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Open Marriage: What about the Children?

Updated: Jun 11, 2023

To those who are new here, I have 20+ years in working with families and children professionally and have a PhD in this field. Many times I’ve been called to court to testify as an expert witness in children’s issues. Further Paula and I have raised two children to adulthood, who were in pre-school when we first began what we now call the polyamorus lifestyle; so these thoughts don’t spring from wishful thinking.

Children just need two things to be successful. I have seen many, many different lifestyles produce great kids, but the two key ingredients are always there. I have also seen all too many unsuccessful homes and in every case, one or both of these things are missing. What kids need is love and structure. If children know they are unconditionally loved and they know their little world is safely under control, they are free to thrive.

I start with that, because in maintaining a successful open marriage while raising children, both needs must be addressed. Of course, open marriages come in many varieties from swingers whose open marriage is restricted to one or two nights a month of leaving the kids with a baby sitter while mom and dad “go out”; to polyamorous arrangements where one or more people besides the child’s parents live in the home.

It is hard for us as adults to grasp how adaptable children are. Children tend to think whatever their family does is normal; particularly what the family does during those years between about2 & 7 when they develop their social sense of normal. Prior to 2 years old, their world is normally very small with primary care-giver being the sun, moon and stars. After 7-8, people spend their entire lives trying to fit the world into the expectations they developed in early childhood.

Because of this we made conscious decisions when our kids were born to normalize both nudity and sexuality. In our home we had a swimming pool when the kids were young. At our pool, as often as not, mom and dad swam nude when it was just family. During their middle child hood and the older one’s early adolescence, the family went to beaches were both mom and dad went nude, and on a number of occasions they saw mom (and other women) topless on busy public beaches. This set the stage for our kids not to see nudity as dirty even though they spent most of their childhood in the American deep-south.

Similarly, though we never intentionally had sex in front of the kids, to this day we never lock our door when we have sex, and often didn’t shut it at all. When they were younger, the kids walked in on us many times while we were making love. Never did we act embarrassed when they did so, nor did we try to hide what we were doing. For instance if mom were on top of me she wouldn’t even dismount. We would just stop our active movements, and calmly deal with what they wanted and, if their issue was not pressing, we would go back to sex after they left. The key component was that they never got the idea that sex was bad or even embarrassing, but rather it was just something adults did.

Paula’s relationship with Diane and her husband went on throughout their early childhood and so it did not seem out of place that mom and Diane would spend time in the bedroom when she came over, or that mom slept overnight in the bed with Dianne and her husband on occasion. Dianne came for extended visits several times after we moved out of state. The kids didn’t even take any special notice of the fact she slept in bed with us. Though to them our lifestyle was “normal”, they were also watching and learning. When our daughter was 14 she asked mom directly if she were bisexual. Of course Mom didn’t even hesitate to tell our daughter yes. When she became sexually active she was open about it and she knew condoms were required. Mom had set a good example in that despite the fact she’d had a hysterectomy and thus did not need birth control, she always kept condoms on the corner of the dresser (near her vibrator & other sex toys). So, when our daughter wanted condoms, she just came in and openly used Mom’s supply.

The important thing to remember is that good parenting has nothing to do with your particular sexual practices. The kids want to know that mom and dad will always be there for them and their home will be predictable and safe. Other people who come into the lives of the couple with an open marriage cannot threaten that commitment to the family unit. Open marriage must always be about the good of the marriage first, and as long as that stays true, it is good for the kids. If mom is happy because she is madly in love with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, that is good for the kids. If mom (or dad) puts the excitement of having a new boyfriend or girlfriend in front of the kids’ need for time and attention, it is bad for them. How many people Mom & Dad fuck has nothing to do with being a good parent. What matters are Mom & Dad’s priorities.

I’ll add a caveat, children do not care about the biological definition of family, but on the functional definition. Family are those people who are there today, tomorrow and 30 years from now. Some in the poly community want to talk about family as a tribe with many people. That is well and good, IF it operates as a tribe and not a loose collection of people coming and going. Membership in a tribe is for life, not for a few months. I have worked with all too many confused and unhappy children who get a new “dad” every few months. As a poly parent, everyone is an outsider until they are prepared to make a life-long (adoption like) commitment to the children.

Kids do not do well when they see Mom and/or Dad’s current lover have equal or higher priority than do they or does their other parent. This is the difference between family and non-family. Kids understand sacrifice of time and attention for family (sometimes); they do not accept such sacrifice for others. When they are made to feel like a secondary priority, a whole host of very problematic issues arise. I have seen this in far too many cases.

My wife and I believe in Open-Marriage and the ideals of polyamory. We do not see being monogamist in our future. As I’ve said many times, open marriage is not about having sex with other people, but the openness to do so if one of us chooses to. So, even when age and illness render us “inactive”, we can still have an open marriage. We have been successful poly parents, and we are now poly grandparents spoiling our grandkids. It is just who we are and it is a great way to live.

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