"But What About THE KIDS?" Seven Reasons Why Non-Exclusive Relationships Are More Child-Friendly Than You Think

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 11/17/2015, 3:50 p.m.
Many people are discovering that monogamy just doesn't work for them—yet they have misgivings about raising children in a polyamorous ...
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New York, NY (November 2015)—The interest in non-monogamous relationships is growing at warp speed. As conventional sexual "rules" crumble, more and more people are rethinking the "one man, one woman, for all eternity" paradigm. The fact is, monogamy just doesn't work for everyone. And while many people find the idea of having more than one partner exciting and liberating, there's a nagging voice whispering in the background: But what about the children?

Is that your conscience speaking? Or is it just the tiresome voice of cultural conditioning chiming in (as always) to spoil your fun? Mark Michaels and Patricia Johnson say it may well be the latter.

"There is absolutely no evidence that non-exclusive relationships are harmful to kids," says Johnson, coauthor along with Michaels of Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships (Cleis Press, September 2015, ISBN: 978-1-627-78147-3, $15.95, www.michaelsandjohnson.com). "People used to say the same thing about same-sex marriages, but numerous studies debunked that claim."

In regard to multi-parent households, there has been very little research as yet, but Michaels and Johnson cite a recent book, The Polyamorists Next Door by Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, that addresses the issue. The author concludes that "monogamy and consensual non-monogamy provide similar outcomes for children in these types of families." She also points out that the benefits and potential problems of non-monogamous relationships also exist for children in monogamous ones.

"The fact is, for many people, consensual non-monogamy is just a happier, more authentic way to live," says Michaels. "And people who desire unconventional partnerships—whether it's an open marriage, a polyamorous arrangement, or some other form of designer relationship––are just as likely to want children. We see no reason why parenthood and non-monogamy should be incompatible."

Here, the authors offer up seven rebuttals to the "Think of the children!" refrain:

First ask yourself: Why are we letting the tail wag the dog? Michaels and Johnson make it clear that they are not fans of the "cult of the child" that exists in 21st-century America. They point out that "putting children at risk" can be (and frequently is) invoked without evidence to condemn anything that's outside the mainstream. Not only is there no proof that polyamorous arrangements harm children, there is plenty of proof that letting children's perceived needs drive everything actually does harm them.

"Evidence for the power of this cult is everywhere, and yes, it is actually damaging our children," says Johnson. "Kids do not thrive when parents make them the center of their universe. Studies have shown that so-called 'helicopter parenting' cripples kids and leaves them woefully unprepared for life.

"Moreover, a child picks up when caretakers are unhappy, as is the case when adults are forced to live in ways that are unfulfilling for them," she adds. "No doubt growing up in such an environment is harmful—and it sends kids the message that one should always sublimate one's own happiness for the sake of others."

The "nuclear family" is a mostly modern ideal, anyway. The conventional wisdom is that, in the words of Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio, "Thousands of years of human history have shown that the ideal setting for children to grow up is with a mother and father." In reality, thousands of years of human history have shown no such thing, insist the authors.