Lesbian and Gay Parenting Questions & Answers Column With Arlene Istar LevDear Ari

A column by Arlene (Ari) Istar Lev

Polyamory

Posted By on August 24, 2010

Dear Ari:

I am a married bisexual female who is seeking another bisexual female to join my relationship with my husband. We are the parents of a five-year old daughter. Our marriage is strong and committed, and we have a loving home. Although we date women openly and are publicly affectionate, we never show any sexual behavior in front of our child. We are also NOT involved with meaningless sex, but are looking for a long-term, committed relationship with a woman. At times, we have had women spend the night with us, and our daughter is aware of our women “friends” and that they sometimes sleep in our bed. My husband has become very worried that our lifestyle may harm our daughter in some way. I feel that it can only teach her tolerance and love, but his anxiety about the situation drives me to write you. He also has asked me to wait until Rachel is grown before we would allow a live-in situation with one of our women friends. Do you think my bisexual/polyamorous lifestyle is dangerous to my child’s mental and emotional well-being? If so, what actions can I take to protect her from harm?
—Daneene

Dear Daneene:

So, I have finally received a letter from the mythological promiscuous sex-fiend bisexual devil-worshippers that the fundamentalist conservative religious right have warned us are rearing American children in sinful, lewd, and lasciviousness ways, destroying their minds, abusing their bodies, and creating a dangerous new generation that will destroy the traditional family. Congratulations! I am proud to know you, and wonder where the rest of you are hiding.

On a more serious note, it is interesting that the media image of queer families is that we are “all” somewhat “promiscuous” and “bisexual” or some other code-word for “sex pervert” when in reality, many gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered parents are incredibly monogamous, mono-sexual, traditional and even conservative people, raising children in ways that are indistinguishable from many “normal” heterosexual families. It is also interesting, that for those of are that are LGBT (or heterosexual) and polyamorous, we have internalized the messages of conservative America that our lifestyles are “dangerous” to our children’s mental and emotional well-being.

I want to be blatantly clear, at the risk of upsetting my more conservative readers, that a polyamorous lifestyle, can be a healthy, loving, nurturing environment in which to raise children, regardless of one’s sexual orientation, marital status, or methods of conception. I will also confess that my joy upon reading your letter has made my handsome and monogamous life-partner very nervous.

Polyamory, for those that don’t know, is an open sexual lifestyle in which people do not limit themselves to one romantic/sexual love commitment; it is not a synonym for infidelity, adultery, or having a clandestine affair. Nor does it insinuate promiscuous or anonymous sex (although it doesn’t preclude it either). Being polyamorous does not mean that the person is open to “any” lover, anymore than being gay means that a person will have sex with any member of their own sex.

Polyamory can have many emotional benefits. When the relationships are all functioning optimally, there are increased intimacy and resources. All adult relationships, however, have emotional challenges regarding intimacy and communication; one of the particular challenges in a polyamorous lifestyle is that the all the members need to manage multiple levels of interpersonal issues. Depending on the skills and experience of the members, this can be a complicated proposition. I have known many people, who have chosen monogamous relationships, not because they prefer that family form, but because they say it is simply ”easier.”  When it comes to parenting, there are, of course, never enough hands. The more adults there are to cook food, dry tears, wash dishes, and read stories, the less stressed the parents are, and the more support the children have available to them.

Regarding your specific situation, Daneene, in terms of seeking another “live-in” partner, I am sure you are aware of how difficult it is to find one person who you adore, treats you well, and with whom you share passion, in addition to feeling good about parenting with them. Finding two people (as cute as she is) whom you share all this with, seems like a worthwhile, but difficult to achieve, goal. I suppose the question I would ask you to contemplate is: are you looking for another partner for yourself, for both of you, and/or another parent for your daughter? I think it is crucial to your family adaptation that you understand the nature of this new relationship that you seeking.

It is possible for you to have another lover, who is not a “partner”; it is possible for you and spouse to take on a new partnership together, without necessarily having that person be your child’s parent. Of course, it is also possible to reconfigure your family so that the four of you become a family, which includes a parental/child relationship for your new lover and your child—although, of course, that will not be legally recognized in any state (or country, as far as I know). My advice is to always move slowly when expanding a family, including any kind of step-parenting relationship. I would double-check with your husband that his concerns about having another adult join your family is solely about your daughter’s well-being and not his own fears that he will have less of your attention.

When building unconventional families, we must remember that our children will have to negotiate these relationships with peers, school systems, and extended family members. You will also need to remain open to continuous dialogue with your daughter as she ages; she will, of course, have many different feelings about her “unusual” family at different stages of her life. She must be given clear guidelines and language to understand the nature of your family so she can communicate it with others. We must also always be cognizant that the authorities may not always respect our non-traditional families, and we must always be cautious (and depending on where we live, very cautious) of protecting ourselves from the scrutiny of outside authorities. Sadly, if your daughter tells her friends in school about innocent cuddling with three adults in bed, it can be serious misconstrued; having the courts battle out “the best interests of the children” will definitely be harmful to your daughter. In other words, play safe.

Polyamorous families are as healthy or dysfunctional as any family. The integrity of the family depends on how the adults create, build, and define the structure of their family, and how well they foster communication and intimacy while protecting and nourishing all the members of the family.