A month or two ago, I was contacted by some folks who are actually going through a common poly nightmare, at least for parents: A contentious custody battle in which one parent is accused of being a bad parent “because they are polyamorous.” It’s a nightmare in part because there have been some notoriouscases in which a family has lost custody of their kids due at least in part to their being polyamorous. This sort of thing varies a LOT by location, and at least as much by the particular judge/s hearing the case. Even when polyamory is brought up as an issue, it does not always (or even often) lead to a loss of custody. But when it’s you and your family undergoing the scrutiny, the situation can be frankly terrifying.
I know this from personal experience, because about a decade ago my own daughter was taken by Child Protective Services (aka CPS) — for a situation that was ultimately unrelated to polyamory, but we didn’t know that at the time. She was eventually returned to us after a harrowing week, once they’d determined that their abuse fears were groundless. It was, however, an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, and it has had lasting impacts on our daughter and our family. 🙁
Thus, I was very motivated to provide as much help as possible. I started by sending a couple of links, and then went on to write a detailed letter of some possible issues that might come up, and some possible responses to each one. I asked for and received permission to post the letter (devoid of identifying information of course.)
It is with great sincerity that I hope that no one reading these words ever has need of the advice and links I’ve included below. And it is for those few of you who might ever need these links that I share this information now. If you are going through something like this, please remember:
Those of you with cable will probably know that Showtime’s second season of Polyamory: Married and Dating started in August. Based on early reports of “more diversity,” and the producer talking to “families from the heartland,” I had had higher hopes for this season than last. I haven’t seen the show myself yet (viewing parties are being scheduled!), but I have heard from some of my friends, and frankly, they weren’t impressed. “You’d think all we poly folk ever do is have sex, or talk about having sex,” was more or less the comment from one of my friends who’s actually seen all of this season’s shows so far. Since that was pretty much my complaint last year, I have to say I’m not shocked by my friend’s assessment. The show isn’t a particularly representative sample of differing poly relationship styles, unfortunately. Of course, this is a “reality” TV show, not a documentary, so we do have to take that into account. Sex sells, and sales drive ratings, after all.
As usual, Alan M. of Poly In The News is covering the show in detail, including some clips and a lot of analysis. Alan’s opinion seems fairly favorable (again), though that’s not without reason. The San Diego group, and Kamala in particular (in my opinion), have pretty good communication skills, and really are interested in showing the world that polyamory can work — and how their version of it works, in particular. Kamala often says things that I agree with wholeheartedly, such as this quote that Alan M. reports:
“You need a tribe. You need a community. It’s so much better than trying to do this alone.”
— Kamala Devi, as quoted in Poly in the News
It’s not that polyamory is never about sex of course — I myself have said that polyamory is just as much about sex (or not) as any monogamous relationship. Sex is part of the vast majority of adult human romantic relationships. It just so happens that their version of polyamory involves a lot more sex than the versions of most of the people *I* know! This clip from episode 3 encapsulates some of my sense of Michael’s heavy focus on sex:
He seems to have a hard time separating sex and closeness. His new partner Rachel seems to have a hard time understanding his difficulty:
Rachel, bemused: “I’m trying to understand the way this conversation is going.” Getting into bed with her lover’s wife is not how she usually thinks of “going deeper” with a lover, she explains.
— as quoted by Alan M. in Poly in the News
So what’s the harm in portraying polyamory as primarily about the sex? Hard to say. After all, it’s actually true for some percentage of poly people. On the other hand, as my friend expressed to me, if this were your only exposure to polyamory, you might get the wrong idea, or at least a very skewed one, and think that polyamory is always primarily about sex. [Hint: It’s not.] I myself have a suspicion that my having suggested that an old friend watch the show (before I saw it, last year) might indeed have contributed to said friend’s sudden cessation of contact shortly thereafter. Certainly he seemed to think I wanted something much different than I actually did.
In my opinion, the real concern, though, is that all this focus on sex contributes to the cultural ideas that lead to “Michael Carey” on Slate writing this excellent article “Why I’m Still in the Polyamory Closet.” As “Michael” writes:
I have never, ever been out as poly in a workplace. Start trying to explain consensual non-monogamy, and some people—a lot of people—are going to think you’re obsessed with sex. (Never mind that I’ve been with my wife, Rose, for 10 years, have been married for three, and in all that time the two of us have dated fewer people than plenty of serially monogamous singles I know.) Some co-workers may avoid polyamorous colleagues because they’re paranoid that they may be on the prowl. Others will become distrustful because they think that poly is an attempt to re-label behavior that they consider cheating, and cheaters aren’t trustworthy.
Exactly. The assumption is that polyamory is all about sex, whether or not that’s actually the case. It’s stereotyping. So again, what’s problematic with portraying polyamory as being “about sex”? Here’s what:
“…you don’t know if your neighbors are poly (or whatever other term they may use), because they’re still afraid that if they don’t hide that aspect of their lives from you, something bad might happen. Those potential consequences range from having all future interactions feel awkward to having authorities take away their children.” — Michael Carey, in Slate
(Note that that link he gives above is to the relatively old April Divilbiss case, but many more recent instances of polyamorous people losing their children in custody battles have occurred, enough to cause there to be several polyamory legal defense funds and organizations created. It is definitely still an active concern for many polyamorous families.)
So this, then, is why I remain somewhat skeptical of the show and its impact on real polyamorous people. Polyamory is big enough to command a TV show all of its own now, and that’s definitely progress. But the heavy sex emphasis contributes to some negative stereotypes with some very serious potential consequences indeed. It’s progress with a price, at the very least.
I’ll watch the show, and I won’t tell others not to watch it… but I WILL recommend that you keep firmly in mind the fact that “reality TV” is a whole lot more about “TV,” than about “reality.”
PS: The teleseminar I did with Kathy Labriola on Wednesday was a rousing success! So much so that we’ve scheduled a second one for Thursday afternoon September 19th at 2:15pm Pacific time. We’ll cover several more tools for dealing with jealousy in yourself, and in your partner/s!
here’s been some discussion on various poly lists recently about polyamorous children’s books, and therefore some discussion of poly parenting. I thought I’d put up a quick post about a few resources, for those who are interested.
Sid the cat gets his needs met with six different families. Is Sid a poly cat?? 🙂
And a bonus comment I posted in one of the threads on poly children’s books, about the idea of introducing a new partner to the kids… or to other new partners, for that matter:
I completely agree with the idea of gradually introducing a new partner to kids. In fact, that’s what I’d recommend to adults, too! Attempting to suddenly add new partners to the mix to create the poly “Brady Bunch” [with or without kids!] has brought more heartache in my personal life, and more drama to those I’ve coached, than just about any other single practice. I find that gradually nurturing relationships, and moving *organically* into closer connection works much better. This goes double with kids. “This is your new Mommy” is unlikely to work well. However, “hey, ‘Auntie’ Susie [who has been in the kid’s life for a year or more] is going to come live with us. That means she’ll get to be around for you when Mommy’s off at her new job. Isn’t that cool?” is likely to work much better.
There have been a few stellar examples of partnership in my poly-parenting life. One was a woman (probably not coincidentally on the path to becoming a therapist at the time!) who actually only stayed a sexual partner of my husband for about 6 months. However, she realized going in that she was forming a bond with our kid (then only about 2 or 3, IIRC), and therefore she stayed deliberately connected to her over time, showing up for birthday parties and household events regularly for years afterward. It was incredibly insightful, and a real gift in my daughter’s life, to get to see that these friendships and relationships did not HAVE to end even if the relationships between the adults changed in some way (that wasn’t really all that understandable or relevant to our daughter anyway, beyond the fact that she’d get less time with her friend.) This sort of interaction is only possible, of course, in a cooperative “split,” and is incredibly uncommon (IME) in the all-or-nothing “divorce” world.
May you always love boldly, safely, and well… and may your children grow up happy and well-adjusted, too!
(parent of a 28-year old step-daughter, and almost-16-year old daughter)
PS: Want to talk about poly and parenting issues, or pick my brain for more resources? Contact me to set up an initial 60-minute consultation for 50% off my usual hourly rate. 🙂
“State Sen. Mark Leno is pushing legislation to allow a child to have multiple parents.
“The bill brings California into the 21st century, recognizing that there are more than Ozzie and Harriet families today,” the San Francisco Democrat said. …
The key factor is a child’s best interest: SB 1476 does not force judges to do anything, it only provides them with discretion to recognize multiple parents if doing so not only is beneficial, but is required for a child’s well-being, Leno said.”
s tomorrow approaches — and therefore, the airing of the National Geographic Taboo segment on polyamory (which profiles some of my “tribe,” and in which I appear in a cameo role) — I find myself in need of humor to break the nervous anticipation. So given that it’s easier to laugh and not take things too personally when one is laughing at oneself (or at least that’s true when I am laughing at MYself… LOL), I give you the following video:
I know I’ve personally said or heard pretty much every one of these things (allowing for appropriate changes of gender and orientation), and yes, I really did Laugh Out Loud.
On a more serious note, given that slut-shaming will certainly be a part of the fallout from this video, here’s another amazing YouTube clip, this one by an exceedingly wise 13-year-old girl.
Hopefully tomorrow’s segment will be at least as enlightening as both of these videos–and no more embarrassing!
‘ve been busy with holiday matters, and I imagine you all have been as well. I’ll be back to blogging more seriously (including new posts in the Agreements Workbook series) in the new year. In the meantime, for your information, here are some references on raising children in polyamorous/non-monogamous families. These would be helpful to any who are looking for actual data to back up assertions that kids raised in poly households aren’t any worse off than kids raised in monogamous (or in some cases supposedly monogamous!) households. Mostly there’s not a lot of stuff out there… yet. Fortunately, people ARE investigating these questions, and more and more people are becoming interested as time goes on. Thanks to my fellow denizens of the Poly Researchers list who compiled the references, and formatted them consistently. I’ll be putting this in my resources tab for future reference.
Happy Holidays, Happy New Year, and may your days and nights be full of much love, with as many loves as you wish!
In other news, I also contributed to a thread in another online article brought to my attention by Alan. He titled it as “Polyignorance in Ireland,” and I heartily agreed. Here’s what I posted in the comments to the article:
This entry in the Agreements Workbook series is from Appendix B, a collection of example Agreements. This one is an example of a Relationship Agreement (as opposed to a Safer Sex Agreement, which I’ll cover next).
Please feel free to make comments or ask questions, either here, or on my FB Page, Love Outside The Box.
∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥ ∞ ♥
True confessions: I was hopeful that I’d be posting Tip #2 next. I have officially given up that notion for the moment in favor of posting some of the other stuff I wrote while out on the boat with my friend. Just because I have writer’s block around the next section doesn’t mean I can’t put up some useful stuff! It’ll just be out of order. [Death to perfectionism! “Get a C!” as Samantha Bennett says!] Since when has order been required for information to be helpful, after all? (Certainly my life is often “out of order”–in many ways!!) You want it in order? You’ll have to buy the book once I manage to get through this!
So this section will be another of the Appendices. This one is tentatively part of Appendix B, a collection of various example Agreements. As I discussed in last month’s East Bay Poly Discussion Group (on the topic of making tricky/safer sex Agreements), I usually recommend that agreements around safer sex/epidemiology/virology be separated out from Agreements around emotional safety, and other Relationship Agreements. Trying to achieve safer sex through emotional safety agreements (e.g., “No falling in love!” as a safer sex agreement…) is often ineffective, leads to drama, and is sometimes downright dangerous.
Caveats, Whys, and Wherefores
This is (somewhat obviously) NOT a Safer Sex Agreement. I’ll give you the matching Safer Sex portion of this Agreement in the next post. And then I’ll give you some other examples, written by other people.
This is an example Relationship Agreement. It is not the One True Right and Only Way to do an Agreement. It’s just ONE way. It’s not necessarily the best way. You’ll need to work out for yourself what the best way is for you.
It’s very couple-centric (aka “hierarchical” or “Primary-Secondary type”). If that’s not your relationship style, it may be less helpful to you as a “recipe” to follow. However, you can still use it as a jumping off point, or a way to generate ideas about what YOU might find important to discuss, or to put in a written Relationship Agreement. Try it on. Keep what works for you. Don’t worry about the rest.