The concept of polyamory is often misunderstood by the general public and the media. Tell someone you are polyamorous and it conjures images for the average person of swing parties and clubs with people getting it on in dark corners or polygamous families with men controlling unhappy sister wives and lots of children. These images perpetuated by Hollywood are not polyamory, nor do they even represent the swing lifestyle or polygamy accurately.
When it come to families and polyamory, there is even more confusion. Most people just don’t get it when you say your children have been raised in a poly family. Often Loving More receives phone calls from the media looking for polyamorous folks to interview. At first they assure you they want to understand and show what polyamory “really is.” They are open to learning as long as we can find a triad all living together, young, attractive, with children and willing to all be interviewed. No matter how much we explain to the media that though there are people who have that kind of poly relationship, it does not really represent polyamory as whole. It is also close to impossible to find any willing to risk their family to be interviewed. There are poly families that come in triad form with kids but they are a minority in the world of self identified polyamory people and they are not usually under 30 and model gorgeous. There are numerous books that teach how poly can work and what forms it can take but what does the average polyamorous family with children actually look like?
I am polyamorous and have been since I started dating at age 13. I did not recognize my non-monogamous nature until I was twenty four and a single mom of a one year old boy. At that time I embraced open relationships and thus ended up raising all three of my children in an open – polyamorous marriage. We never lived as a triad or quad though I was always open to that possibility, it was not something we were seeking. Over the years I have seen many poly folks hold this up as an ideal but the reality is it is challenging enough for most of us to find one compatible person we can live with and much more challenging to find two or three. There are those poly people who do find triad or quad bliss all living together and a few that have children but they are not the average poly household.
So what does an average poly family with children deal with? It of course varies from family to family, all I can speak of is my own family. Since polyamory is focused on relationships rather than sex, poly lovers for many people are a part of the family in some way, regardless of address. Though I had an open marriage it was not until 1995 that the issues of lovers and family came up. A man I loved and had been involved with since college came to visit me. E had always been the subject of conversations and was one of the reasons I needed an open relationship. E lives very far away and it is rare we can visit and I was excited to see him. At that time my boys were four and seven. My husband worked and I wanted to show E the mountains here in Colorado so I took E and my boys to a cabin in the mountains. We took them boating and hiking and had a great time. Because the cabin was one room, I did not sleep with E. I did get in bed and cuddle when I knew my kids were deeply asleep. I held E close and kissed but we did not have sex because it was not appropriate given the circumstances. Given a choice I would have loved to have made love to E on that trip but I wanted E to know my kids and for them to know him so I made the choice to include them and not to have sex on the trip. E and I enjoyed the trip very much and in the end holding each other was enough.
A few years later in 1999 another man came to visit. He was a sweetheart from high school who I had been lovers with off and on since 1980. I had dated him while pregnant with my first son and he had been a big support in my life. My son was now eleven and old enough to know something was up so his father and I decided to talk to him. I explained D was coming to visit and that his dad and I had an open relationship. He was like “that’s cool”. I did not want him to think I was having an affair or that my relationship with his dad was in any danger. D came to visit and he joined us for dinner. He had not seen my son since he was a baby and it was fun. D and I stayed in a hotel close by in keeping with the boundaries I had established with my husband. D went with me when I took the kids skating and he even helped with their school a bit. My daughter, who was five, thought he was wonderful. During the trip my husband and I took D to a poly dinner and the rest of the time I cooked dinner at home and we ate as a family.
Both E and D had been in my life for many years and they still are today. I knew them well and trusted them to be around my children. Some lovers I do not have around my kids at all. Both these men are peripherally a part of my family. If E ever lives closer I have no doubt he would be a fixture in our home though he might never live here.
There have also been lovers who are not so distant. My husband became involved with M and shortly after I became involved as well, we were a triad. M had kids and a primary partner as well. She lived in the same area less than ten minutes from our home. M had kids close in age to my oldest son. M and her kids would come over once a week, usually on Friday. We would cook dinner, watch a movie with the kids and then go to bed. The kids built forts in the living room to sleep in and all five would crash watching movies. Early Saturday morning I would kiss M and my husband goodbye to take my sons to skating. When I returned I would cook breakfast for everyone or go back to bed and snuggle with M and my hubby. It was wonderful. The kids always had a good time hanging out. M and I would plan parties together and they often came over on Holidays. When my son broke his leg it was M who showed up to stay with my younger children while my husband and I were at the hospital. We supported each other as a family. M and my husband broke up while M and I were together for five years ending about the same time my husband and I divorced.
Like many monogamous couples my husband and I divorced in 2007 as we had both changed and wanted different things. 2007 was the same year my partner Jesus moved to Colorado and in with me and my kids. My husband and I separated in 2003 and I met Jesus in 2005. My kids met Jesus in 2005 at the annual poly family campout I host each year. I never force people on my kids or my kids on my lovers. To my delight and surprise my kids really liked Jesus and he liked them. When I asked my kids two years later how they felt about Jesus possibly moving to Colorado they got excited and asked if he was going to live with us, they wanted him to be a part of our family and were excited he was moving in. If they had not been ok with it, we would have waited.
My children have been raised with awareness of my poly life and within the polyamory community. Many of our close family friends are polyamorous families with kids. Most of them have similar stories to mine. My kids meet my lovers when I feel they need to’ because I love someone deeply and they are becoming a part of my life. Currently I live with Jesus who is close to my kids, especially the younger two. He has become a father in many ways to my daughter. I am involved with Ben whom I met at Loving More in 2003 and still with E though I have not seen him in many years. Ben has met my kids and my daughter is always excited to see him on the rare occasions he visits or we see him at a conference. Ben’s son and my daughter are close in age and have hung out at events I run. I love Ben and I really care about his long term partner. I consider Ben and his family as part of my extended family. When Ben visits he sleeps in the guest room and at times I sleep with him and at times with Jesus. My kids have always been aware that I have intimate relationships and it is not strange at all to them. Holidays are often a hodge podge of poly extended family and community where mine or Jesus’ lovers might or might not be in the crowd. My children are not privy to the details of my personal sex life but they do meet the people who matter and are important to me and part of my life. They see me snuggle with different people and they see Jesus do the same. They are completely aware we love many people and that some are intimate partners.
One day we may have lovers who share our home or at least our property. For now we are surrounded by poly friends and lovers who are our extended family of choice. There are often visitors in our home and we love entertaining. We continue to host a family camp out and an annual Thanksgiving potluck to bring together poly families with their children and build a sense of community. Our poly family and community most remind me of a church group my parents were a part of when I was growing up. We were part of a family group that met regularly, hosted potlucks and even took weekend trips. The kids played and hung out and the adults talked and played cards. I don’t think they were lovers but for all I knew or cared they could have been. What I remember was the feeling of community and extended family. I loved that feeling then and I still do now.
I do not know what the future holds for my family or my lovers. For now this is what my polyamorous family looks like, friends, lovers and family coming together to laugh and share their experiences, support, fears and love. For me it beats the hell out of the loneliness I felt the last years I spent at home with my mom, sister and step dad in our seemingly normal nuclear family. In the end for most poly people it is the love that binds us, not our address or even physical proximity to one another. I wonder if the press will ever really understand this?