Poly Parents
January 2, 2019 10:39 AM   Subscribe

My partner and I are gradually exploring a new relationship with a third person, whom we are both dating. Do you know of resources to help us think about how this might impact our small child?

This is all going relatively slowly and carefully so far. But the issue really is there isn't a lot of stuff available on our specific set up.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

This is not specifically about your set up, but there's an episode of Louis Theroux on polyamory and some of the couples in the episode have children and talk about how they have approached the issue. It's fairly surfacey, but I thought it was an interesting episode.
posted by monologish at 11:06 AM on January 2

Here are some research findings from Elisabeth Sheff on children in poly families. Lots of other good info on her blog as well.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:27 AM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Answers above courtesy of my favorite poly parent, who also runs poly parenting events in the SF Bay Area, if you're nearby and would like local support.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:38 AM on January 2

The Sexual Freedom Legal Defense and Education Fund is, like the name says, partly a legal defense fund (mostly for divorced parents facing poly-related custody challenges). They have some resources about that on their website.

But more to the point of your question, I recently had a long conversation with two of their volunteers who were tabling at an event, concerning the legal aspects of poly parenting in a family with no divorce involved — things like "how many of us can be legal parents?" and "how many of us can have the right to do X thing?". I bet if you got in touch with them with specific questions they would be helpful.
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:05 PM on January 2

Two things to think about. One is this particular person. Two is potential instability in your relationship.

First, think about this particular person, evaluated as you would evaluate anyone who is in your life a lot. Do they add to your life? Are they unstable, taking away from stress-free family time? Are they supportive? Do they add or do they subtract to what you have for your kids/life/existing partner? To some extent, every new relationship puts some demands on us, but there are some people who are...really demanding. You don't want your child getting awoken at 3am because your s/o is drunkenly sobbing in the kitchen, for example. What kind of person is this, and is it a good idea to have them around?

Second, with a kid, you have to think about stability in your relationship together. I think that you both dating the same person is, actually, fairly risky. Think about all the issues with jealousy, having an ex in your life, etc. that it generates, compared to dating individually. It's rare (maybe never happens?) that the two dating relationships are equally compelling, strong, interesting, lasting, etc. and hurt feelings can be a real issue. Like, jealousy sucks enough when you're just jealous about one person you're attached to, but make it two, and yikes.

The other issue, which is related, is that these kinds of relationships tend to come from people thinking that you can dictate or control emotions/relationship. They tend to indicate one or both partners having really serious fears surrounding feeling excluded or feeling rejected. The idea is that if you're both dating together, you won't have to face those fears. But again it's extremely rare that two relationships end up being on the same track, that neither couple wants privacy or special time together, that the third partner cares for both people equally, etc. So instead of dealing with fears about rejection or exclusion, those fears just get kicked down the road and blow up in everyone's face once everyone is invested in the relationships.

The other issue can be that these types of relationships can really stifle honest communication or attract people who are interested in playing out their serious personal issues with one or both partners and/or being deceptive. Again, (and this is a theme for a reason), it's very rare for one person to really be into two partners the same amount, or even be into them both romantically/sexually at all. So people who are willing to "date a couple" often have complicated psychological motivations for doing it that go way way beyond "I like this person and I want to date them" and this can create complex problems. Alternatively, they start with good intentions, quickly realize that they're way more into one partner than the other, but feel like they *have to* say they're into both partners in order to keep access to the partner they're into. Some people in this scenario will, to their credit, be honest about their diverging attraction and bail if need be. But some people will just kind of keep the less-valued relationship limping along with half-truths and misrepresentations about their feelings. This, ironically, can incentivize the kind of exclusion and secret-keeping deception that people enter these relationships to avoid! The result, for people particularly sensitive to feeling excluded, can be really disastrous.

tl;dr: I strongly recommend that you interrogate your reasoning behind dating the same person. It's almost always riskier and more emotionally challenging than simply dating independently, and if one (or both) of you is not actually okay with their partner forming independent emotional connections, you need to address that ASAP, because dating the same person won't stop individual relationships from forming.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 12:57 PM on January 2 [25 favorites]

I don't know what kind of information you are asking for here, but I'm a member of a poly family (different setup than yours) and would be happy to talk to you about it.

I will say that more parents makes raising a kid way easier in our experience (she's only 4 so far, and requires a LOT of energy). But all of our relationships were quite stable before kiddo came along. She's known us since birth as family. I don't know much about introducing a new partner into a family with kids. Of the four adults in our household, two have casually dated other people. Those people were not introduced to kiddo as anything other than friends.
posted by mkuhnell at 2:13 PM on January 2 [2 favorites]

Alternatively, they start with good intentions, quickly realize that they're way more into one partner than the other, but feel like they *have to* say they're into both partners in order to keep access to the partner they're into.

I have been hit on by a lot of (straight-passing) couples for sex. It is ALWAYS the situation that I'm more interested in one of them than the other and also ALWAYS presented as not something I have options about - take the package deal or leave it. Please make sure you are not doing this to the third person, and also since three people means that at least one of you is LGB+, please discuss issues around how visible and active in the community each of you expects all of you to be - treating someone like the dirty little secret to your more privileged/recognized relationship is not cool. However you handle this is going to have an impact on how your kids understand relationships to work and how it's okay for them to treat other people.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:32 PM on January 2 [7 favorites]

As a counter argument, I dated a married couple, and I asked *them* out (both of them), and was equally interested in both of them-- part of what made them both so attractive to me was their individual qualities and also their great, stable family relationships, with each other and other members of their family. They broke it off with me after a while due to some reasons of incompatibility, and while the breakup itself wasn't great for me for communication reasons (that had nothing to do with them being poly), neither of them was interested in seeing me without the other one and their relationship survived intact and happily. I also know very stable triads who have been together for many years. So it can and does happen, which is not to say everyone above does not have a point about making sure you talk things through (which is especially important with a child around) and leave space for a different arrangement if that's what's wanted, just that I wouldn't necessarily write it off completely. In general, I think bile and syntax makes a great point-- model the behavior you want your child to see.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:39 PM on January 2

N’thing to look into the legal ramifications for your jurisdiction. For over a decade Canada has recognized polyamous parents, which grants them the right to acces/custody even if not biologically related.
posted by saucysault at 8:54 PM on January 2

Yeah, I feel like I went in hard on the downsides of the triad, largely because it’s something I frequently see people do because they’re looking for poly on easy mode (which, fair enough). If people end up that way because everyone is into e/o, more power to ‘em, and some of what I’m saying doesn’t apply. (I still think it can make breakups worse than usual, though, forex.)
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:59 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]

I don't know about resources exactly, but my mom was poly for most of my childhood, including a time period of two step-parents via her, and I'm happy to answer questions about what it's like growing up with it (in as much as I can tell the difference).
posted by Margalo Epps at 6:10 PM on January 3

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