Ways To Support Polyamorous Parents
It comes up here occasionally that I have kids. They're both under 10, they're funny and cute, and I love them even when they aren't funny or cute. I mention them when they (or their very existence as a force on my life) are relevant; mostly I don't get into great detail because this blog is about adults having relationships. Every time they come up, directly or because I mention classes I'm teaching and "Polyamory and Parenting" is on the list, I get at least 1 DM or email that says "thank you for normalizing polyamory with young kids" and another that says "I'm childless - how can I better support my new partner who has kids?" Today's post is for that latter message. While it is always largely a matter of individual needs what people want for support from various relationships, there are a few things I can suggest to make relationships with polyam parents easier.
Decide how much interaction with kids you want as part of your relationship, and be upfront about it. If the answer is "none" you're going to have a much narrower stripe of someone's time you can occupy - and this can be a fundamental compatibility issue for the parent you're trying to see that means the relationship won't get off the ground. If that's the case, it's better for everyone to know sooner.
If you're comfortable with the kids, mix in some family time. This doesn't necessarily mean time with metas, even if your partner has an NP - but it can give extra time to see your partner who's a parent when they're the "on duty" parent. It allows for additional time together and seeing a different side of each other. For additional time, it's especially handy if they've got young kids with early bedtimes; even if it's just quietly watching a movie together after they sleep you can build in some additional face time you might not otherwise get. Daytime outings to kid-friendly events can be a nice thing to come along for, to be a combination support person (have you ever taken more than one kid to an aquarium alone? it's a workout) and fellow enjoyer of an experience. It can also just be really nice to have an adult to chat with and sip coffee with while watching kids on a playground (which is a great 'both of you are parents of young kids' kid introduction activity, too). Lots of people wait a while before allowing people to meet their kiddos, but it can be really nice once it's in everyone's comfort zone.
Ask what category help is most useful in - and then get specific. When your partner (or friend) who is overwhelmed by polyam parenthood tells you about feeling overwhelmed by their current or upcoming week, ask what category help or support would be most useful in. Do they mostly just need to vent? Would a couple hours of watching the kids one afternoon this week free them up to finish something that's creating creeping dread? Would they be more comfortable if while you were around anyway, you offered help with a household task? If you grabbed stuff for them at the store? If they give you a direction or a category they're okay with (rather than just needing a place to vent), get specific with what you're offering. Many folks find it much easier to say yes to "I'm going to the grocery store, why don't you send me your list? I'll get it and bring things by" or "Can I come by and watch the baby for two hours Wednesday so you can run your out-of-house errands?" or "When I'm over on Wednesday I'll help you tackle the box room, if that's okay with you - save it for us then and focus on your other stuff" than to turn "Let me know how I can help" into a concrete ask when they're overwhelmed. Assume parents of kids young enough to not be in school yet are always overwhelmed. The lack of break from someone who needs something from you while your responsibilities are the same or larger than when you had kids in every category is not something we adequately support parents in or prepare them for as a society.
Build an exit plan for what happens if your relationship ends and how to handle any kid connections you've made. The biggest societal push back on polyamory "but what about the children!!" is largely bullshit; but making a plan for what to do if you break up after someone has become close with your kids is the best way to avoid the primary actual problem - what if your kids build a relationship with someone who is around a lot, and suddenly they aren't anymore? Most parents handle this by some degree of waiting to have people around the kids a ton until the relationship is more long term, introducing people as friends because they have lots of friends who come and go who the kids will happily say hi to or show a new art project but don't have a ton of real interest in, or otherwise moderating the intensity of the relationship, especially with young kids where the stability feels most important. But if you're at that point where someone is around a lot, where you're making more time by spending time with each other's kids and family, where you're babysitting to support your partner regularly, have a talk about what you'll do if the relationship ends. Will you still babysit sometimes, and slowly do so less and less often, so it isn't a hard stop? Will you make a point of going to community events (my local community has a few big polyam potlucks that kids are welcome at) at the same time so that you drop out of the kids' radar more gradually but also aren't in the partner's space? If you also have kids and they've gotten to know each other, will you and your ex-partner bring the kids to things where they can play and you can choose how much to interact or not? Or do playdates where you don't have to deal with each other but the kids all get to have fun at one house or the other? It's going to be different in every case but having a base idea that you can adjust as needed for real circumstances if they come up can be really handy.
Be ready to rank below kids in the pecking order graciously. For most parents, kids get some degree of precedence in planning. In my relationship with my partner who has his own kids, this manifests as both of us comparing kid activity schedules to figure out if we need to move our date night every time one of our kids levels up and changes class times, or every time a new soccer season starts and the practice day shifts. It doesn't mean we aren't prioritizing each other, but it DOES mean that we meet all the kids' needs first and fit our need for connection around that. Some parents have built in personal time that they've preset with their co-parents, that they'll fit you into, and it'll mean that flexibility outside of that is harder for them. Being gracious about things like "hey can we switch to a Wednesday after this 10-week cycle, because skating is moving to Tuesday nights" rather than reacting as if you aren't an important connection because the kids' needs and enrichment come before dating, goes a long way. Even for those who live with coparents, raising kids in peak activity ages can make you into ships in the night with all your partners - that they're finding time for you even if it's kind of inconvenient time proves they care. That said, it's ok to decide (as in point 1) that the amount of time each of you needs for a relationship connection is different and incompatible.
Be a caring source of adult time for partners and friends. Regardless of kids' ages (but especially when they're very small) it can become very taxing to be "in kid mode" and alternating helping small people and relating on their level. While for many parents, work is a little bit of an "adult mind" break, if it's your only break, and you aren't getting grown up socialization (or all you're getting is 45 min before crashing out right behind the kids), it can be a pretty difficult spot to be in. One of the perks of dating people who don't have kids, and making focused non-family time with them, is getting a concentrated burst of adult time with someone we genuinely care for. Everyone needs to have an identity outside of parenting to come back and be the best parent we can be. While this can certainly be possible in monogamous relating too, one of the benefits of having more partners is making sure we're cognizant of how much time to ourselves, our hobbies, and our partners we need and can take. People nesting together and having kids can support each other by taking different "nights off" of the kids every week or two weeks, and still hire the same occasional sitter they would if they were monogamous for their time together. (Or, as I mentioned above, maybe they have a partner who they trust to help with childcare who can handle a bedtime or an afternoon once in a while to help reduce the number of sitters they need to hire.) Having folks in your life who aren't knee deep in the current phase of your child's life can be a really refreshing return to other facets of your personality, in a way that's sometimes harder to manage with your coparenting partner.
These are just a few of the ways you can support your partners who are polyam parents. I'd love to hear ways your partners have supported you (from parents who read this) or ways you've supported your partners who are parents that seemed well-received (from those who aren't). It's all about building community with those we care about.
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I've got a few classes coming up! For a full listing of all 6 with spaces available as of today, check out the events page. Coming up next I'm teaching Polyamory and Power Exchange for Wicked Grounds on November 6, and Boundary Expression and Enforcement for PK November 8 . The Wicked Grounds class is sliding scale pricing and the boundaries class is one of PK's by donation events, because accessible education is important! I'm also teaching Polyamory and Parenting for PK at the end of the year.