Sadie’s Parenting Style
Hubby and I had been married for just over two years and we were living in a converted loft in the old Dutch Boy Paint Factory in Oakland, California. I had just arrived home from a grueling day of classes at acupuncture school when, one sunny afternoon, I blithely peed on a stick.
Three minutes later my life was forever changed.
From precisely the moment I peered into the window of that pregnancy test and fearfully recognized that I was going to have a baby, I was absolutely, unequivocally, and patently resolute to be the very best mother that I could be. I was the woman who didn’t take even a Tylenol for the next eight months. I was the one who attempted (albeit unsuccessfully) to give birth to her daughter at home so that she could begin her life in the most comfortable space possible. The one who carried her newborn baby in a sling everywhere they went. The one who refused to let her kid anywhere near a grain of sugar before her second birthday. The one who had her child sleep next to her in the bed for her first three years. The one who didn’t vaccinate her kid (a decision made after months and months of research and deliberation) because of the neurological risks involved. The one who decided to totally drop out of acupuncture school in order to be her child’s round-the-clock caregiver. The one who, despite a debilitating two year stint with an auto-immune disorder, still managed to do that caregiving thing amazingly well. The one who planned and executed a 4 month backpack trek through Europe with her Hubby and then four year-old daughter so that she could experience a myriad of cultures. The one who decided from the moment she gave birth that she would instill within her child the notion that she was absolutely, unequivocally, and patently cherished.
I tell you these things not in an attempt to ask for respect or to invite scolding for my choices, but simply to illustrate the type of parent that I am. Not a day goes by that I don’t say “I love you” to my daughter. This is a phrase that was never spoken in my home. I won’t go into my parent’s crappy parenting styles because it’s a tediously tiresome story (and it certainly could have been a lot fucking worse) but suffice to say that I wanted to be a different kind of parent than my parents were. One who loved her child unconditionally, so much so that her child would know it so explicitly that she could actually feel it.
Because Hubby and I talked about having an open marriage before we got married, we understood that someday we would do so when the time felt right (sparse particulars can be read here.) Our daughter was five when we made the decision to open, and while she was certainly a consideration, we didn’t give the impact it might have on her as much forethought as we did the impact it would have upon our relationship with each other; despite the fact that I had previously considered her in terms of everything that I did. But we didn’t simply because, in our mind, when it came right down to it, being open was about fucking, and fucking was the very last thing she needed to know we were doing with each other, much less with anyone else. So when we took her into consideration with regards to being open, it was by way of investigating theoretical questions such as How much do we tell her about who we are out with? Do we introduce her to our “friends?” and Do we have people over when she is awake? or What about when she is asleep?
And we have answered them as they have come up organically, through the course of the five years we’ve been open –
We always tell her we are going out with whomever we are going out with, we do not ever lie to her about this. Lies feed upon each other, once one is told, more are destined to follow. And the fact that Hubby and I are open and honest with each other translates into our being open and honest with our daughter as well. But we certainly edit exactly how much information we share with her because her understanding of relationships is fairly limited. If I tell her a few hours before I leave, “I am going out tonight, Baby,” she usually doesn’t ask, “Who are you going out with?” But I am always prepared to answer that question (and any following it) honestly. But she likely wouldn’t bat an eyelash if I told her I was going out with Dominic. She understands that just as she has friends that are boys, I have male friends, and Hubby has female friends, too.
Usually though, when I tell her I am going out she just says, “Okay. Have fun, Mom.”
She has met a select few of our “friends”. Our daughter doesn’t have any concept that they may be anything unlike the friends that she has. She is only ten years old, and still doesn’t have a handle on what romantic relationships actually are. She knows her parents are married because they love each other, and she sees us display plenty of affection towards each other (and her,) but she also knows that being married is difficult … because we tell her it is, and because she sees that it is. Hubby and I have been doing a lot of internal work lately, both individually and as a couple, and this sort of self-discovery tends to bring up all sorts of annoying, latent shit to contend with.
But when the proverbial shit hits that metaphoric fan, we attempt to get it cleaned up as expeditiously as possibly; and we always,always make sure our daughter witnesses our ablution. When we fight, we make up; and when we do we show her that we have. I figure this teaches her two things – marriage takes work to make it function well, which means love can occasionally equal dirty work of all sorts … like shit excavation from fan blades; or more literally, talking through tough issues that arise even though, goddammit, we’d rather be watching Top Chef.
The whole Love is a Verb concept is one we dutifully strive to uphold.
If one of us is out, Hubby or I might have someone that we have known for a while (and thus know very well) over after our daughter has gone to bed and she is sound asleep. We made this decision a couple of years ago based on the fact that the girl sleeps as deep as the dead. She has never once awoken when we were “entertaining,” and if she did, she’d have to get through a locked door to discover us with someone else. And they never spend the night if she is home. We understand that, for as little as she knows about our lifestyle it would be very confusing for her to see Dominic or Sirena exit her parents’ bedroom in the early morning, bleary eyed and likely uncomfortable with meeting her in the hallway.
But that’s not to say that none of this can change. We will always operate under the assumption that love is something we do, and participate in it by showing each other its meaning. And we will always love our daughter unconditionally and without limits, taking tender care to ensure that she knows this. But one day we will tell her that we have outside relationships.
I like to think that it will happen much like we discuss sex and sexuality, diversity in genders, and tolerance for alternative lifestyles of all kinds — as they arise in conversation and circumstance — and we will slowly reveal to her that, as we love each other and her, we sometimes love other people, too.
For now, she’s incapable of truly grasping the notion that her mother is having sex with her father as well as this dude Dominic that she’s seen a few times simply because she’s just too young to grasp the notion that her mother is having sex with her father. So until she can get that down, we have no intentions of revealing to her the exact specifics of our lifestyle. But when we do have the discussion, we will probably ease her into it with the love concept first – maybe tell her something like, Mom has a special friend that she really cares about and so she likes to spend time with him a few times a week.
Because ultimately, to us, there is nothing wrong with that simple concept. But traditional marriage and traditional values don’t support this theory, therefore we have to make up our own values surrounding our lifestlye as we go along. And in so doing, we have to figure out what she can handle and tolerate and what she can’t based upon her level of maturity.
Which means that as she gets older and learns more about our situation, we might have to change facets of it in order to allow for her level of acceptance. And that’s okay. Of course it is. She is our daughter, and so she takes top priority.
As I wrap this up, I just want to mention quickly and as an important aside – Hubby and I are both very big flirts, but when our daughter is present we keep flirting with anyone else to an appropriate minimum. But neither of us would ever try to “pick up” someone else while she was in our company. That too would certainly be confusing to her, and so avoiding this has become an unwritten rule of ours.
So, that is but a little glimpse into how we manage our open relationship with regards to our daughter. I am sure that there are unanswered questions here, so please feel free to supplement with your own experiences if you’ve got ’em, or to ask me any further questions. I am, of course, happy to answer anything at all.
You know me … I’m an open book.