At the first meeting of my daughter’s school’s PTA group on diversity, we go around the room and talk about what makes our families weird. No one says “weird.” We say diverse, unique, special, different. I mean “weird” though as in “so different you might not like me any more once you know about it.”
When it’s my turn, I stutter for a moment before coming out with it: My husband and I have an open marriage. Hardly a topic for a discussion on diverse families, you might think. What you do in your bedroom is your business, please keep it there.
You’d be right, and I won’t tell you about my sex life with my girlfriend. Leaving the metaphorical bedroom doors closed though, having more than one romantic partner makes our family different. I was late to this meeting because I picked my girlfriend’s daughter up from school. There are plenty of ways polyamory alters the shape of my whole family life, not just my sleeping arrangements.
My partners’ kids are among my kids’ best friends. Closer than friends really, more like cousins — kids who are in our family but don’t live in our house. And that’s how they see their parents’ other loves, too — people who love them, who are part of our family, but don’t live in our house.
We pick each other’s kids up from school, vacation together, make grocery runs and do laundry when someone is sick. We do all the things people do for those they love. We just do them in a broader, more complex network than most families.
One of the joys and challenges of living in a poly family is modeling this kind of love for the kids. As they grow older, they see that their moms and dads are different. In nearly ten years of parenting in this community, I’ve never seen a kid harmed by their parents’ poly relationships (unless the parents divorced, but that happens in the straight world, too).
We live in a pretty tight-knit community of other poly folks, so my kids see plenty of different family relationships: families with a triad of parents living together, families with single parents, families with gay and lesbian parents, households with adults who are not romantically involved but are raising kids together, and traditional nuclear families.
Some of the parents in their world are married, some are not. Some are happy, some are not. For them, all these permutations of love are the norm. It’s the world they were born into, and it’s what adults do: They have friends, spouses, girlfriends and boyfriends, sometimes more than one at a time.
My kids are young. I haven’t sat them down like I did my mom and said, “This woman is my girlfriend. I am in love with her.” I just live my life: They see me hold her hand. They’ve probably caught us stealing a kiss during a movie. They know this person is special in my life.
More importantly, they know they’re special, that the adults around them love them, care for them, and can be relied on to help them with anything they need. They’re growing up secure, attached and confident, with all the love they want all around them. That’s a good life for a kid, in any shape it takes.