As a Marriage and Family Therapist/Relationship Expert for 20 years, it has been my ongoing experience that Polyamory is not the ideal scenario for children to experience as their parents’ lifestyle. It is my assertion that it is less than ideal with potentially traumatic affects. Those in polyamorous relationships wish to see the positive for children, as these adults are living a polyamorous lifestyle. Thus, they certainly would not want to think they are emotionally damaging their children. But to announce it is great for the children, report how wonderful it is for kids – is simply going too far and deluding one’s self. Let’s get real. Polyamory is not something you do for your kids to have a better life. Polyamory is something you do for yourself because it is something you want, you yearn for.
Whenever I write about polyamory I receive angry emails reporting the positives of polyamory, from those in current polyamorous relationships. And emails from people who report their horrific experiences when testing the waters of polyamory for their spouse/partner, which ultimately led to the demise of their relationship. Thus, as I write this blog today, I recognize what is about to come. What prompted me this time around is that this month I was quoted in an article written by Emanuella Grinberg in CNN.com entitled: Polyamory: When Three Isn’t A Crowd which once again sparked much commentary. I have received much email from both the polyamorous community and the monogamous community. The monogamous community reports appreciation that I am not afraid to speak out for these values and asserting what my experience has offered as information to the public.
Polyamory is described as having more than one open romantic relationship at a time. A few examples include; husband and wife each have lovers in addition to their spouse, wife has a lover in addition to her spouse and husband does not, or the other way around. You do not have to be married and have one or more additional lovers to consider yourself as living a polyamorous lifestyle. You can date and live this lifestyle as well. Polyamory is the philosophy of having more than one significant love interest in one’s life at the same time, living a polyamorous lifestyle is acting on this philosophy. For some it is one key person/persons, for others it is multiple partners. Polyamory is not considered an affair, since the romantic interest is not a secret from the spouse/partner.
Isn’t Life Grand
I freely admit there are indeed some who are in a polyamorous relationship who truly believe it is grand – while they are in it. Certainly for the days, weeks, months, and for small numbers of people; years- there are aspects of polyamory that are indeed grand for them. But, yes, but… they openly admit it is not always grand as it is difficult to live a polyamorous lifestyle. In a polyamorous relationship, certain character traits are reported as necessity, of which include; patience, highly evolved communication skills, trust, open dialogue, mindfulness of what one is feeling and what one’s partner/partners’ are feeling, respect for one another, “rules” of each other’s needs and wants must be followed, a lack of jealousy is necessary otherwise it could get ugly, and more… Hmm, sounds like skills necessary for any relationship, for the most part. Right?
Children – Love, Grief/Loss
In the early years, when children are young, as long as they are loved with consistency from consistent main care givers, they feel emotionally at peace. As children age and these significant adult figures in their life come and go (due to adult break ups with one’s polyamorous partner/partners), children don’t feel so loved, they no longer feel stable nor at peace. What do they feel? They feel abandoned! They feel rejected! Children who feel abandoned and rejected are emotionally wounded, hurt, and in turn feel unworthy of love. Children who feel unworthy of love develop a poor sense of self, low self worth and low self confidence. It is children who have a low sense of self who then we see act out in school in terms of their behavior, their academics are negatively affected, their social relational interactions are disturbed. You get the idea. As children who feel unworthy of love age, since there have been multiple significant people who they loved and felt love from have disappeared out of their life, this affects their future relationships when they are of mating age.
Children not only experience grief/loss symptoms and often depression response reaction to the loss. For some they also experience anxiety due to fear of rejection, fear of the unknown (never knowing when a new relationship will begin nor end). In addition, it is their parent/parents reaction in response to the end of the particular polyamorous relationship they were in which also affects the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and coping/response reaction to the loss for these children. For example, is the children’s mother grieving and the father is not? Is the father angry about the end of the relationship whereas the mother is happy about it? Talk about confused children regarding where their loyalties should be. They have their own feelings and then their parents are not on the same page. This creates emotional strain on the child. Parental emotional reaction inconsistency, for some children, creates physical symptoms instead of or in addition to mental ailments such as; headaches, stomach aches, eye twitches.
Or, let us consider the situations when the child is sad about the loss of this important person in their life but the parents put an end to the relationship. In this type of case, although the parents are on the same page, the child feels hurt that the parents do not feel the same way she/he does about the end of the relationship. The result for the children; feels like they have no say about who they get to love and who they get to be loved by in their life. These are children who experience that the people they trust to keep them emotionally safe are the very people who have chosen to take a person who loves them out of their life. This is hurtful. How do children learn to trust that they can love again and that this love will not be taken away from them, if they learn from their parents that they will take love away from them? Each time there is a new love interest for mom and/or dad who becomes intertwined in their lives, children do not know when these important people will exit from their life.
Do these children become hardened and not open to love? Do they grow resentful of their parents? Do they wonder if they too someday will be dumped and that they are disposable too? What about as these children age and chose their mate, what type of choices will they make? Children of whom learn that love is given and just as fast can be taken away with people in and out of their life of which they have no say nor control over, as they age will often find themselves in relationships that are unhealthy. As they replay the theme of love and loss, yearning for a different outcome.
Children And Discovery Of Their Parents Reality
As children age, there are those who knew from a young age of their parents’ polyamorous lifestyle, then there are others who come to discover it later on. The later a child learns of this “secret”, the more confused and hurt they are. And for some children, the less likely they are to accept it. Children discovering on their own or being informed by their parents as they are older, of their parents’ reality is overwhelming for many. It is these children who then question what else they thought was true but wasn’t. They question what was real vs. not, what was a lie vs. truth. Throwing a surprise curve ball when a child thought their reality was one way, to learn what they believed to be true is no longer true is a big emotional knife in the heart. For example, cousin Bobby who has been living with us for the past few years really isn’t cousin Bobby. He’s mommy’s lover. We just told you he was a cousin because . . .
If children know the truth when they are young, it is a brain washing of sorts in that they will learn to accept this as a reality . . . for some. Some will be more accepting as they age. Then of course there are children who learn at a young age, are accepting, and as they age, become no longer accepting. Just as there are children who discover the truth later on and are accepting. It can go either way in terms of acceptance of their parents or not, of feeling tricked/mislead/lied to, or not. The simple fact is that every child’s temperament is different, and thus will experience and process information differently. The relationship a child has with one’s parents at each stage and phase of their life plays the largest role in terms of what they are able to accept vs. not. Either way you slice it- whether a child is accepting or not, whether a child feels misled or not, the fact still remains that loss of love, the end of significant adult figures in a child’s life is devastating. Polyamory puts children into circumstances that increases this loss and thus grief.
Children Benefit – Not
To sell this package of polyamory to be a product that benefits children, using the sales pitch that it is more love for the child – is not being truly self aware. I mention this because the sales pitch that many in polyamorous relationships who have children are inferring directly that their children are better off than monogamous ones. This is stated with the reference that they will receive more love, and that love by many (mother, father, mother’s lover/lovers and/or father’s lover/lovers) is oh so much better. This is certainly not a proven point and rather this is just a rationalization for the adult to feel better about a choice they are making that is not consistent with the societal norm, so that they don’t feel like they are doing something potentially hurtful to their children. Rather the opposite is true. It is a higher increased likelihood that there is more of the chance that the child will experience abandonment feelings than not. Rather than feeling more loved, they will feel less of a priority and thus potentially feel that mommy and daddy’s needs are the priority, not mine. These children are not receiving more love living in a home environment of parents who live a life of polyamory. They are receiving more loss, and thus either go through life mourning and grieving, or they learn to shut themselves off to love knowing it will end once a breakup occurs- that is out of their control.
Love pulled out from under the rug, any day any time is not a healthy way for a child to live. Thus, when their parent argues with one of their lovers, the child may fear the end is near, never knowing when this person they love and loves them will no longer exist in their life. Children living in this existance may have a hard time giving and receiving love, as the affects of this lifestyle.
Significant people are replaceable. Ultimately that is the message children receive. This is not a therapeutic message for the spirit of children, nor the adults they develop into.
Relationship Behavior For The Adult Child Who Grew Up In A Polyamorous Household
These are just but a few relational clinical concerns I have for children who are raised in a polyamorous home, as to the negative affects it will bring on them when they become of mating age.
- Put up love barriers, so as to protect themselves from any love relationship ending. This way, if they keep their wall up, they will never be hurt, is the subconscious or conscious thinking of the child whom love comes in and out of their life from significant adult figures. If they don’t expose themselves to love, then they won’t be hurt by love by being abandoned (i.e., if I keep my wall up then if someone breaks up with me I won’t be hurt like I was as a child each and every time my mother and/or father had a relationship end).
- Sabotage relationships. The young adult/adult who grew up in a house where their parents lived a polyamorous lifestyle with multiple partners in and out of their lives, this now adult may sabotage relationships. In this way when relationships end, as the person they are in a relationship with breaks up with them because of some action/actions they do that is quite the sabotage, they can just blame the behavior, not that they are not loveable. By doing something that is blatantly hurtful to one’s partner, likely the partner will end it. Thus, one can blame that the relationship ended because of one’s behavior, so one doesn’t feel bad about themselves. This is often a subconscious motivation.
- I’ll break up with you before you break up with me mentality. A pattern of nit picking and ending relationships rather than working on them so that you end the relationship first. Less pain than being broken up with, is the thinking here. The often subconscious thought process is; I am in control rather than someone else. For as a child I had no control over love in and out of my life, I sure as heck am not going to let the same thing happen to me as an adult. There are those of whom are consciously aware of what they are thinking and doing, but continue to do so because of self protection. They truly are afraid of being rejected, as this was the most painful part of their childhood they wish to not repeat in adulthood.
- Needy in relationships, very dependent. The longing for a long term consistent relationship is so powerful that you become needy and clingy in the hopes this will guarantee the person stays with you because you need them. Thus this person will find someone who will be the type that the guilt to stay to save you is there. This may be a co-dependent relationship, or being with someone who is a people pleaser.
- Ultra sensitive response style to friendships of one’s mate. In this scenario, the now adult has a difficult time with their partner being friends with someone of the opposite gender. Specifically, this adult gets overly jealous. Often in this type of scenario one is controlling regarding friendships the partner/spouse has with others, and tries to get one’s mate not to have friends with the other gender. One’s antennas are up, ultra sensitive living with the belief that anyone can shift from monogamy to polyamory. Thus, one’s partners friends may become more than friends – is the fear. Which makes sense of course, especially if one’s parent for the first number of years of their life lived a monogamous lifestyle and then shifted into a polyamorous lifestyle. If my parents could do it, what makes me think my partner won’t? Is the question one asks one’s self.
Will My Children Engage In Polyamory Because I Do/Did?
Just because you currently engage in polyamory, or no longer do but explored the lifestyle in the past does not mean your child will. Nor does it mean your child will not. This is a commonly asked question, so let’s just get the answer out there.
Not unlike when parents get divorced, children are heartbroken over the loss of one parent. Except, polyamory breaks ups for some children are worse than divorce. Why? The answer is because in many divorces there is still visitation, time spent with each parent. Typically both parents remain involved in the children’s life. For those children who one of their parents does not remain involved in their life, this has siginficant painful affects. This emotionally impacts one’s life with long term affects. In polyamory- that is indeed what it is like for the child- the latter. To no longer have that significant adult in your life is heart breaking, like a divorce.
Think about it, the child becomes connected to the person who is an important part of their family. This other person plays the role of a parental figure, a dear friend, a confident, a care giver- and then when their mother and/or father no longer is in a relationship with this person- the relationship ends and this person often is out of the child’s life. The traumatic loss children feel when a significant adult male and/or female parental type of figure/figures come in and then out of their life is not to be ignored. The difference between death vs. break-up is that death is an occurance that is out of one’s control (for the most part). Whereas when a child’s mother or father decides to no longer remain with their love interest, it is the child who has no control over this choice, no say in the matter, but someone did have control over the break up (their parents and/or the significant other). Unlike in death- no control.
What Do Children Learn?
What does a child learn from this? That there is no permanancy in relationships, relationships are not stable. Children learn that they cannot trust that love means forever. Rather they learn that love ends. Children of parents who are polyamorous also learn about the importance of keeping a family secret. Family secrets, oh those skeletons in the closet that children keep, never healthy as they age. Holding onto a secret that is not accepted by society leads to emotional hurt and eventually the child as they age onward, perhaps all the way into young adulthood, they find they are acting out due to the family secret. Children of parents in polyamorous relationships often are urged to keep the secret from friends so no one views the children negatively. Or, if the parents state they can tell people, often the children feel they must keep it a secret because they feel they will not be accepted. Fear of ostracism is a real fear and causes high anxiety.
Do What You Want
I am not a judge nor a jury. Do what you want. You want many loves, because that is what feels right to you- go for it. Grown adults deciding they want many loves is their decision to make. The shame is when they hurt others in the process, that is the concerning part. This article is not that I am passing judgment, let me be clear. This article is specifically focused on my concern for the emotional health and wellness of children and how they are impacted by the decisions that their parents make. Children did not ask to be placed on this earth. It is our job to provide them with a stable home environment, one filled with love, acceptance, emotional safety, and where they do not have to experience loss/grief/and trauma placed upon them due to the breakups of relationships of their parents because of the choice to fulfill one’s desire to have more than one love relationship. The fear of ostracism is very real, we as adults would be wise to not place that burden on our children to fulfill our own hunger. Once you have children you are making a conscious decision that their needs are priority.
If you find this blog interesting, I invite you to read my other blogs addressing the topic of polyamory including:
31 thoughts on “Polyamory – Not Healthy For Children”
I completely agree with your assessment that polyamory is harmful and destabilizing for children. That alone would be enough to prevent me from even entertaining the thought. Our duties to our children are paramount; no amount of self-indulgence is worth their pain.
I appreciate you taking the time out to weigh in on this topic. Thank you for your feedback. Indeed “our duties to our children are paramount”, I love the way you worded it.
Since this person has not even entertained the thought of polyamory, it seems clear why there would be so little understanding. Polyamory is not about self-indulgence–it is about creating an expansive loving environment, which as research and tradition have shown, is the best environment for children to grow up in.
One important part of polyamory is creating a chosen *extended* family; so much so, that it is common for polyfolk to end a sexual relationship, but have it translate to a very close friendship. Polyamory is not about multiple sex partners–it is about multiple *loving* relationships, which have the freedom to be sexual, but often are not. These relationships are usually rich, deep, textured connections. “It takes a village”, and in this day and age, polyamory is one way to create that village. Dr. Elizabeth Sheff (who, by the way, is *not* polyamorous) has done extensive research on children in polyamorous families, and has found that they do as well or better than children in monogamous families.
I grew up in a family where there were many adults involved in my life, not just two parents. Were any of them lovers of my parents? I have no idea, and it wouldn’t have mattered. What mattered is that if my parents were dealing with a problem of their own, there were always plenty of other trusted adults around to turn to. When I wanted to do something that my parents weren’t skilled at, there would be an “aunt” or “uncle” who would be thrilled to help me out with that. I never lacked adult time; it was there whenever I wanted.
My children were raised with polyamorous parents, and they benefited from close connections to a number of other adults as well. So I agree that our duties to our children are paramount–and creating an environment permeated by love, affection, and attention from many people is one of the best things that we can do for them.
Sorry but you’re exactly the type of polyamorous Parent that she’s talking about, deluding yourself into thinking it’s better for the kids when it’s not
My wife and I have been married for 5 years and poly for life. When we started polyamory we had difficulty with jealousy and insecurities. After we decided to change our rules into something more along the lines of only having open communication and complete honesty things became much easier. We now each are able to date without issue and love the lifestyle! We both enjoy reading about the poly lifestyle and following blogs online. Thanks for the good posting, we love it!
Thank you for taking the time to share your enjoyment of my blog article.
You could make the exact same arguments against parents having close friends, friends of the family, or even room mates, but would you ever suggest that parents shouldn’t have friends or allow the friends to bond with the children because one day the friendship may end and it could negatively impact the children?
For that matter, people in polyamorous relationships could refer to their partners as “Mommy/ Daddy’s friend” instead of being completely upfront about the romantic nature of the friendship (which, to a certain degree, is arguably none of the child’s business anyway); would it change the impact on the children if the friendship ended?
Thank you for writing in VZ,
Looks like we will have to agree to disagree.
Close friends and friends of the family will be in the children’s life ongoing, most likely. And if not, that does hurt children, sure. So does that make it ok to hurt children via polyamory too? Why even make the comparison, lol (not a laughing matter).
Polyamory when there’s a break up, parents choose to no longer have that person/persons in their life and therefore in the children’s life. The grieving process and mourning over losses as loves come in and out of the life of their parents is devastating for children. As it is true loss for the children. Just as it is when a parent goes through a divorce. Just as it is when a parent who is divorced has their children meet their dates in and out of their life. Either the children learns to accept and face that they should not develop attachments for people are in and out of their life, or children develop attachments and they are painfully experiencing far too much instability which leads to an array of triggering mental health issues for children (e.g., anxiety).
Certainly people in polyamorous relationships can refer to their partners as “mommy/daddy’s friend” as you stated “instead of being completely upfront about the romantic nature of the friendship”. Though, in my work with children as a Psychotherapist/Family Therapist, I will share with you that children are not idiots. Even at very young ages, much younger than many realize, children know far more then parents know that they know. Children feel much more than they share with their parents that they are feeling. Children become master actors if necessary. Though, some children do act out, and sadly there are parents who ignore the actual cause. Children are affected significantly by their parents relational decisions. Children are extremely observant and will experience the difference between what is a “special” friend vs just a friend or a close friend of mommy/daddys. Which in and of itself plays a significant role in children’s level of attachment to the other adult figure in their life. And thus yes, would indeed change the impact on the children if the friendship ended. Just as children have their own surface friends, close friends, and BFF’s. Children are quite observant and if their parents appear to have a BFF vs a close friend, the children’s own level of attachment to the adult/adults will differ as well. When a BFF adult friendship ends it is markedly different in terms of the emotional affect on a child vs a close friend. And… if mommy/daddy have several special friends and they come in and out of the children’s lives, their experience of what stability is will greatly differ from those children who truly live with stability.
Children love their parents, and will remain loyal to them. Children learn they must accept their parents identity, lifestyle and decisions. Why do children side with a parent who is physically abusing their other parent, and also side with the parent who is being abused? Why do children who know their parent is an alcoholic keep it secret, tell no one and suffer in silence as they come home and clean up the urine on the floor from when mommy had an “accident” cause she fell asleep on the floor last night after coming home late? Why do children cover their arms with a long sleeve shirt from bruises? The examples of hurt are endless. The bottom line is: to suggest that children are not affected and don’t hurt when significant relationships end in their parents life is ignorant.
It’s basic, it’s parenting 101, it’s just common sense. Parenting matters, and the relationships parents have with others affects their children. Polyamory is a personal choice and it is not a choice to do FOR one’s children it is a choice people make that they are doing FOR THEMSELVES. The collateral affects are on the children. Those who choose polyamory certainly would not want to view their lifestyle choice as selfish and negatively impacting their children so they choose to view it through a rosy colored lens that it is wonderful for the children.
We shall agree to disagree.
Hello Dr. Ruskin,
I am a college student doing a thesis paper on polyamory. I wanted to ask you if you had other articles discussing your experience on the website or similar. It would greatly help me since I was hoping to use this one in the rhetorical analysis of my paper.
Hi Rachel, Thank you for your inquiry. I am often called upon for my insights regarding polyamory. I have listed all my blog articles that are relationship related under the category of “relationships”, including my polyamory articles. I decided to create an additional category entitled: polyamory. I invite you to scroll down on the side of the website where I have my blog categories listed, and you will now be able to find all of my articles that I wrote that taps into the topic of polyamory. I recently was interviewed on the topic again, and within the next few hours I will post that interview on a new blog post. You may find the interview quite helpful for your article, thus I invite you to check back momentarily regarding the matter.
Best of wishes on your paper.
Now Casting MTV’s True Life: I Have Polyamorous Parents. Apply today and share your story. Email [email protected] with your name, age, location, a recent photo and your story.
I completely agree that parents in open or polyamorous marriages are in them for their own selfish reasons. I am 43 and just now opening up about some of the things I witnessed and experienced as a child in my parents open marriage. I have been trying to find some sort of information or support online and I can’t find anything from or about adult children like me. Most of what I can find is websites by adults in open marriages singing the praises of open marriages. I wonder if other children like myself are just now opening up and realizing the damaging effect of being the child in such a family. The 70’s theme was free love. I have issues of jealousy, trust and I have a really hard time with cheaters. An open marriage destroys a child’s sense of security and trust. My parents were too busy getting their own twisted sexual needs met to bother parenting me properly or even thinking about the damage they were doing. Simply, they didn’t care. I asked my mother a while ago why she was never afraid that I would tell someone and she said she didn’t really think about it, she hoped I wouldn’t tell and knew I wouldn’t. She described the most “open” period of her marriage as being outside of herself looking in, much like an addict. What I have been able to find on the internet mostly talks about the husband being the one that wants an open marriage but my mother was the more sexually deviant and the one that was more flamboyant about her lifestyle. My parents never talked to me about any of it. It was very confusing and my mother did not even tell me they had an open marriage until I was in my 20’s. There was a time in my life that my parents actually moved my mother’s lover into our home. Anyone that thinks they are somehow doing their kids a favor by being in an open or polyamorous marriage is only fooling themselves. I can barely stand to be around my parents and our relationship is very strained. The children are never the center of such relationships and these relationships do a lot of damage to all involved but the innocent victims are the children. My parents were not thinking about me or the consequences of their choices. They were only thinking of themselves. I am the person I am today despite them not because of them. All of these websites singing the praises of these types of marriages make me sick. Parents need to be trustworthy, responsible adults. It’s hard enough being a parent and a spouse to one set of kids and one spouse. When you bring another love interest into your marriage, finding time is even harder. The children are the ones that suffer, always. As for saying that the children are hurt when the “other” relationship ends and the person they have grown close to leaves. That may be true for younger children but for me I hated my mother’s lovers. Loathed is a better word. I hated her.
Thanks so much for writing in. I am sure that so many will find your writings helpful information. You being a child who is now an adult, of parents in an open marriage, and you sharing your pain and why, is very informative. And I sincerely hope that those who have chosen polyamory or are considering this lifestyle read your words and re-consider. For it painfully is far too often that the children suffer indeed.
Your point regarding children are hurt when relationships end of their parent/parents lovers, that they grew close to are hurt, indeed this is true for some. Especially those that are younger as they are indoctrinated into the belief system that this is acceptable and normal. Your point that you “hated” your mother’s lovers, specifically that you “loathed”, is not an uncommon reaction. And, a very important point for those considering polyamory.
Thank you again for writing in, brave and courageous to speak out.
Why do you assume that children of poly parents DON’T usually keep contact with people who have acted as parents to them, when those relationships (sadly) break up? In my experience, in most cases, people who have consciously chosen polyamory and have had children in their lives are very careful to not let their children get attached to any adult as a parent-type figure until that relationship has stood the test of some time, and they are fairly sure the relationship is stable — every bit as sure as they would be if they were in a monogamous relationship and bringing that person into a closer role in their children’s lives for the first time. And then if those relationships eventually do break up, poly parents are MUCH MORE likely to ensure — or at least, TRY to ensure — that their children maintain contact with the adults who have been stepparents to them than monogamous parents are. Monogamous parents tend to write the children’s stepparents out of their lives and their children’s entirely when they divorce. From my experience, I have also seen that children with polyamorous parents experience FEWER breakups in their parents’ relationships than children with monogamous parents do. Largely this is because of what I just explained: poly parents tend to be very cautious about letting their children be around a partner enough to view them as the parent’s partner or as a parental figure at all. Consequently, those children don’t experience those breakups as personal losses. All they know is that the parent’s adult friend isn’t coming around any more. But they never did come around enough for the child to get TOO attached, so it’s no big deal. But it’s also because monogamous people tend to have at least as many breakups as poly people do. Many children go through strings of stepparents, which they lose contact with entirely with each divorce or breakup, as their parents practice socially accepted serial monogamy.
This is one of the very few articles I’ve been able to find on this subject not lauding the virtues of polyamory. I suppose that’s because the polys themselves have saturated the space with their own self-serving propaganda.
I am soon to be divorced and polyamory is a big factor in where we got where we did. My wife found a poly meetup group several years ago because she thought this was an interesting concept. She started attended these events with my son, who was seven at the time. Only later did I find out that she was bringing her “boyfriend” to these meetings, and also that she had been having sex with this person the last two years of our marriage. All of this occurred while I was working by. I was never involved in any way with this group whatsoever until my wife decided to separate from me a year ago. In order to do anything to make her happy, I attended a couple of these meetings. .
What I saw was not family-friendly, and frankly a bit disgusting. Many parents with children showed up with their spouse but left with another person, or vice-versa. A great deal of inappropriate physical conduct occurred as well. Nothing blatantly sexual, but it was something that could potentially confuse or disturb a child. I personally do not have qualms with what people choose to do in private, but please don’t involve kids, and that means don’t let them see this behavior.
Going forward, I feel very, very strongly that I want to keep him away from this environment and will do what I can to make that happen.
Thank you for sharing your story. Indeed, I often hear from those of whom have been hurt by, upset up, disturbed by (etc.) a polyamory scenario, that they struggle to find therapists who are writing about the pain side that they hear from couples in treatment. Finding articles written by therapists of the pain side the therapists hear from children growing up in or have grown up in a polyamory lifestyle is also limited, not because it doesn’t exist. Rather because therapists are trained to be non judgmental and objective. As such, unfortunately, I believe some therapists confuse this with asserting what they are hearing from clientele.
In essence, I am not a judge nor jury, I remain objective and rather simply I am reporting information based upon my experiences as a therapist since 1993 to share the voice of those of whom are not being heard.
I hope you found this article validating, and I hope you found reading others comments, including writing your own, helpful on your life journey.
I do strongly recommend parental divorce counseling. For the fact that you and your soon to be x are on such separate pages regarding what you are comfortable with your son to be around, is going to cause marked conflict between the two of you. And it is unfortunate that in these type of scenarios, often the child is caught in the middle between loyalties of mother vs father. Thus counseling with your x with a therapist who is skilled at helping couples create a healthier divorce environment then what they may not be able to create on their own without outside help, is recommended.
Reading these replies, I’m seeing people come out with horror stories of damaged childhoods and polyamory being the reason for their divorce. No. You are wrong. Polyamory didn’t hurt you, bad people did. In a relationship involving children, the children’s wellbeing comes first. Then the spouse. Then the “secondary”. Polyamory is like any other relationship – you have to do it right. This doctor’s article is demonizing it because she only talks from one perspective, one where there is a constant rotation of partners. That’s not polyamory, you’re talking about, miss. That’s just bad communication and people not being careful when introducing children to new partners. Children must feel safe and loved. That’s simple stages of development right there, psych 101. Children MUST be the priority in a polyamorous relationship. Constant communication of feelings and thoughts between all parties, age-appropriate openness with children (not being vague), very slowly introducing them and constantly observing how the children react. If a child does not adjust well to the arrangement at any point, if his needs are not met, the entire thing is kaput and should not happen. Polyamory is not the problem you people had. It was selfishness, inconsideration, non communication, deception and hiding things. Polyamory is so so selfless. You trust your partner to come back to you, to do what makes them happy, to not be jealous. Your partner trusts you to do the same. This doctor claiming that a child is damaged because their parent’s partner is no longer around conveniently forgets that the same happens in monogamous relationships. Shitty people together means a shitty relationship and shitty results for the child. Period.
All you do to validate what you say, Dr. Ruskin, is imply that all polyamorous relationships are a revolving door. That’s the one thing you can hang on to, the fact that some people do break up doesn’t mean everybody does.
My ex husband and children’s father has become polyamorous with his wife of 8 years. I think this is a detriment to my children on many levels. I know my ex, and he is seeking novelty – he has chronic dissatisfaction and I know that polyamory is just a way to bring novelty in to resolve this internal lack of peace. I believe his wife is similar – so you could say they are well matched. Thankfully I have primary custody, but when my 2 children visit, they have her 4 for a total of 6 kids who are being neglected at the expense of the parent’s love lives. The parents in that household put their needs ahead of the children in every possible way. Time is too rarely spent with the kids, and the adults treat the children as roommates, rather than parent them in any hands on way.
My ex and his wife try to sell their lives using noble concepts analogous to religion, but I am not buying it. The proof is in the pudding, and I’m just sad my kids have a father who is too deluded and disengaged to really be involved in any active way in his kid’s lives.
Some may say these are not problems of polyamory, but personality traits, and perhaps I would agree, except I have had other polyamorous acquaintances, and I have observed time and again that polyamory is inefficient, impractical, drama-filled, and not conducive to family life on any level.
Seems to me perhaps the only way child rearing can work in a polyamorous community with long term stable bonds between several members is to observe Bonobo Society . In Bonobo Society , theres no DNA tests and no methods of contraception and so no paternal certainty . So in human terms , if there is a fall out or a member decides this lifesfyle is not for them , they would still perhaps make an effort to be in the childs life . Option B is to remain childless thanks to the contraceptive revolution . The pills creator , Carl Djerassi believed that in the near future sex would become 100% seperate from pregnancy and become purly recreational and based on the technolgy im seeing like advances in ectogenesis in combination with longer life expectancies, i personally believe the sexual revolution is ongoing and god knows what will be considered the norm in the decades to come . Children can suffer just as much with monogamous parents btw .I questioned monogamys worth despite the fact my parents have been together for decades and providing me with second to none love and affection . I felt the uncomfortable resentment and was baffled by the bickering and short temperment between them and they remain together and nothing has changed . Likewise , i later discovered affairs occured and complete strangers have opened up to me about their miserable marriages and the lies they live. these people are secretive and my god how they fail to make monogamy and family life appealing when they judge the “Promiscuity” of todays younger generations. How many times have i heard ” pffft ..in my day we stayed together no matter how miserable we were …..for the sake of the kids .” I personally believe , that extra pair bonds outside of the central partnership will become the norm in the decades to come and accepted just as what tends to happen in so called other monogamous species because if it dosnt , you can expect a continued rise in one parent families and 3 marriages in a life time trends to continue up until the point when females decide that its too much of a gamble to bring a child into the world because the father is not relistically likely to hang around ,which would be tragic .
I get why monogamy came to be , for those who claim its “unnatural”; and that is largely down to the fact our ancestors did not grow up in a world with multiple easyily avaliable contraceptive methods. So the more sex , the greater the risk of pregnancy , the more work needed to feed and clothe the offspring and secondally paternal certainty . The resentment of possibly raising a child that is not your own would lead to sexual exclusivity and jealousy needed to form the family unit .the point is , nature, the prime state would itself regulate our behaviour : sex = risk & consequences. So yes, a man might have wanted to impulsivly shag multiple women but the KNOWLEDGE of the baggage that would come with that would ultimately govern the behaviour and lead to the institution of marriage , even marriage with perhaps several other partners . Remember , both monogamy and even the other poly systems are based on the monopilization of partners where as promiscuity is purly casual . The monopolization of partners is the root cause of jealousy and of agression . All this knowledge is not part of sex education for todays bewildered teenagers. Ask anyone why its wrong to cheat and i guarentee GUILT will be at the root of the response and that its “inconsiderate of the other persons feelings ” if this is all what is what is wrong with cheating then its no wonder people do . imagine an alternative universe or a society with zero methods of contraception and people today would discover very quickly why its a disaster to cheat or have multiple partners just as our ancestors probably did. Think about the religious idea of no sex before marriage , it comletely makes rational sense but because we live in the modern world of easy access contraception and choice as to if we conceive or not , the very idea appears dated and meaningless .
I have a question: I am a single parent. Do you think that kids would be hurt the same way, if a single parent have relationships that doesn’t last?
Of course I wouldn’t introduce the kids to a person, I were casually dating.
But imagine I have a close live-in relationship with a person for a several years, break up and then have another relationship.
Would that in your opinion cause the same damage to the child?
If yes, I don’t really see any other option than to never enter in a close relationship again, because I can’t be sure if it is going to last forever.
Now this article is about polyamory, but I see bigger implications. And I wonder if there is anthing any parent, that doesn’t stay with the kid’s other parent forever, can do to avoid emotionally scarring the kids and causing them to not to believe in love.
The people you describe seem to put themselves before the kids. Aren’t there any polyamorous people that put the kids first?
My sister recently shared with me that she has an open marriage. The rest of our extended family is unaware. I’m trying to be understanding, as the choices between two consenting adults is really none of my business. However, I have found that she has become increasingly more neglectful of her children. She claims that this lifestyle is better for the kids because it is more love like most poly people claim, but her kids seem unhappy and are having significant behavioral issues. I love my sister and don’t want to be closed minded, but I am seeing little to no support from children of these families backing up what the poly parents say. I tried speaking directly to her about my concerns regarding her lack of interest and attention to her children, but she seems to quickly shut down any conversation that questions her lifestyle. I am afraid at their ages 10 & 12 and with the brainwashing she has done they are not able to express how they feel openly, but instead are acting out. They are still strongly seeking her approval and have lost their identity. The household revolves around her whims and she is a bit of a narcissist. I had major abuse in my childhood and adults did not protect me, I do not want this to happen to my nieces; however, I am not sure what I can or should do? Is this any of my business?
I am living the horrors of a man who grew up this way. It’s horrible. I feel so bad for him!!!! All of this Ais true.
Hi interesting article. Do you base your conclusions on studies? Or is it strictly clinical experience? I also have read Elisabeth Scheff and she has a very different take on the subject based on following a group of Polyfidelitous Families over 15 years. Are you familiar with her work and do you have a comment?
Thanks for any response.
Hello Dr. Ruskin. What a refreshing article to read on the truths of polyamorous lifestyle. As for the negativity that you receive: Anything that stirs the pot by adding truth will always have this effect.
Keep on disseminating truth and your desire to guide people for the best possible outcome for them and their children. As you know, this isn’t always popular.
My parents have recently become poly, it’s probably been close to two years now. They have this boyfriend that is my age, he hit on me and told me he loved me. I told my parents and they kicked him out. Now two months later he’s back living in the house. He makes me uncomfortable so I haven’t been visiting my family as often. I am worried about my nine year old brother who still lives with them. I don’t trust this guy they are dating, and they don’t seem to care about their older kids opinions.
Thanks for this post. I have been struggling to understand how poly parenting can possibly be good for kids. I have heard the cliche that it gives them “more love.” But what does that mean? What kind of “love” is it? The love of a fun uncle who does stuff when he feels like it? Or the love of a parent who gets up at 3am to clean up a child’s vomit, who brings lunch from home so they can afford piano lessons, who resolves conflicts when s/he’s exhausted, who does doctor visits and school and camp forms, who saves for decades for college, who disciplines when it would feel better to let things go, who does their best and constantly reflects on what they managed to screw up anyway, who was there from the moment of birth with diapers and bottles and burp cloths and books and stuffed animals and endless rocking and holding. Does mommy’s boyfriend or daddy’s girlfriend do all of that? What is love? Is it just a nice feeling? Or is it sacrifice? And what motivates that sacrifice if not the LIFELONG commitment you make the moment you realize “I am this child’s parent” — whether birth, adoptive or step, but being their actual PARENT, not mommy or daddy’s extra love who might also tell jokes or have a catch or build a dollhouse with the kid, when it feels good, until it doesn’t feel good anymore and they’re gone.
I am someone who entered into a poly-relationship (and left) I always found the practice riddled with flaws and contradictions.
1.) Unconditional love:
My wife and I have been married for 7 years and we nearly got divorced in our third year. But we asked ourselves “what was it all for if we break up?” and we tried our best to restore our relationship by working out our issues as a couple. now we are happier than before and our relationship is healthy. What i have seen occur many times in poly couples is that when things just aren’t working out between a certain member they just cut them out, let them go. after they told them such candy coated lies like “I will always love you” or “Our love in unconditional” apparently their Love is not worth much if they hit a road bump like jealousy and decide to shed them like a pair of old slippers, Pathetic.
2.) Children benefit from poly-relationships
How, by developing a neurosis? the poly family i lived with had 3 kids, one (who i got along with very well) had severe anger management and abandonment issues, i found out he ended up committing suicide later. the older son does not talk to the mother and wants nothing to do with her. I do not know much about the daughter except she mimics her mother’s behavior when it comes to relationships.
a little background on the mother, she was very abusive towards her betas myself included. would resort to shaming tactics, attention starving (not answering calls or would not engage at home.) and then when the beta finally had enough she pretended like she was wounded but she was more than happy to get rid of them. I was number three…to the best of my knowledge. So to Recap, one of them hates his mother, the other is turning into her mother and the third one is dead…yeah, fantastic environment for children.
3.) It’s “Natural”
So is walking around starkers and peeing where ever you feel like. but there are reasons we don’t that anymore.
I challenge every poly-amorous person to name one, ONE civilization that recognizes polyamory or polygamy/polyandry as a valid relationship with laws and customs which regulate it, has been practicing it for over 100 years, and is on the same level of development as any first world country. If it is so natural why haven’t any developed? Why do all developed nations adopt a monogamous way of life?
The comparison here is poly versus mono. The comparison I would like to see is poly versus divorce. I believe, sometimes the alternative to divorce is poly, in order to keep some facsimile of the unit together. Is poly worse for the children than splitting the family unit asunder?
I, of course will allow that when a couple are romantically engaged, that is best. But it seems that poly is a gentler option for children when the chemistry between the couple is absent.
Oh and don’t get me started on those damn single parents that selfishly think they could enter a committed poly relationship or a relationship of any kind! How dare they!??! Don’t they realise that a relationship could end?? Their child could be exposed to something so incredibly exclusive to poly’s… A BREAK-UP!! It is a life lesson that no child should ever learn about. How dare a parent to expose their child to the possibility that people may enter and leave one’s life??? They especially shouldn’t be educated about love and relationships by their most trusted and loving carers. They should blindly walk into life believing that nothing will end and heartbreak is just fiction. I will never let my child experience any emotions except happiness and I’ll be damned if I ever educate them on what loss and sadness are. They must accept our firm societal rules and definitely maintain societal norms whilst shunning the ‘different’.
I just wish people would think of the children. “WHY WON’T ANYONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN”
Very valid points here, thank you.
I am happily married to my one and only husband of 15 years and personally would never even consider polyamory lifestyle, mainly because I don’t need it, and he doesn’t need it. We are very content and satisfied in every aspect of our healthy relationship. However, I landed here after getting viciously attack by keyboard warriors on a parenting group on social media because I stated that the polyamory ideology is where I’d draw the line when it comes to “progressive” parenting. Oh, did I mention this was MY own group to meet other likeminded homeschooling parents and it was local, where we’d be meeting families and bringing our children along? So yeah, apparently those who feel very strongly for it aren’t the understanding, loving, mature, tolerant people they say to be. I honestly could care less what people do with their own lives, it does not affect mine, but if you want to force me to have a conversation with my tender aged kid at a time when I’m not ready and you want to forcefully normalize your poly family at our next homeschool BBQ then it’s not going to happen. Maybe one day when I see a poly family where 3, 4, 5 parents have been together for 25 years raising their well adjusted kids I’ll change my mind, but what I have witnessed is that like you mentioned, these relationships are never consistent and never long term, and the children are the ones who suffer the most. And no, it’s not equal to divorced nor single parents, most of these find themselves in their situations almost involuntarily and make their best efforts in offering their children the consistency they need in their lives, the polyamory lifestyle is 100% an unnecessary (and borderline selfish) choice.
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