For polyamorous parents, choosing whether or not to let our kids know about our relationships is a major decision. There are pros and cons to both choices.
I generally believe you are better off being open with your kids, unless there is some compelling reason not to. Other people will advise the opposite—don’t tell your kids unless you need to. No one can decide what is right for your family—and don’t be afraid to take your time deciding. Very rarely will you face a time crush or deadline on this decision.
Telling Your Kids About Polyamory
- Kids are smart, observant, and not always inclined to go to their parents with their concerns. Telling them yourself can save a lot of heart ache and hassle. If you don’t tell them, sooner or later, they will figure out that someone is having “an affair” with all kinds of problems resulting.
- You don’t need to keep your poly partners a secret. You can invite them over to the house, openly plan your next get together, and generally not worry about hiding an important part of your life from your kids.
- You will be practicing what you preach. Openness, honesty, and trust are hallmarks of polyamory. And most of us would like our kids to embrace those values, no matter what relationships they eventually form for themselves. Teaching your kids to be open and honest and trustworthy while keeping a major part of your life secret can be just a bit difficult. If/when they discover your secrets, your teachings will suddenly seem a lot less worthwhile.
- You can just about guarantee that sooner of later a young child who doesn’t understand the idea of personal information, social behavior, and how not to terminally embarrass parents will mention to grandma, or a teacher, or the pastor, mommy’s dates with her boyfriend on Thursdays.
- Closeted polies only. Your children who are old enough to understand keeping secrets will need to keep your secrets for you—a hard burden to put on any child. This is less of a problem if you have already established clear boundaries between private and public information. If they understand that we don’t talk about so-and-so’s private thing (like Aunt Laura’s difficulty getting pregnant) and only Aunt Laura can choose who to tell, your relationship(s) can fall into the same category. It helps if they understand and trust that THEIR private stuff will remain theirs to share or not. If they aren’t used to some things being private, and suddenly there is this big thing that they aren’t allowed to talk about with anyone…that’s hard on a kid, and not fair to them.
- Closeted polies only. Teenagers with teenage resentments may try to blackmail you by threatening to out you. Ideally, our kids have been raised so this type of behavior isn’t an issue. In the real world, kids can learn some pretty shitty behavior, and especially when torn between divorced parents, or put on the spot by peer pressure, etc.
- Polies married to or otherwise closely entwined with their kids other parent. Your kids may worry that your wanting/needing other partners means your relationship w/ their other parent is in danger. It may take a while for them to be sure your relationship(s) with other people won’t lead to divorce/break up.
Not Telling Your Kids About Polyamory
- Closeted polies. Don’t need to worry about your kids outing you (by accident or on purpose).
- Closeted polies. No stress on your kids from needing to keep your secrets.
- No stress on your kids worrying about their parents splitting up.
- Risk that your kids find out for themselves or from someone else. Along with this is the risk that, they will believe you are having an affair. Having your secrets discovered–especially if your kids believe there is an affair going on behind their other parent’s back–can damage their trust and respect for you. Worse, they may not tell you they have discovered your secret. Instead, they may quietly stress and worry about their family being destroyed.
- Severely restricts your options in your relationships and ability to become entwined with your poly partners.
You’ll notice that the “cons” list for not telling your kids is significantly shorter than the “cons” list for telling them. But that first con for not telling the is a killer.
During the lead up to and process of my custody case, my ex and I got a lot of practice trying to keep things secret from our kids. Some things that we just didn’t want the kids to know because it would worry them. Some things we legally weren’t allowed to discuss with or around our kids.
It didn’t take our kids long to figure out we were keeping things from them. We constantly found our daughter eavesdropping at the top of the stairs, staying up late at night (hours after bedtime) to overhear grown up conversations, and otherwise doing everything she could to learn what we weren’t telling her. Much worse, at 7 years old, her ability to trust her parents was completely destroyed.
There are good and valid reasons to keep your lifestyle secret from your kids. But given my own experience, I highly suggest you think once, twice and three times before you decide that is the best course for your family.
Wondering how to tell your kids about polyamory?