On this website I openly support polyamory type of open-marriage. Swinger type open marriages are most often kept a complete secret from the children; but practitioners of polyamory type open-marriage tend to be far more honest with their kids about their non-monogamy. Unlike swingers, polyamorists do not tend to segregate their non-monogamist lifestyle from the rest of their world. They tend to incorporate it into the larger identity of who they are and what they stand for. If a parent has a long-term lover, he/she is much more likely to have that person visit the home. Even more, just as single parents often let their lovers move in the home, in some cases poly parents do the same.
However, there are two very different views of the polyamory ideal. One envisions an individual who has an ever evolving series of lovers coming and going where there is no privileging one relationship over the other in a systemic way. The other is based on a core relationship that is bound by a high level of commitment and often is legally binding where there is an ever evolving series of lovers who consist of secondary relationships.
Why this sharp division? Primarily it has to do with two things children and money. But, today I'm just talking about children.
The whole idea that an individual is in effect the center of their own social universe has quite the romantic appeal. A person in this world could, if they so desired, sleep in a different bed every night of the year if they choose. By this they could enjoy the full variety of human experiences. And I don’t mean sleep in a different bed as a sexual euphemism, but actually live the life of a wondering nomad poet as it were. A person who like me tends to be a loner, could find real happiness in that world mostly living by myself and interacting with an ever changing group of casual or semi-close relationships. In such a world I would have no interdependencies and I could fill many days and nights with new experiences.
On the other hand, a highly social person like my wife could find happiness with an ever changing group of closer friendships and interdependencies. She loves being in love. The experience of meeting and getting to know people on a close personal and sexual level is what brings her happiness. She will make one relationship highly important for a time, but as the fire cools, she does not morn that fact, rather finds a new fire to kindle. So, she too could be happy with this version of polyamory.
However there are two things that stand in the way of this idealistic dream: children & duty (and yes money).
Though it is entirely possible in a modern society to have a full life and then, in the absence of children, still receive adequate care when one is elderly; most of us will heed the biological call to reproduce.
From the moment of conception duties of parenting begin. No matter if you are male or female, your life is not your own; rather you are duty bound to place the needs of your child before your desires. From the first day, duty requires attention to prenatal obligations that bring a complete end to some personal pleasures such as alcohol consumption. From the first day, duty requires, for both parents, the process of nest building and maintenance be prioritized over social and physical pleasures. From the first day, duty requires the parents to move themselves from the center of their universe. Never again, can the ethical parent say “It is me and what I want”, but rather it must be what is best for us as a family unit.
I said both children and duty because one can beget children and not change one’s lifestyle if one ignores duty. Men do this all the time and as I know from my years in social work, women are doing this more and more. Our children will benefit or suffer based on our actions in a way that no other people will; and our beneficial or harmful choices will, over time, be magnified in our children's lives. Thus, all parents impact the world through their children, the question is what impact do you want to make.
So, I come back to polyamorous open-marriage. I believe there is no better way to raise positive and healthy children than in a polyamorus home. Certainly there are ways that are as good, but none are better. Children need love and stability for success. This isn’t’ rocket science. If parents provide a home marked by unconditional love and a world that is safe, structured and predictable, children will thrive. If there is one mommy they can thrive. If there is one mommy and one daddy they can thrive. If there are two mommies or two daddies they can thrive. If there is a stable pair of mommies and a stable pair of daddies they can thrive. The issue is that the parents provide a stable caring relationship between child and parent figure(s), not the gender or number of parent figures.
However; if there is an unpredictable coming and going of people in the mommy or daddy role, they will have problems. I did not say they might have problems, I can assure you that they will have problems. You can count on it. Children understand the difference between their parent’s adult friends and parent figures.
So I return to the models of polyamory. The duties of parenting demand the model of family that prioritizes relationships. The central core must be parent (s) and children. All decisions must be made with that in mind. Yes, there can be changes to the make-up of that core, but every change will exact a price on the children. Bringing in a new parent figure into a child’s life is stressful and confusing. Removing a parent figure is also stressful and confusing. This is manifest in studies that track the school performance when children lose a parent from death or divorce. It generally takes a child a full year to return to their prior level of performance. Children who have many parental figures over their school career tend to be in the lowest performance group. That isn't right-wing propaganda, that is empirical fact.
Sometimes the net good demands the change, but that does not mean there is not a price to be paid. Children must be protected from an abusive parent figure; however, even the removal of such a person is difficult on the kids. Sometimes the addition of a parent figure strengthens the existing parent as a person enough to justify that addition. But be sure, a step-parent is never a parent, and conflicts in loyalties will occur with the addition. All this causes stress.
Again it is important to see that even if the poly-mother or father bring their lover home and they engage with the kids, that does not mean they have been put in a parental role. Such people are visitors, and even young children know a visitor is not a parent figure. So there is no harm in polyamorous parents introducing their loves to their kids. And if it is normalized in the home, that person can openly sleep with Mom and/or Dad. However, changes to the core family group must be made very slowly, with great deliberation. Mom or Dad being “in love” with someone new is not enough justification for introducing a new parent figure. New lovers must be clearly a identified as a secondary relationship to both the children and the existing primary adult(s). In a very few cases, after a very long period of acclimatization and a very firm (even contractual) commitments from the lover, can he/she begin to take on a quasi-parental role. Any other action is to subjugate parental duty to personal desires.
There is no other ethical approach.
I know this does not square with the “me first” attitude of many poly writers, but such an attitude will not bring forth a better world.