A teachable moment about polyamory, sex and children

It was a festive event, a potluck of course, celebrating a coworker who is leaving the agency to do her own thing. I work with a bunch of therapists, folks who work with young, traumatized kids and attempt to assist them to have healthy relationships again and learn to love. It is heartbreaking work, but also one of the most rewarding fields I can imagine. So you can believe it’s a bunch of folks who like to talk about relationships.

My boss was sitting to my left, discussing with a male coworker his upcoming trip to the East Coast, getting married a second time for his family there. I asked what they were discussing and they filled me in on the conversation. He stated that he was a polygamist and laughed heartily. Snarky stickler that I am, I asked, “Are you marrying the same woman? He nodded. I stated, “I don’t think you can call yourself a polygamist. I am pretty sure for that term to apply you would need to marry a different woman.

My boss, just turned 60 yr old, converted Catholic who is now an ordained Episcopalian deacon, suddenly blurts out “OH MY GOD. The hardest conversation I EVER have in therapy sessions is with a client who calls himself ˜polyamorous’! Staying very quiet, I watched the conversation evolve a little. I have long been afraid that my boss would find out about my polyamorous lifestyle and judge me harshly. I wondered if this were proof of such judgment. I am well aware my supervisor has some incredibly neurotic, depressed and difficult clients. The fact that she stated this was her most difficult conversation was telling.

My coworker stated, “My understanding is that it’s much more prevalent in the Bay Area than ever before. My boss chuckled and stated, “I just don’t get why a person who cannot handle one relationship well thinks they can handle more than one relationship at all! She went on to name fear of commitment and lack of communication skills as this client’s issues. My coworker stated, “Well, what I don’t understand is how anybody has time to have more than one relationship. I cannot imagine trying to find time to do anything else in my life. My boss chuckled again, and another coworker sitting next to me was nodding her head fervently and agreeing with everyone.

I was so torn. Because it was MY lifestyle they were talking about, I felt constrained, the tension building, I wanted to give them the input from a direct source that might help them understand me and others better. I wanted to share the abundance of the life I have chosen and how these choices could actually be healthier than relationships that end up in divorce or affairs. However, I was not ready to out my personal life to my boss. I was just too worried that she would judge me.

So I kept my mouth shut. Until my boss stated, “I just don’t understand what their children must think. Oh my goodness. I could not restrain myself any longer. When the concept of children being “hurt or “damaged by the relationship choices of their parents comes up, whether it is about gay marriages or open marriages or single parenting, I have a difficult time allowing these prejudices or misperceptions slide by.

I took a deep breath so I would not appear too upset, and I told my boss that from what *I* understand about families where the parents call themselves polyamorous, the children witness parents who love each other very much, but also love others. As the name implies, it is about “many loves and the children grow up believing that the behavior of their parents, specifically being in multiple loving relationships, is normal. Very similarly to children who grow up in families with two mommies or two daddies. It is just normal for them.

I very cautiously stated that in most polyamorous families, parents work hard to have the same boundaries as other families and the “sex of their relationships are not on display for the children to see. But the love and deep connections are available for the children. She thought for a moment and stated, “Oh, so it’s kind of like a commune? And I said I suppose this was true. I told her that I would view it more like a village raising the children. She then asked, “But what about the adultery? I looked at her quizzically. Suddenly a light went on in her head. She looked at me with wide eyes and said, “OH. I guess it is not cheating if everyone is aware and consents to what is going on. I simply nodded sagely. Yes. Even the children are aware.

I felt so proud of my boss for making this shift in her awareness. She had come to understand what can be a very confusing concept in a very short amount of time. In some conversations with my close personal friends who have never discussed this issue before, it has taken them a very long time to even understand the concept of loving more than one person, much less perceive that it could work well with consenting adults. I continue to be wary of ever sharing this very personal information with my boss about myself, but I have a little more faith now that if she found out by other means, she might be less harsh in her judgment of me because of this slight shift. Plus, more and more lately, I have hope for my children that one day they can live in a world where they can make a choice about being polyamorous without having to worry that they might be fired at work, or judged as wrong or adulterous if they are open about this lifestyle.

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