A Personal Digression: Custody Case

I’ve fixed a few typos here and changed one instance of “polies” to “polyam folk.” Otherwise this is exactly as I posted it in the fall of 2011, including signed with a name I no longer use. My ex’s lawyer did in fact print this post out and ask me, while on the witness stand, to read my letter to the judge. Sadly, the judge was exactly as bigoted as I was afraid, and, well, the case ended badly. Though some long term good did come of it. Re-posted (but NOT revised) March 1, 2017.

I have nothing to say about pregnancy today. I’m having a bit of trouble focusing on much of anything at the moment.

You see, the fact that I write this blog is being used against me in a custody case. Posts from this blog have been printed out and brought into hearings to prove that I engage in polyamory and am therefore an unfit parent.

In a few weeks, I will be going into court for the custody trial. A court that will not care about all the research proving that polyamory is a healthy and ethical lifestyle, the published studies by Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, Dr. Geri Weitzman, and so many others. A court that will have no interest in the paper by law professor Ann Tweedy the Michigan University College of Law examining polyamory and its possible status as a sexual orientation and/or embedded personality trait (ie not a choice but a part of a person). A court that will be prejudging me – the root word of prejudice – based on nothing other then an assumption that anything other then monogamy is wrong, even though there is no evidence, no basis, no reason, other then knee-jerk ‘that’s not the way things are supposed to be’ emotional reaction behind the judging.

My saving grace is that for over a year I have only been in a relationship with my fiance, Michael. That I have previously written, on this blog, that that is the only relationship I am in.

Part of me is disgusted at my cowardice. That I am willing to hide behind that fact and not stand up in court and openly denounce their prejudice and hypocrisy. That I am not willing to fight for a lifestyle that is in no way unsafe or dangerous for my children.

But I can’t risk my children. And if the court demands that I live monogamously from now on I will do so.

Because I am judged guilty without benefit of trial.

I’ve seen the arguments in the community about whether polyam folk should push for legal rights, become politically active. So many say that ‘we shouldn’t rock the boat’, that ‘as long as keep our heads down we will be fine’, that ‘there is no point in exposing ourselves’.

Well, the courts will not educate themselves. The laws will not change themselves. And until other people stand up and say this is wrong, the attacks that are being made on me will keep happening to other people.

And what the hell, since I know people are printing out my blog to show the judge:

Your Honor,

If you should happen to read this, I will say here that to allow polyamory to be used against me in court, without knowledge of the nature of the lifestyle, or research which has been done on it is wrong. That there is no basis or reason to believe that polyamory is dangerous to my children, and that regardless of anything else, if I did choose to have other relationships when my children are with their father it would not affect them at all and should be nobody’s business but my own and my fiance’s.

Maybe this post will be used against me as well. Will you judge on my beliefs, your Honor? Does my willingness to say openly that there is nothing wrong with alternative lifestyles automatically make me an unfit parent, whether I engage in those lifestyles or not?

I will continue writing this blog, your Honor. I will continue to support everyone’s right to pursuit of happiness and freedom of expression – those grand words that are so often trampled in the cry of ‘shame! immoral! shame!’ with no basis other than the righteous indignation of those who think there is only one right way.

I just wish I was brave enough to stand up in court and say all this there.

Sincerely,
Jessica Burde

Random Babble Post – For the Children

I fixed some typos, otherwise I’m letting this stand, bad grammar and all. Since I first wrote this I have seen many polyam families navigate healthy endings to relationships between polyam partners and children. But I think the central point here stands. Don’t forcibly sever your or  your partner’s parental relationship with children in the polycule just because relationships between adults have ended. Revised Dec 25, 2016

So, I’m too exhausted to think clearly, don’t have a post written, and refuse to be late again. What’s a person to do then? Babble.

In theory, I should be writing another post on pregnancy. If I tried in this exhausted state, what would come out is my own emotions and reactions to my experiences of pregnancy in polyamorous relationships, not all of which were good. I guess if I were to sum up the badness it would be: it was difficult and hurtful for a woman who was supposed to be part of a quad with me, to want me to have nothing to do with her pregnancy, and then want to be heavily involved in my own pregnancy later that same year. Of course, that whole relationship was a disaster. None of us handled the situation well, and a lot of people were very hurt before it ended.

Probably the one who was hurt the most was my husband, who left the relationship, left behind me, his brother, and the two children of his heart who he now never sees, living half way across the country. Thankfully, and due to a series of very messed up circumstances, involving extended family, Division of Youth and Family Services, and a messed up legal system, the children had been living with my parents and had barely seen him for a year, as well as being young enough that now, three years later, they barely remember him, so they weren’t nearly as hurt as they could have been by his leaving. Though, sometimes, a few times a year maybe, my daughter asks for him.

And I suppose if this post has a point, that should be it. There are no legal ties to the children of our poly partners. And if things end, it can be so easy to walk away, so much less hurtful to leave them behind rather then see them constantly and be reminded of what we lost.

But if we chose to bring children into a polyam relationship, whether we are the biological parents or not, we have a responsibility to them. I hear it said so often in polyam forums that a relationship that ends is not a failure if it simply ran its course and everyone moved on . . . but, when you bring children in, whether they are born into the relationship, or brought in from previous relationships, we owe it to them not to let the end of a relationship with our partners, take us away from the children who also have a relationship with us.

There is a little girl who called me her parent, and whose face lights up whenever she sees me, who is not allowed to spend time with me. There are two children sleeping upstairs who have a father they will probably never see again. This is wrong, and I cannot change it. But I can hope and pray that those of you who read this, will do everything in your power to make sure these things never happen to the children in your life.

Because our children deserve better than this.

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Etiquette for Polyamory Partners and Children

I talked about interactions between poly partners and children a couple of times in the Raising Children in a Poly Family blog series. But this apparently an issue a lot of people stress about, so I’m going to pull it all together in one place.

This article assumes that you want your children to meet your poly partners. If you don’t, that’s okay. Do what works for your family and relationships. (Should I be out to my children?)

The First Rule is KISS

Keep It Simple, Stupid. This rule will get you through large parts of life and especially large chunks of parenting. Kid’s are smart. But they are also…let’s go with focused. They don’t care about the details of your job (unless they are planning on going into the same field). They don’t care about what you and your friend do when you go Tuesday nights. And they don’t really care about the details of your relationship with your poly partners. Answer the questions they ask–the exact questions they ask–as simply as possible. Then stop. If they want to know more, they’ll ask.

Introducing Your Poly Partners to Your Children

Short version: Follow the same general guidelines as introducing anyone. Don’t make a big deal out of it. Your poly partner is another adult friend of their parents, of no immediate interest to your kids unless you make it a big deal.

The long version is here.

What Should my Children Call my Poly Partner?

Short version: Let the kid decide. If you are in the closet and worried about the kid outting you by calling a poly partner “Aunt” or “Mom 2,” then this is a good time to teach them about formal and informal interactions. This is a useful tool in other areas of life, such as dealing with their boss at work or teachers at school. Some situations are informal and we can call each other nicknames, some situations are formal and we use formal names or Mr. and Ms.

The long version is here.

How Should I Interact with my Poly Partner’s Children?

Keep it relaxed and casual. If you want to keep a bit of distance in your relationship, treat them like a co-workers children. Polite, but don’t interact beyond basic courtesy:

Poly partner: Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend [you.]
Jason: Hi, [you].
You: Hi Jason, nice to meet you. [Poly partner], are you ready to go?

If you want to interact with the kid directly, and maybe develop a relationship with them, act like a family friend:

Poly partner: Jason, I’d like you to meet my friend [you.]
Jason: Hi, [you].
You: Hi Jason, nice to meet you. Cool shirt.

(next time you bump into each other)

You: Hi Jason, how you doing?
Jason: I’m okay. School sucks, though.
You: Yeah, I always hated math class. (pause, let Jason respond more if he wants, if not) I’m supposed to be picking up your mom. Do you know if she’s ready?

When you see the kid, engage a bit, ask how they are doing, what’s going on. If they mention one day they are practicing guitar, the next time you see them ask if they learned to play any new songs. This shows that you paid attention and are interested in what they are doing.

Do NOT force a conversation when the kid isn’t interested. Don’t let things get awkward. If the kid doesn’t respond to something you say or seems like they want to be doing something else, give them a graceful escape and return your focus to your partner.

When Your Relationship With Your Poly Partner Changes

A lot of emotional upset gets spent on how traumatic it can be for kids when their parent’s poly partner leaves their lives. The mistake in this is that adults kids like and relate to leave their lives all the time. That teacher who changed your life in fourth grade? Were you really traumatized when you moved onto fifth grade and she wasn’t your teacher anymore? When I played softball as a kid, we had a different coach almost every year. Some of those coaches I really connected with, but when the season ended, the team split and I didn’t see the coach until next year–if I saw them again at all.

I can’t say I was particularly traumatized by most of the adults who moved in and out of my life. The only one I remember with any real hurt is a priest who had a big impact on me. He left my life (moved to a different congregation) and when I ran into him years later he didn’t remember me. His leaving didn’t hurt-his forgetting did.

If you are going to leave the lives of your partner’s kids, here are some guidelines for how to make it work:

1) Give them some warning and a timeline. Yes, it is hard to do this when a relationship with a poly partner is changing or ending. But you and your partner can still say “This isn’t working anymore. Let’s stop seeing each other gradually over the next two months.” Which gives you and the kids time to adjust.

2) Give them some way to stay in contact if they choose to.

3) Allow them to be hurt or upset.

You: Hey Vanessa. I’ve really enjoyed hanging out with you and talking about your artwork. I need to let you know that my relationship with my parent is changing. After the next few months, I probably won’t be coming by anymore. Here’s my phone number. If you ever need to talk, you can give me a call okay? And I’ll still be around for a little while longer.
Vanessa: But…I’m gonna miss you.
You: I know, I’m going to miss you too. We can cry about it a bit. Change is sad. I won’t stop caring about you just because I’m not coming over a lot. And like I said, you can always call me.

If you and the child in question wants, changing your relationship with their parent doesn’t need to change your relationship with the kid. If you have taken on a large role in the kid’s life, this can be an important option.

1) Tell them about the change in your relationship with the partner

2) Reassure them that it doesn’t change your relationship with them

3) Give them a way to control how your relationship develops from there.

You: Hey Vanessa. I’ve got some tough news. Your parent and I aren’t going to be seeing each other anymore.
Vanessa: Does that mean you won’t come hang with me?
You: Of course I’ll come over if you want me to. Parent and I are changing our relationship, but you and I can still be (friends/family/what have you).
Vanessa: Good. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come to my art show next week.
You: I’ll be there. And you have my phone number. Anytime you want to get together, just give me a call.

(For younger kids: Parent has my phone number. Anytime you want to hang out, ask them to call me.)

This post is part of the Polyamory Etiquette blog series.

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Raising Children in A Polyamorous Family Wrap Up

With some reluctance, I’m wrapping up the PoP blog series on raising children in polyamorous families. I hope I’ve been able to answer some questions and give some reassurances. I think I’ve covered everything I intended to cover. If you have any questions or concerns I missed, please contact me. I’m always happy to add another post or two! For now, here’s the complete…

Raising Children in A Polyamorous Family Blog Series

  1. Random Babble Post – For the Children
  2. Polyamory and Children: Where is the Research At?
  3. Polyamory and Children: It’s a complicated subject
  4. Polyamory and Children: Opening up?
  5. Telling Your Children about Polyamory
  6. Polyamory and Children: Introducing New SOs
  7. Polyamory and Children: Research Update
  8. Polyamory and Children: Legal Stuff
  9. Polyamory and Children: What do I call Mom’s Boyfriend?
  10. Polyamory and Children Guest Blog: Marmoset, Metamour and Ice Cream
  11. Polyamory Hurts Kids? Not in the Real World
  12. Laws and legal practices affecting our children
  13. Polyamory and Children: Child Custody Review
  14. Child Custody and Polyamory: Who is at Risk
  15. Child Custody Cases: How to Protect Yourself
  16. Resources for Custody Cases Involving Polyamory
  17. Introducing Your Polyamory Partners to Your Children
  18. Should You Tell Your Kids About Polyamory?
  19. Helping Our Kids Talk About Polyamory
  20. Talking with Your Child’s Teacher (or other professional) about Polyamory
  21. When Your Kids Discover Your Closeted Polyamorous Relationship
  22. Legal Options for Multi-Parent Polyamorous Families
  23. Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)
  24. When Our Kids Face Discrimination for Our Relationships
  25. Meeting Other Polyamorous Families

The next couple of Sundays I’ll be catching up on book reviews, so if you’ve been looking for a new poly-related read make sure you stop by!

Meeting Other Polyamorous Families

For children in minority families, nothing can be so powerful as meeting others like them. As an adoptee, I remember the first time I met other kids who were adopted. For the first time, there were other people who understood, really understood, what it was like. The questions and uncertainties of having other parents out there…somewhere.

I’ve heard similar experiences from mixed race children, children of LGBT parents, children living with chronic illness, and others. Not being alone is a very powerful thing, and especially powerful for a child, who has very little power over their own lives.

Meeting other polyamorous families can go a long way towards helping your child deal with any discrimination they face, to not feeling alone and misunderstood by all the other kids they know and more. It can give them their own community and peer group. They can talk together about the problems and challenges and joys of growing up in a non-traditional family.

So… meeting other polyamorous families is pretty awesome—but how do you do it? Most of us don’t exactly take out ads in the yellow pages! Actually, it may be easier than you think. Here are a few places you can connect with other poly families.

OKCupid

Yup, the dating site. If you’ve never been on OKCupid, you may not know that they have a search setting for “just friends”–that is, you can use the dating site as a way to connect with people locally for no other reason than to make a friend. OKCupid is also (as of this writing, and I don’t expect it to change soon) the go-to dating site for poly folk.

You can hop on OKC, do a search for folks with “poly” or “polyamory” in their profiles who are looking for friends. And see if anyone mentioned having kids in their profiles. If they do, send a quick message:

Hey, I see you are polyamorous and interested in making friends. We are looking to connect with other poly families in the area. We’d really like for our kids to have a chance to meet other kids growing up in poly families. Would you be interested in getting together sometime? I noticed you like Italian food, I make a mean manicotti.

If you live in a small town or rural region, you may need to search pretty far out. But kids today are real social media savvy. Even if you can’t meet in person, your kids can still connect through Skype, G-chat, or other online platform.

Local Polyamory Groups

There are two ways of meeting other polyamorous families through a local poly group. The first is to go to group meetings and connect with people directly. Some local groups having Family Nights and other kid-friendly gatherings. If your local group doesn’t, you can always suggest they start one or volunteer to host or organize one.

If you can’t make it to the group meetings, you can join the local groups mailing list and connect with other families that way. Let folks know that you can’t make the meetings for whatever reason, but would love to meet other polyamorous families. Would anyone in the group w/ kids who’d be interested in meeting send you a message?

MeetUp and Facebook are both good places to find local poly groups.

Polyamory Conferences

Cons are always a great place to meet people. Some poly cons have activities specifically for kids. When I want to APW a few years ago they had a kids and family room set up. Parents took turns helping out, and volunteers ran kid-friendly activities. Other cons set up informal networks for parents to trade kid-sitting while attending adult-only parts of the con. Parents can also arrange activities together and generally let the kids hang out. You can find a list of poly cons for the next year on Alan’s List of Poly Events.

Be aware—some cons and poly events are 18+ (or local equivalent) ONLY. If you aren’t certain, make sure you check with the con organizers before bringing your kids.

 

My family will be attending Loving Move’s Poly Living 2016 in Philadelphia. We’d love to meet you and your family. If you plan on attending, please get in touch!

 

This post is part of  the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series.

When Our Kids Face Discrimination for Our Relationships

In an ideal world, no one would hurt our kids because of our choices. As we’ve noted before, the world is far from ideal. If we are open about our relationships (and sometimes even if we aren’t) people’s ignorant reactions to polyamory can cause problems for our children. We need to be ready to help them cope with this discrimination, and to respond ourselves when appropriate.

Discrimination from Peers

Being different is hard for kids. That’s true at any age. I remember in 2nd grade a teacher taught my class about adoption. I ended up singled out as the only adopted kid in my class. For about a week, I fielded rude, ignorant questions and curiosity.

In 5th grade, a girl from India joined our (all white) class. I don’t know how much her being alone on the playground was just being the new girl, and how much was being different. But I distinctly remember when she and I became friends, my mother warning me it wasn’t good to become close to her. It would just separate me further from the rest of my class, she said.

And being different as a teenager is just plain hell, any way you slice it.

Our children may face rude or nasty questions about their family. They may be ostracized. They may have people pretend to be their friends only to turn around and make fun of them later.

There isn’t much we can do to protect our children from their peers. In some cases, opening your home can help. Letting their peers come visit and become familiar with their family will make our children stand out less. In these situations “contempt” for the familiar has its advantages.

Depending on what kind of discrimination they face, we can give our children tools to deal with it. Ways to respond to rude questions, taking the time to help them connect with peer groups that don’t ostracize them. They have no friends at school? Get them involved in community service groups, after school activities, 4-H, or whatever.

If at all possible, one of the best things we can do is help them connect with other children in polyamorous families. Let them see that they are not alone, that there are other kids like them, and let them share coping strategies with each other. It goes a long way!

Discrimination from Adults

The most immediately hurtful discrimination our kids face will likely be from peers. But while other children tend to be down on anyone who is different, adults are more likely to be driven by active prejudice and bigotry. (Note: I say more likely—some adults will still just be idiots, and some kids will be bigots).

Adults in a kid’s world tend to be authority figures. This means minor interactions and decisions they make can have a much larger impact on our kids lives. What kind of impact depends on the adult’s relationship with our kids.

Relatives: Discrimination from relatives is most likely to come in the form of nasty comments and gossip, refusal to acknowledge your significant others, and refusal to allow your significant others in their home. We have more leverage over relatives than most adults– “Your talk about my SO has been hurting Dave. I really don’t care what you think about my relationships, but if you can’t stop the nasty comments and gossip, I will not allow Dave to visit anymore.”

While most relatives are decent enough not to use it, in many places your relatives also have a very scary bit of leverage to use on you. Custody battles. If you think your relatives might try taking your children b/c of your relationships, check local laws in your area before putting your foot down.

Family therapy can also be a helpful option in getting relatives to back off if you can find a poly-friendly therapist. In hindsight, my mother’s refusal to try family therapy was a clue that we would never have a healthy relationship. I eventually got a court order for family therapy, but the reality is it wasn’t going to help any when she wasn’t willing to be there.

Authority Figures: Teachers, coaches, religious figures and other adults often have authority over our kids. When these authority figures are bigots, or just ignorant and ill-informed, they can cause problems. Some problems can be bureaucratic—Jean wants Mama Dawn to pick her up after school, but the school requires pick up by legal guardians only. Some problems are social—teachers whose approach to teaching about family is normative and excludes non-nuclear families. This will not only hurt our children in the classroom, but set them up for more problems with their classmates. One solution: approach the teach (or go over their head to the school) about a diverse family day. Chances are that at least one (and possibly several) kids in your child’s classroom have divorced parents, blended families, are being raised by another relative, or have two moms or two dads. You might arrange with the school for non-nuclear families to discuss how their family works.

Religious figures are potentially the most damaging, but also the easiest to avoid. If the local pastor, rabbi, or whatever doesn’t approve and makes their disapproval known in a way that harms your kids, you can switch to a different religious community. Depending on where you live, this choice may lead to social challenges with relatives or neighbors. You’ll need to decide if the disapproval of your relatives for switching churches is worth getting your kids away from a discriminatory pastor. Whether or not it is worth it will largely depend on just how discriminatory the pastor is.

Book Review: Stories from the Polycule, edited by Dr. Eli Sheff

I once again owe Eli Sheff an apology. For whatever reason, I am not able to get reviews of her books up in a timely manner. Granted, “timely” is not something I am good at the best of times.

With that out of the way, let me actually talk about Stories from the Polyculestories from the polycule.

Stories from the Polycule is a collection of stories, essays, poems, and pictures from polyamorous people and their families. Stories of what happens when polyamory goes wrong, of what it’s like when it works. Of raising children in polyamorous families. Some entries are barely a page long, others could be chapters in themselves.

Each one gives a unique and insightful look at polyamorous life.

I could point to specific entries that touched me. Or areas that maybe didn’t work for me. But like all anthologies, what is meaningful or important will be different for each reader.

What I will say is that Stories from the Polycule is the first collection of our stories. The stories of life and love in polyamorous relationships. It is the answer to every “what is it like” question. To “what about jealousy?” to “but don’t you want kids?” It is the collective answer of dozens of poly folks to the question “What does polyamory mean?”

It isn’t a perfect picture of polyamory. It doesn’t show every nuance, every relationship, every challenge. But it is a picture of who we are. And that picture is pretty awesome.

Stories from the Polycule is published by Thorntree Press. I am a contributor to the anthology, and received a free copy in return for my review.

Polyamory and Child Custody (Guest Post by Gracie X)

Six years ago when my husband and new boyfriend all decided to cohabitate under the same roof– I felt pretty smug. I had created a situation where I got to have my husband of 20 years and a new lover as well. We converted our single-family home into a duplex. My husband and his new girlfriend moved into one side of the house, while I lived on the other side with my new man, Oz. Our children had their bedrooms under >But not everyone was thrilled for us. When Oz, told his ex-wife he was giving up his apartment permanently to move in with me, she slapped him with a custody suit. She was determined that their two children would never live in my home. She accused us of all kinds of perversities and insisted the household was unsafe for their children. During the hearings, we were basically investigated for being polyamorous. Thus began my painful education into the fears and bigotry surrounding my alternative chosen family.

It was a baptism of fire. We were evaluated by the courts for over year then suddenly the kids were allowed to move in– almost on a fluke. I wrote about this “best of times & worst of times” in my memoir “Wide Open”.

But even after Oz’s children moved in, we all felt vulnerable. Until there are laws that protect polyamorous people, swingers and those with any openness in their marriage—we are unprotected from people who would use our sexuality to attack us.

Here are three things that I would advise you do if you are confronted with child custody issues:

1) Shift the Focus off Your Sexuality

There are lousy polyamorous parents and lousy monogamous parents, there are also fantastic polyamorous parents and fantastic monogamous parents. Your sexuality does not determine your effectiveness and goodness as a parent. One mistake we made was trying to justify and explain our lifestyle to the courts. In hindsight this further put our sexuality on display. Better to do just the opposite. Focus on your excellent parenting skills. This is assuming you are a good parent. If you aren’t—you’re in trouble. Because similar to other bigotry– you will have to be a better parent than the average monogamous parent.

Your sexual habits will be under scrutiny. But my advice is to respond to attacks and queries in the reverse context. Describe how your bedroom has a lock on it and is on a separate floor. Subtext: Of course we do not have sex in front of our children! Describe your community, your village which supports your excellent parenting. Subtext: We do not have orgies in the living room while the kids play with Legos—we are a kid-orientated responsible family. Get letters of recommendation from teachers’, friends, co-workers, anyone who has witnessed your parenting and can accurately describe your parental strengths.

2. Hire a Good Lawyer.

But don’t stop there– educate your lawyer. Utilize local LGBT organizations for legal strategy. Gay rights activist groups have already dealt with the kind of situations and bigotry that you may be confronted with in court. You will likely need to work with your lawyer on a game plan. Don’t turn your case over to your lawyer without thoroughly discussing how they will represent and fight for you. Don’t hire a lawyer just because they’re polyamorous. This is a mistake. Hire a very sharp, aggressive lawyer with a proven track record in custody cases. Someone who pays attention, is open to collaborating on methods/strategy, understands your situation and will advocate for you with clarity and intelligence.

3. Take Really Good Care of Yourself.

When I look back at this time it was one of the most stressful of my life. I was on edge for the entire two years that we were embroiled with the courts and their appointed evaluator. Reach out to your support network, find ways to calm yourself down and deal with your stress. It’s extremely challenging to deal with the courts and even more so with the potential of losing your children– my heart goes out to anyone going through it.

You can e-mail Gracie X at GracieX.com.

 

This post is part of the Raising Children in Polyamorous Families blog series

Gracie X

Gracie X
Gracie X is a Writer, Director, and Actress. She is the author of “Wide Open: My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage and Loving On My Own Terms” now available wherever books are sold.

She started a relationship odyssey nearly a decade ago that inspired her to create an unconventional polyamorous chosen family. For the past several years the idea that people can authentically construct their relationships, marriages, and families while meeting the needs of everyone involved– has cracked her wide open. She can’t stop writing, talking, or thinking about it. Her main message is do it your own way. “There is so much more spaciousness in our relationships to get our needs met—and there’s not one correct way to do it. There are a spectrum of options from monogamy to polyamory and all the nuances in between.” She encourages people to create a unique ‘relationship mission statement’ and set up their marriages, poly relationships and families in the way that works best for them.

She has been a principal on “Nash Bridges”, and numerous local TV and commercials. Her short film which she directed and co-stars premiered in the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. It has played at “The Outfest” in Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Germany, Seattle, Orlando, and on San Jose’s Public TV channel KTEH. Her plays have been produced by ‘Brava! For Women in the Arts”, The Climate Theater, Solo Mio, The Chi Chi Club, The Fringe Festival, The Marsh and Josie’s Juice Joint. Gracie X has toured throughout San Francisco, Vancouver and Los Angeles. A graduate of Bard College, she has worked with Peggy Shaw and Lois Weaver at the WOW Cafe in New York City.

Legal Options for Multi-Parent Polyamorous Families

(This blog post is based on my knowledge and experience in the US. My research suggests that the same general options apply in many parts of Europe and the Anglosphere. If you have knowledge of other countries, please share in the comments!)

Our social and legal systems are set up on the assumption that a child has two parents. These systems have difficulty handling step-parents, never mind poly families. So it is no surprise that polyamorous families with three or more parents raising kids together often run into red tape.

Whether your family is co-parenting together with all the adults having equal say, or you generally raise kids as couples, but want your poly partners to have some official place in your kid’s life, the social and legal systems are just not set up to work with you.

Luckily, there are a few ways you work around the system.

Doing Separate Paperwork for Each Situation

Most things activities and bureaucracies your kids need to go through will have an option to designate other adults who are allowed to participate, be informed, and interact. At the doctor’s office, you can fill out a form that gives your poly partner the right to take your child to the doctor and get information about your child’s health.

At school you can fill out a form that allows your poly partner to pick your child up, meet your child on school grounds, or participate in class activities.

Hospitals, after school activities, summer camps, and clubs usually have a similar system.

You will need to jump through a slightly different set of hoops for each area of your child’s life you would like your poly partner to be involved in. This has significant hassle but also allows you to pick and choose what access you give your poly partners.

In Loco Parentis

In loco parentis is a legal method of designating another adult to act on your behalf in regard to your child. In the US, when children go on field trips with their school, parents need to sign forms allowing the school to act in loco parentis on the trip—this allows the school to take the child to the hospital in the event of an emergency.

In loco parentis is simple to set up. All it takes is a paper saying that this adult stands in loco parentis, with the right to act on the parents behalf. Sign the paper and you are good. You can set a time limit—for instance giving a babysitter in loco parentis standing for one week while you are on vacation. You can also specify specific rights. For instance giving a poly partner in loco parentis standing for medical care, but not for things related to school or legal matters.

If you want to be a bit more formal about it, you can ask a lawyer to draw up an in loco parentis statement. If you have concerns about relatives or other people who disapprove of your relationship challenging the in loco parentis, this may be a good idea. It is not necessary.

Setting up in loco parentis is the easiest way to give a poly partner some standing regarding your kids. They will need to keep the paper with them and show to officials anytime they are speaking on your behalf. If you don’t set a time limit on the original form, you can revoke their standing at anytime.

Legally Adding a Third Parent

A few (a very few) legal jurisdictions have set a precedent allowing three people to have legal standing as a child’s parents. This is definitely something you will want to speak with a lawyer about ahead of time, and be prepared for a lot of scrutiny and legal hassle.

If you live in a jurisdiction that has not yet allowed 3-parent families, you can attempt to set such a precedent, but expect even more hassle, expense and scrutiny.

Disclaimer

When Your Kids Discover Your Closeted Polyamorous Relationship

(To keep things simple, this post has been written in terms of two parent households. The most of the same issues and choices will apply regardless of your family set up.)

The big problem with being closeted is that you can be outed. While some folks managed to stay closeted for decades, that’s the exception rather than the rule. And relationships that do stay closeted long term are usually not trying to hide the truth from people they live with. Sooner or later, many poly parents will need to deal with their kids learning the truth.

Kids who discover you have other relationships will likely be tweens or teenagers. Younger children generally don’t have enough awareness of social conventions and adult interactions to know the difference between their parents having friends and their parents being in intimate relationships. Tweens and teens who discover their parent’s relationships will make their own assumptions about what is going on. At best they may assume or hope that you have an open relationship. At worst, they may assume that you and/or their other parent are having an affair or are on your way towards divorce.

Unfortunately, not all kids will come to you about what they know or assume. This creates a difficult situation–you think your relationships are secret and their assumptions are running wild. If they are assuming affair or divorce, this can put a huge amount of stress on your kids.

Hopefully, if your kids do discover your relationships, they will be comfortable enough to come to you or your partner about it.

You best approach at that point is just to be honest. Make it clear that no one is cheating, no one is sneaking around, and that your kid’s family is not going to be torn apart by your relationships. They may have questions, they may be upset or feel threatened, they may not care once they know that nothing is going to change for them. Give them some time to absorb everything.

If possible, I recommend giving them an idea of who they can talk with. You being in the closet should not deny your kids a chance to have a support system. They need to have a family friend, relative, therapist, someone they can talk with (who isn’t you). Unless you intend to come out, in general, your kids will need to know that you are in the closet and why. That means they will need to know who is and is not safe to talk with.

If your kids do not come to you, you may notice changes in their behavior, mood, and how they treat you or your partner. Of course, that also describes stereotypical teenagers. It is always hard to tell when tweens or teenagers are dealing with a major problem that needs their parent’s intervention, and when they are dealing with the regular stresses of being a teenager.

If you suspect your child has discovered your relationships, but they say nothing to you, you’ll need to decide how to approach them. You might take the head-on approach of outing yourself. This will make it easier to discuss your relationships and any concerns they may have. However, if they hadn’t yet discovered your relationships you may have outed yourself unnecessarily. Or you can try to get them to tell you what is wrong. This is notoriously difficult with teens, and only slightly easier with tweens. If they have discovered your relationships, or if something else is going on that damages their trust in you, it will be even harder.