Polyamory is often seen as simply having multiple romantic connections at once (or loving more than one person romantically). The portion of polyamory that is frequently overlooked is the way in which polyamory affects OTHER relationships in your life, such as those with platonic and non-platonic individuals with which you are not romantically involved. The concept of polyamory, regardless of how it is typically viewed, does apply to all relationships across all areas of your life – family, coworkers, etc. It’s about more than simply loving more than one person at a time. It’s about being able to put aside the concept of choosing a favorite person, and being willing to see everyone for who they are and appreciate them all for their individuality. It’s about learning how to communicate, be honest, and open with others, and yourself. It’s about recognizing and setting healthy boundaries, as well as respecting those of others. It’s about not just dating consensually, but living consensually. Truly living and breathing consent. It’s about so much more than just dating multiple people at once.
The piece that most often, or I’ll say pretty much always, gets left off of the description of polyamory is the way in which it affects your children and your way of parenting. This article isn’t going to discuss the importance of children coming first, or the impact of a parental role on partners, as both were discussed in the previous article POrenting in a Nutshell (Polyamorous Parenting, PART 1), you can read that article, here. No, this article is about how polyamory can be beneficial and wonderful for not only you and your partners, but also your children. We’re going to discuss how children can be, and why it’s so important that they are, included in polyamory. Mainly, we’re going to talk about what polyamory means for children – or in the context of children and their relationships.
A lot of people out there look in disgust at someone who says they are open with their children about being polyamorous. Part of this comes from the fact that society mainly sees polyamory still as some big sex fest, but another part of it is that a lot of people don’t see children on equal grounds as adults and think it’s inappropriate for children to learn about things such as consent, or their bodies, etc. Basic things that really everyone should learn about, but they are seen as “grown-up” topics, and thus left off the table when interacting or discussing with children. This is very unfortunate, as the reason that so many adults take so long to research these things and figure themselves out is because they weren’t allowed that liberty as a child. Imagine how much time you could save your children, how much hardship and confusion you could stop them from facing, by simply being open and honest with them from the start. Lying to a child isn’t better than lying to an adult, you just feel more okay about it because it’s seen as acceptable in our society. News Flash, though, our society is childist! Most of the world is, in fact. And that is a big, big problem!
The Polyamorous Way of Life
Polyamory is just as much a way of parenting as it is a way of dating; in fact, it is more like a way of life. The key factors that make polyamorous relationships work are also key factors in making monogamous relationships work, as well as every other relationship type you may come across. The skills necessary for forming and maintaining healthy romantic relationships – communication, boundary setting, practicing consent, honesty, self-work, self-respect, and self-love, among many others – are all skill sets you need in your daily interactions with others. What constitutes a healthy romantic relationship is the same thing that constitutes a healthy friendship. All relationships, whether those between coworkers, friends, family, or complete strangers, must include these key factors in order to be classified as healthy. And when a relationship, in any form, is unhealthy…you need those skills even more so in order to make sure you are able to get out of the relationship, or situation.
If your mother upsets you beyond belief over the holidays, does she not deserve respect and communication? Do you suddenly not feel the need to lay down boundaries simply because you aren’t dating? Is honesty ever a bad thing? If a stranger approaches you on the street and asks for directions, should you yell in their face? If your boss grabs you inappropriately is it suddenly okay because they are in a position of power? If your child’s teacher does something that makes your child feel uncomfortable…do you want them to just go along with it? Do you want them to hide it or speak up? If another kid bullies your child, do you want them to just sit there and take it? Or stand up for themself? Is there ever a time when you want your child to feel like they are unloved, undeserving, unworthy of respect? Does your child’s comfortability and their boundaries mean nothing because they are little? How will they know WHEN and WHERE their opinions or feelings DO matter? Children need to be able to form and maintain healthy relationships, too. They also need to know how to get out of unhealthy situations. These skills don’t suddenly form out of thin air, and are especially hard to learn if everyone around you refuses to speak with you eye-to-eye. Nonetheless, children need these skills. These skills are important for EVERYBODY!
Showing love, respect, and kindness automatically to all people is a good thing. It helps make the world a little brighter and more peaceful. Forming strong bonds with people through open and honest communication is the only way you’re ever going to truly know somebody, or allow them to know you. Otherwise, and this goes for most connections we tend to form in our lives, it’ll be superficial. Unconditional love (for others or yourself) doesn’t come from hiding who you are, or being afraid to be honest about your feelings. That being said, it is a good thing for people to learn the difference between unconditional love and unconditional relationships. You can love somebody unconditionally and still refuse to be with them or allow them into your life. When someone is toxic, or the relationship you form with them is unhealthy, it is perfectly fine to take a step back and distance yourself. Making sure you are in a safe place – mentally, physically, and otherwise, is extremely important. This also goes for relationships that are often seen as ones you cannot get out of – like relationships with your parents or other family members. It doesn’t matter who it is, but if you are unable to have open and honest communication with someone, if they are constantly disrespecting and/or breaking your boundaries, or otherwise hurting, bullying, or making you feel uncomfortable – then it’s time to cut ties. It doesn’t matter who they are or how much you love them. Unfortunately, this also goes for adult children. Sometimes our children grow up to be not so great people no matter what we do. Sometimes the best thing for us, is the hardest thing for us to do.
Now, doesn’t it make sense then…that your children deserve this same right? Don’t THEY deserve open and honest communication, and respect (especially of their boundaries), and the chance to work towards self-love? Do you want to deny them that? Being a good parent, and living a polyamorous life, isn’t just about being a role model for these good communication skills and other healthy relationship skills, but allowing them to experience and practice them on their own as well. If they feel like they need some space, let them have it. If they don’t feel comfortable around somebody – don’t make them go around that person. Help them learn the vocabulary that will allow them to express verbally the things they need, as well as their wants. It’s so, so important that children are able to tell us how they are feeling. If they don’t learn these skills they’ll go through life freaking out on people because they don’t know how else to express themselves. Don’t make them feel like they are incapable, or that they have no other options. Teach them, and let them learn.
Polyamorous Relationship Dynamics
This one should be quite simple at this point…polyamory relates to ALL relationships, not just romantic ones. It includes every and all dynamics. This includes relationships your child has with their parent, friend, cousin, sibling, grandparent, aunt/uncle, teacher, strangers, etc. The way in which they decide to form connections is not up to you. You can have some influence around who is in their life, but ultimately you don’t get the last say in how they feel about people. All you can do is give them the proper tools to express themself. If you really want them to be close to grandma but they just don’t seem to get along, you can also help them learn ways to get over hurdles with communication and to break away barriers when getting to know someone. Help them find ways that may help them better connect to their grandma, but don’t force it. And make sure they know it’s okay to feel the way they are feeling. That it’s okay if they don’t want a relationship with their grandma. Even if that’s hard for grandma to handle or understand.
Relationships aren’t default, and they aren’t required. Nobody deserves a relationship with you, especially when you’re unwilling to have one. Just as this is true for you, it is also true for your child. It’s true we can’t always accommodate our child’s feelings, but we have to make sure they know that we accept the way they are feeling. Also, they deserve an explanation if things can’t go their way. The old phrase “because I said so,” is complete bullshit. How many adults would just sit down and be like “oh, okay” if someone said that to them? Wouldn’t it be more likely that you’d stand up for yourself? That you’d argue your point? That you’d want to know the real reasons behind what someone is telling you, you have to do, or the reason behind why something has to be a certain way? Wouldn’t you want to know? Wouldn’t you deserve to know? Well…so do your children.
So, if your kids are too little to be left home and you’re going somewhere where they’ll have to be around people they don’t like, don’t get along with, or who make them feel uncomfortable … make sure you talk to them before hand, so both you and them know ways in which they can keep their distance from that person, or form escape strategies. Just in case. Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, but it is never okay to force someone to do something with their body that they don’t want to do – especially when that involves another person. Tell your child they don’t have to hold someone’s hand, or give them a kiss or a hug, unless they want to. Tell them they can always come to you if they feel like something is off or they need help. And, if by chance the person they don’t want to be around is grandma, make sure you talk to her too. Tell her how your child is feeling, let her know it’s okay and not to take it too personally, but also offer suggestions of healthy and beneficial ways she COULD interact with the kids, if the kids are willing (it’s good to ask your kids ahead of time for suggestions for this one).
Talk to your kids about what makes or breaks a healthy relationship (not your personal preferences and likes/dislikes, but actual skill sets like open communication and consent). Talk to them about the different Forms of Abuse. They need to know what to look out for, and they need to feel prepared to escape a situation if necessary. You never know who might do what. A lot of awful things happen to kids, and it is frequently by people they know and trust. It’s sad and horrid, but it’s true, so just be careful and make sure they are prepared and knowledgeable. All information can be given to children – there is nothing that needs to wait until they are older, because it may need to be applied sooner than you think – but there is always a way to word things in a more kid-friendly way that is appropriate for each and every age group.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the real topic here – dynamics. Relationship dynamics to be exact. Children form all different kinds of relationships everyday. It’s a natural human thing to do. Taking the time to discuss the variety of dynamics out there can be very beneficial for your children and help them in their ability to form the kinds of connections and relationships that they want, and that will be the most rewarding or beneficial for them. Again, remember you can use different words to address different age groups. However, keep in mind that your child may be able to comprehend more than you think they can. If a child asks questions, answer them honestly. Don’t hide anything because you think they aren’t ready for it. If they are curious about it, then it is time to let them know. Allow their interest level and extent of their persistence to navigate the conversations that you have with them. You’re never too young to learn about something, you just need things to be explained in a safe and respectful way. Pushing topics on children, or threatening/scaring kids, is NOT going to end well. You can broach important and scary topics in a calm and mature way without scaring the living hell out of your kids, while making sure they are knowledgeable and prepared.
What kinds of dynamics might they form? Do we want society to be the one shaping their view of what can and can’t exist as an acceptable relationship form? We know better. We’ve learned as much. We know society doesn’t always accept things it doesn’t understand, and that doesn’t mean that those things are bad. Explain to your child that some relationships look different than others, and that that’s okay. Let them know that what matters most is that the relationship is right for them. Also, be patient with them and their connections. Don’t be quick to judge if they form relationships that aren’t what you’d expect. Allow them to learn as they explore through trying out their own kinds of connections. You can always voice your concerns, but ultimately let them be the deciding factor on who or what their relationships contain. Remember, just as it is important for you to form your own connections that make you happy – and those relationships may not be what is best for someone else – the same is true for your children. At least, if you have given them the skill sets of communication, consent, and self-love, and have left your door open for them to come to you whenever they have problems…you know they’ll be capable of forming healthy relationships on their own. As well as asking for your help when they need it.
Consent and open, honest communication should be in ALL our relationships, including those with our children, and those our children have with others. An awesome parenting book I recommend is called Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn. It isn’t like a typical parenting book that tells you what to do or how to do it to make sure your kids behave, or whatever nonsense the other parenting books out there preach. This book first has you delve deeper into understanding yourself and where your beliefs come from to help you see things from a new point of view, and then it just goes over some basic, but very important, topics about how to basically treat your children like real humans. In a way it speaks out against childism, which is a big problem all over the world. It’s all about consent – it’s right up your alley if you’re into polyamorous-type reading that makes you think and helps you learn a little bit more about yourself and the way you interact with others. It isn’t polyamorous related, per say, but it definitely touches on a lot of concepts that are keystones in polyamory. Thus, it is so far the best polyamorous parenting how-to out there…even though it doesn’t tell you how to address or broach the topic of polyamory, or your other partners, with your children.
So what does polyamory mean for children? Well, it means the same things it means for you. It means that they are open to forming any kind of healthy, loving connections they want to form. It means that they deserve respect – of their feelings, boundaries, and all else. It means that they deserve to be taught communication skills, and to learn about consent. It means they get to pick whether or not to form a relationship with someone, you can’t choose that for them. It means that your child has a say in each and every person you bring into their life – at least to some extent. It means that they should be able to take responsibility for their own feelings, and their actions; but that you need to be there to help them along the way so they learn how to do so. It means that you may not always agree on things, and you may not always like the same people, but you’ll be able to discuss things and understand each other on a deeper level. It means that not only will they begin to see you in a more complex and real way, but that in turn you will see them in the same light; and you both will be able to fully, truly, and lovingly accept each other for who you each are, without trying to change or force anything on the other. Polyamory for your kids, means more love in both of your lives.