Sunday, October 19, 2014

Think of the children

One very common question / concern that comes up when discussing polyamory is "But what about the children?"  Every time I hear this question I end up thinking of a particular Simpsons quote:

There are a few different things this concern can really be about, some of which are really legit and some of which are just bigotry trying to sneak in the back door.  All of them are addressed from the perspective of a straight married couple with kids becoming open; there are many other stories but this is a very common one and also the one I happen to be intimately familiar with.

The simplest worry is that if someone is in a marriage with children and comes as polyamorous people assume that their marriage must be on the rocks and that the children will soon have to deal with a divorce.  This is a thing that happens sometimes as people with relationships that are falling apart try desperate things to salvage them.  Thankfully it isn't true in my case - polyamory has made things better rather than worse for me.

Being able to relax and let myself be more natural has been wonderful and it is honestly a great feeling to know that I can get different sorts of needs met by different people.  That sounds overtly sexual but it manifests itself in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with sex and everything to do with different people having different ideas, hobbies, and experiences.  Just having someone new to tell all my stories to who hasn't heard them is pretty fun.

The second thing this sort of question often means is far more insidious.  It is passive aggressive code for "Obviously your actions are vile and deviant and you wouldn't want to corrupt the innocent youth with them, right?"  Any time someone tries to claim that they accept you but that you need to be kept away from the children they are quite obviously saying that you are wrong and shameful.  Loving more people isn't wrong, it isn't shameful, and there is absolutely no reason whatsoever why children should be kept in the dark.  Any attempt to use them as leverage to force someone else to bend to your will is simply not acceptable.

Telling the children is another important step along the road towards being fully out and it is often to used to justify outrage and oppression by those who resist change.  The children, more than anyone else, need to know.  They need to know that the world is full of all kinds of people doing things that they don't see in movies or TV shows.  It isn't as if keeping them ignorant is going to help - it will only mean that they end up uninformed at best, confused or unhappy at worst.

The last sort of thing people mean when they ask about the children is "How are you going to deal with talking about this topic with your children?"  Some people just keep their kids in the dark with varying levels of success.  I wouldn't be comfortable at all with sequestering away important relationships from Elli and hiding things from her.  There are obviously some things I am not going to do in front of her but I won't keep paramours away from her deliberately and I certainly won't hide affection just because she is around.

People often assume that children couldn't possibly handle knowing about their parents being poly.  This is hogwash.  Children throughout history have lived in all kinds of different arrangements from group marriages to multiple households to large extended families to single parents to being raised by grandparents to not knowing who their parents were.  The consistent thing is that when children know they are going to get their needs met, that they are loved, that the people around them love each other, and that this state of affairs is going to continue they simply don't care what their caregivers do romantically.

They *notice* when you break the mould, certainly.  Children are abundantly aware of the cultural message that monogamy is absolutely required and any deviation is wrong.  As an example, Elli noticed me getting a heart icon in a Facebook message and asked what it meant.  I replied that it meant that the person loves me.  Elli gave me a look and asked if that meant kissy love.  I said yes.  Then she asked if it meant like the way I love Wendy.  I said yes, but that it wasn't exactly the same.  Wendy and I are going to live together and make decisions together but that we both can love other people too even if they aren't ever going to be part of our family.  Elli completely accepted that explanation and wandered off to play quite happily.

She cares that no one is being lied to or betrayed.  She cares that her world is secure and that she is loved.  She doesn't give a damn what else we do as long as those basic things hold and she is very much like other children in that regard.  She cares far more that a given person will read her a story or ask about the picture she is drawing than she does about their romantic involvement with me.  Children are not clever in a lot of ways but in terms of figuring out if their parents are happy and emotionally secure they are extremely talented.  Giving them credit for that talent and treating them like they are responsible will do far more for their happiness and trust then obfuscation ever would.

The fact is though that sometimes children will blab secrets to people.  That is a real risk for people who are closeted.  Working out what the best course of action is in that situation is tough.  When you can be open though there is no reason to hide an open relationship from children whatsoever.  All you have to do is tell the truth:

We love you.
We love each other.
We love other people.
We are going to take care of you.
We know this is weird, but it makes us happy.

If you tell them this and if it is the truth it won't even be the most difficult conversation you have in any given week.  Furthermore when they end up having difficult times of their own they will *know* that you will shoot straight with them and that is of incredible value.

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