Parenting and polyamory

I’m a 34 year old female in a 14 year relationship with a man. We have one preschool age child. Before we got married, six + years ago, I was very clear that I was not interested in constant monogamy. My partner was equally not wanting an intimate relationship with anyone but me but also was not against this part of me. Before we had our kiddo I dated a bit, but once I was pregnant and absorbed by child rearing for the last four+ years, I didn’t think about it for awhile. Now I am coming back to myself. I’m still a mom of course, work full time, but have the brain power to consider dating other people. My husband is still supportive, still not interested himself, what are some things I should consider when navigating this world with a kid at home? I’m currently flirting with an old friend who lives across the country and we’ll meet somewhere in the middle maybe, but what about more local people?

Many parents feel a significant amount of worry about how to navigate parenthood and polyamory. While I wouldn’t describe my biological parents’ relationship as ‘polyamorous’, I did live in a house where I believed my parents were together and knew my mother dated other people.

I’ve always said quite frequently on the column and the podcast that this was never an issue and I think, although I’m not a parent, I can say that the most important thing in a child’s life is having people there for them who follow through rather than having any particular family structure that looks in any particular way. And in that regard, there are a few basic things to consider.

First and foremost are the physical aspects of non-monogamy. Agreeing to non-monogamy, whether you are interested in dating other people or not, inevitably means that you agree that your partner will not spend as much time with you as they would if you were monogamous. As I’m sure you know, children take a lot of time and require a lot of time. Figuring out with your partner how you’re going to balance childcare and time is going to be one of the things that can facilitate establishing some solid boundaries with your partner or it can cause a lot of arguments.

It’s worth your partner considering how this would fare if you had a time intensive career. If you were a doctor or a lawyer or an actor and had to disappear for long periods of time, how would you balance childcare? It’s important to not forget that, even if your partner is not dating other people, they can’t just be stuck with the duty of childcare all of the time and it needs to be fair and balanced so that they can also go out and do things they want to do as well.

It might be worth considering how you’ll handle date nights, overnight stays and of course physical protection from STIs, testing and how to disclose or manage risk. You might consider slowly escalating the amount of time you spend out just as how you now have the mental space to date more people and didn’t before. Definitely talk it through with your partner and think about how you want to arrange things and how that agreement might change over time. Once you figure that out, it’s good for you to be honest with future partners about what they should expect.

The second thing to consider is what role your partners will or won’t play in your child’s life and how your partner feels about that. Because this is also really important to communicate to future partners so they don’t go into this with you expecting something that they’ll never get. You may have heard of “the relationship escalator” which refers to the cultural script we have around monogamous relationships where there are milestones that indicate the ‘seriousness’ of a relationship that help ground us and create security that doesn’t have to be built.

You meet someone, you get into a monogamous relationship, you move in, you marry, you have kids, etc. and all of those steps represent the level of commitment of a relationship and sometimes within polyamory because you don’t have these same milestones, you have to figure out what represents commitment for you and what represents seriousness for you. One of these milestones may be being introduced to your child and it’s worth thinking about what that means and what role they will take on.

I emphasise this because I was personally impacted by adults who came into my life and communicated that they were to be like parents to me and then left me and never communicated with me again and that cause a lot of devastation and negative impact in my life. That made it hard for me to trust people in the future. So I always feel like it’s important to be mindful of who and how you introduce people to your child.

Having more adults to trust and rely on are always positive things for children, but having those people leave can have a really horrible impact, in my experience. Anyone who is not willing to consider being part of your child’s life even after your relationship with them ends but wants to be introduced as or function in the role of a parent… that’s going to be an issue.

Whether you date people locally or far away depends on the compromise of time you make with your current partner and child care needs. It’s worth also planning for and talking about future anxieties. Your partner may have not had any severe anxiety before because you didn’t, as it sounds like, have any ‘serious’ relationships.

And now, with a child, he has a lot more to lose in this scenario. Thinking about how to manage that in the future and preparing for it would be helpful. It might be useful for your partner to have something to do, other than childcare, while you’re on your first date nights or overnight stays.

Those are some basic things that you can consider on the outset of getting back out there and navigating parenthood and polyamory. It’s worth considering a polyamory friendly therapist that also works with couples who might be able to help both you and your partner navigate some of this, if that’s an option available for you.

Otherwise, I think thinking about the physicality of what this means, the role your partners play in your child’s life, and the way you’re going to manage anxiety in this relationship is a great start.

I hope this helps and good luck!

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