Parents, according to kids in polyamorous families
As part of my 15-year study of polyamorous families with children, I interviewed 22 children between 5 and 17. They told me all sorts of interesting things about their families, and I report those findings in my first book, The Polyamorists Next Door(link is external) (2014 hardback and ebook, 2015 paperback and audiobook).
Kids from poly families told me that, for the most part, they don’t often think of their parents’ partners as parents. Poly partners who are Not-Parents are generally in two categories:
1) Mundane adult, someone who just blends in to the social environment populated by lots of various adults, from librarians and peers’ parents to soccer coaches and parents’ co-workers. Because all romantic or sexual behavior happens among the adults, behind closed doors, and after the kids have gone to sleep, the kids do not really notice these adults as any different from other adults.
Adults generally had to meet at least two of these three conditions to be considered a parent:
- Enter the child’s life when the kid is young;
- Stay involved in the child’s life for years;
- Cohabitate with the child
When the child met the parents’ partner as an elementary schooler or younger, the child lived with the partner for years, and the partner cares for the emotional and practical needs of the child, then that child would be almost certain to view that partner as a parental figure.
Kids in poly families used a range of language to describe and label their multiple parents. Some would use a specific parental label for each adult, like the little girl who called her four parents Mom, Mama, Daddy, and Papa. Others would use the adults’ first names, or a combination of parental labels and first names. This flexibility of what to call people led to many nicknames and pet names as well. Generally the kids knew who their biological parents were, though some of them did not place that much emphasis on biological parentage. Instead, some kids in poly families said that it was the degree of emotional connection and reliability to be there over time that was more important to their relationships than biological connection.
If you want to find out more about what children in polyamorous families think, you can read it in their own words in my second book, Stories From the Polycule (link is external)(2015).