life, alone time, romance, etc.). But ONLY in the confines of what is available within your family life. It’s all about finding the right balance. This applies to ALL parental figures who have taken on an actual parenting role, not just biological or adoptive parents. If a partner choosing to take on a parenting role, they need to fully take on that role. You can’t have a huge say in things if you aren’t putting in your time and effort, that’s just how it goes.
Partners of Parents
Of course you can be a role in a child’s life other than a full-time parent. There are many ways to be involved in a child’s life without living a family life. Being an aunt or uncle or cousin or friend of the family or whatever have you. You get to interact with the kid(s) on your terms. But choosing to become a parent is different. You can choose family life, or choose full independence, but not both. A partner of someone with children can have a less involved role in a child’s life, but that role has to be somewhat predetermined by those in the partnership before the child enters into the equation. You don’t have to have it 100% planned out, and honestly it works best if you allow your child to decide how involved they’d like to be with your partner; however, you should definitely discuss expectations (or wants) of every partner involved, so that you know the extent to which each person is willing to be involved.
Parents should not assume every partnership they form will include that partner being a parent to their child. And partners should not assume that if they’re dating someone with kids that they will definitely be taking on some sort of role in the child’s life. Every person has a different idea of the extent of what they’re willing and/or wanting to handle, and each person’s boundaries should be respected. This includes each child’s boundaries. Your children should be allowed to naturally form connections the same as you do, without trying to force those connections. When a healthy connection isn’t there between a partner and the child it will be just as frustrating for the partner to try and take on a parenting role as it will for the child to be parented by the partner.
Ultimately, you need to determine how each new dynamic affects the parent(s), the partner(s), and the child(ren). Because of this it is important to make sure you thoroughly think through who you let into your child’s life – because you want to make sure both your partner(s) and child(ren) are accepting of the interactions between each other. If you’re a parent, you have a lot to think about. If you’re a partner of (or considering becoming a partner of) a parent, you ALSO have a lot to think about. But after you’re done thinking…the most important step is talking it through with the other people involved. Talk through with your partner/or potential partner what you’re wanting, or needing, or willing to do or not do, etc. Ask them to share all of those things with you, too. And if your child is old enough to have an input, talk to them and see what they’d like. Then let things flow naturally, and see how they go.
Remember to adjust things accordingly overtime (just as you’d do with any other aspect of your relationship). Polyamory is about communication, and a lot of it. That aspect doesn’t disappear when you add in parenting. In fact, it is amped up. Communication is very, very important. You need to make sure everyone is on the same page, no matter what that page may be. Especially if children are involved. Make the time, and put forth the effort, to make sure you aren’t assuming or expecting where there’s been no dialogue to back it up. Good Luck and HAPPY PARENTING!