AskMiriam

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Archive for the tag “children”

AskMiriam about Poly and Young Children

Question: Hello Miriam, I was wondering about my children. Myself and my boyfriend recently have taken on a girlfriend, so we have formed a triad. My question is how do I explain to my young children that this is not a normal lifestyle choice and that it is not expected out of them when they grow older? My mother has expressed concern to me about this because she thinks that me having not only a boyfriend or a girlfriend but having both could be damaging to my children’s mental health. I do not desire to harm my children in any way so I am asking for advice on this subject.

Answer: I asked Elisabeth Sheff, the author of The Polyamorists Next Door: Inside Multiple-Partner Relationships and Families, to weigh in on this because I’m less familiar with issues regarding children. She responded with the following:

The short answer is: Yes, polyamorous families can be healthy. Just like other families, the way having poly parents affects children depends in large part on how the adults conduct themselves in their relationships. There is nothing inherently pathological about polyamorous families, and they are not destined to damage the children who grow up in them. Polyamorous families can create healthy, stable, loving environments for children when the adults provide that kind of environment. Poly families are not perfect, and their kids experience some of the same problems common in other blended families. For those poly folks who can find the right balance in their relationships, however, multiple-adult families can be extremely advantageous for children and adults.

The medium answer includes: Multiple adults provide lots of attention, greater life experience, copious support, and abundant role models for children. Pooling their resources also allows adults to have more personal time, work more flexible hours, and get more sleep because there are multiple people around to take care of the children. Poly parents said that they felt more patient and had more energy for their children when they were well rested and had sufficient income – all of which benefitted their children.

The long answer is also that: It depends a lot on how the adults talk to the kids and how old the kids are. How poly parents talk to their kids about it makes a big difference to how the kids will think or feel about the parents’ poly relationships. For kids of all ages, the best strategy seems to be an age-appropriate and honest response to kids’ questions. Divorce is so common today that almost all children know peers with multiple parents already – dad and his new wife, mom and her new girlfriend – so the presence of additional adults is not nearly as socially outlandish as it would have been 50 years ago. It also makes it very easy for kids from poly families to blend in with kids from divorced families, so the poly family kids hardly ever have to explain their families to teachers, coaches, or casual acquaintances.

How old the children are also makes a big difference in what they think of the adults in their environments. Small kids eight or under generally do not have a sophisticated understanding of adult romantic relationships, and so might not need an explanation at all. Little kids take their family form for granted because it is all they know, and until they learn that other peoples’ families are different they will not think that their family is unusual. Parents’ partners are likely to blend in with all of the other caring adults in kids’ lives, and there is no need for parents to make a big deal out of what happens after the kids are in bed.

Tweens from nine to 12 have a more sophisticated understanding of adults’ relationships and might notice looks or touches between adults the way their younger siblings do not. When kids notice something happening and appear uncomfortable about it, they might be concerned that the parents are cheating and the kid knows a terrible secret that will hurt the other parent. In those cases, it is important for parents to let kids know that the parents are being honest with each other, it is not a secret from the other parent, and the kids can ask whatever questions they have. Kids in these settings often do not want detailed explanation of the romantic side, and using phrases like “hanging out” or “spending special time together” can be honest answers appropriate to smaller children.

As kids grow up, their understandings of adult interactions become more sophisticated and they have more points of reference to compare their families to their peers’ families. Generally they will become aware that their family is unconventional by the time they are late in elementary school, at which point they might begin wondering more about the adults in their lives. Creating a family atmosphere where children feel confident their questions will be met with thoughtful, honest answers allows kids to take the lead and ask questions not only about their family dynamics, but everything else too. Poly parents report that free ability to think and talk helps the children trust them and creates emotional intimacy for the whole family.

Finally, just because you are polyamorous does not mean your children will be polyamorous when they grow up. Kids in my study had a range of attitudes towards polyamory: some would under no circumstances consider doing it themselves, and others could see no other way to live a free and authentic life. Most of them, however, were not sure, and were still trying to figure out how to kiss or who they liked. They were going to leave any decision about polyamory to the future when they were older and it was more germane to their lives. Not one single child in my study said that they would be polyamorous because their parents were, and instead all of them thought about their own boundaries and considered their options.

I want to say thank you to Elisabeth for such a thoughtful answer and I will provide my own 2 cents. As each generation passes, many people are becoming more and more progressive. I think that people around my age and younger either accept polyamory or don’t really care how people choose to conduct their relationships. The person who wrote in said that their mother thought poly would harm the mental health of the children; that could very well be a generational belief. I always thought that my parents would understand poly more because of the free love ethos of the late 60s and early 70s. On the contrary, that ethos often got a bad name and polyamory is much different. I would advise the person who wrote in to say to their kids, depending on their ages, in simple language that the all of the adults care for each other and that they will always be there for the kids. I think that’s mainly what the kids want to know. I myself have been involved with people who had children. In one case, I was introduced as a friend. I didn’t mind that too much because the kids were so young and as Elisabeth said, they probably wouldn’t have understood. This situation is different because the adults are living in a triad. Personally, I think that no matter how old the kids are, they will know at least a bit about what’s going on, but they may not understand it. I think it’s better to explain things to the kids sooner rather than later.

On a personal note, many of my readers know that my dad is gay. He came out when I was 6. I’m pretty sure I told some people at school about it and I was made fun of. There may be some concern in this case about telling kids at school that their parents have an unusual relationship. I would have an honest discussion with the children and see if they are concerned about this issue. There may be a local PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) chapter that could help, if you are seeking it, as they may be able to provide some support. As Elisabeth said, many children have parents who are divorced and they may live in blended families; knowing that a classmate has 3 parents isn’t really a stretch. I would also agree that polyamory is not harmful to children’s mental health. Imagine living in a house where at least 1 parent is always available and everyone is committed to each other – that sounds pretty ideal to me.

For more of Elisabeth Sheff’s writings, check out http://elisabethsheff.com/

A Woman’s Right to Choose

This week, I want to talk about a subject that’s very dear to my heart: a woman’s right to choose whether she wants children or not. Last week, I had a bit of a scare because I should have been on my period and I wasn’t. Now, this sort of thing is not without precedent: I spent 4 years in England and Japan from 2006-2010 and during that time, I missed a number of periods. In England, I went to the doctor to inform them of that fact and the female doctor told me not to worry; it’s typical when you’re adjusting to a new environment. In Japan, I didn’t have periods for the first 6 months of my time there. Yes, I was adjusting to a new environment and I was also eating a lot of soy, which apparently delays the menstrual cycle. I thought about those times last week, but I also thought to myself, I’ve already adjusted to China, for the most part; why is it that I would miss a period now and not in the beginning of our stay here? Alex very kindly went with me to get a pregnancy test at a local drugstore. We returned to my apartment to find Ben here (I was expecting him to be out), and it was really nice to have both guys here while I did the test. Thankfully, it returned negative and we all celebrated with chocolate, hugs, and kisses.

The day after, I went downtown to visit Mily, which was very pleasant. She made a delicious egg cheese vegetable casserole and we had good conversations. At one point, I did make her cry though, as she talked about her past relationships and I told her that I think she’s scared to get hurt again. At that point, we were sitting outside, me eating ice cream and her drinking coffee. I told her that I’m still attracted to her and she playfully said, why don’t you move closer? She kissed me on the cheek and I returned the favour. I felt a bit self-conscious, but there was a part of me that wanted to kiss her on the lips again. After that, I got on the bus to go back home and there happened to be a family from Ecuador there. One of them actually asked me if I was pregnant and offered me her seat, saying I looked so tired. I said, well, that’s a funny story… Unfortunately, that night I dreamed that I needed an abortion and I was still in China. One doctor, who was white, accompanied me to a drugstore and showed me various implements I could use to perform the abortion myself. I panicked and asked him if he could help me; he said yes. Obviously, my mind is telling me I don’t want an abortion in China.

Nearly 3 years has passed since I myself had an abortion. At that time, I was with my ex-boyfriend and we were about to break up. I had debated for a long time whether I wanted children or not and I came to the conclusion that I didn’t, for various reasons. As an environmentalist, I think there are too many people in the world and we should be reducing the population, not increasing it. People tell me that my kids will be smart and environmentalists too, but there’s no guarantee of that. Plus, if we live in the first world, our environmental impact will necessarily be much higher. Secondly, as many of you know, I like travelling and I really enjoy my freedom. I don’t want the responsibility of caring for someone if I truly want to get up and go somewhere, especially for an extended period. Finally, I don’t really want to change my body. For the brief period I knew I was pregnant, I felt horrible. I know that the second trimester gets easier, but I don’t even want to wait the 3 months for that to happen.

At that time, I was very impressed with my ex because he did want kids and he encouraged me to get the abortion. Everyone supported me, though my mother apologized and said, I’m happy that you’re pregnant. She and my father did accompany me to the hospital and I was rid of the fetus. People ask me if it was a difficult decision; in fact, it was one of the easiest I have ever made. I had gone to the doctor several weeks before for another reason and I told them how I felt (reduced appetite and exhaustion). They told me to get a pregnancy test, which I did in the lab in that building. The next day, they told me I was indeed pregnant so I felt vindicated that something was indeed wrong. I was about to go to Europe for 1 month and I told them I needed to get an abortion quickly, which did happen. Just after I returned, my ex and I broke up, so I’m even more glad that I made that particular decision because the child would not have been well cared for. I am happy now that my ex is about to marry someone who does want children. In the future, Ben may have children with someone and my hope is that we would all live together and raise the children. I’m happy to be a part time mother because I think the relationship between parent and child is incredibly special; I still depend on my mother to this day and I’m very grateful to her. Finally, I’m glad that I had the right to choose not to have that child. Every woman should have the same right, whether they want children or not. We are continually fighting for women to have the same rights and opportunities as men and our right to choose what to do with our bodies is inherently part of that.

Thank you as always for reading. If you have any sort of relationship question, email me at miriam@askmiriam.ca

Question: Future Considerations

I bumped into an acquaintance last night and he asked me the following question: Where do I see my relationships in 15 years?

Answer: As the old cliche goes, it’s very difficult to predict the future. Sometimes I have an intuition that something will happen in the not too distant future, but I think it’s even harder to know what my life will be like in 15 years. I will be nearly 46. Here’s what I would like to have at that time: I hope and think I will still be with Ben. With regards to career, I would like by then to have a private practice where I help people with their relationships and for people new to polyamory, I want to help smooth that transition. I would like to have a female partner and assuming everyone gets along, I would like to be living with her and Ben; perhaps she is also with Ben, though we both want different things from other partners, so I don’t think that will happen.

As many of you know from previous posts (see Once More… With Feeling), I don’t really want children and Ben does. I think I would like to be an aunt and help raise the child or children; that definitely appeals to me. Of course, we have to figure out where the children would live and who Ben would be having those children with, but these don’t seem like far off possibilities. I have expressed recently that I would like to live in another country again (I’ve lived in England, Japan, and briefly in Germany) and that appeals to Ben; perhaps we’ll be living elsewhere, or in Canada. We would like to have 2 places in Canada, one in the city (most likely Toronto) and one in the country.

Last year, I went through a period where I had 3 partners and for me, that was too much. In the future, I think I would have even less time, so 2 partners makes sense to me. I have found that it’s very difficult for me to have casual relationships because I develop feelings for people pretty quickly. As we get older, our priorities change; maybe I will have casual relationships, but I don’t see it happening. I know that I will always feel a need to have adventures, whatever those may look like. I hope I will still feel that way at 46.

If you have any questions, send me an email to miriam@askmiriam.ca  Thanks as always for reading!

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