Polyamory is Not A Family Structure for Children
Polyamory is “the practice of having multiple romantic or sexual relationships at the same time with all partners’ full knowledge and consent,” explains a Tedx speaker.
Why would anyone choose it? In her book, The Polyamorists Next Door, polyamory expert and activist Elisabeth Sheff gives six primary reasons people say they participate in polyamory. The first and most common reason given by “polys” is that the arrangement meets more needs. Second, it provides the capacity for more love, which polys find lacking in a two-person relationship. Third, it offers sexual variety, that is, the potential for more “sex with different kinds of partners.”
The fourth reason is to have “larger family with more love to go around, outside of the framework of one man, one woman.” Fifth, it feels more natural, because some polys claim that “polyamory is the universal human condition that had been perverted or tamed by social controls.” And sixth, it satisfies polys’ desire for freedom and rebellion. Polyamory is “something they select because it fits with their desire for freedom of self-expression and rebellion against social convention.”
A pro-polyamory documentary, I Love You And You And You — End of Monogamy*, shows that the lifestyle includes all sorts of relationship combinations. There can be one woman with two live-in boyfriends; a husband whose wife has a boyfriend; a married couple who have two girlfriends; or even three men with four women all together in a “network.”
Scott, a poly in the documentary, says that marriage “is simply something humans haven’t been built for — we have a promiscuous sexual drive … that we try to keep in check with various institutions such as religion and marriage. The best way for people to have power over you is to tell you that the things you most want are wrong.”
In another poly “family,” Jerome, his wife, and Jerome’s two live-in girlfriends all sleep together, though they hide their lifestyle from Jerome and his wife’s two young daughters. Polyamory, Jerome says, “is about sharing a relationship with others — we all have different desires and needs, that is why we have multiple people in our lives.”
Children of Polyamory
But what do these arrangements do to children? Polyamorists claim that the children do as well as children in more traditional arrangements. Sheff interviewed children between 5 to 8 years old in polyamorous families and claims that “what mattered to the children was that they had five loving and attentive adults caring for them, taking them places, picking them up from school, and putting them to bed at night.” The children
did not categorize this wealth of attention by the sexual relationships among the adults. … The children did not factor in the sexuality among the adults because it was simply not germane to their relationships with adults. The smorgasbord of love was available to the children regardless of the adults’ sexual relationships, or lack thereof.
Children between 9 and 12 years old in polyamorous families knew “that their families were different from many of their friends’ families, and they were increasingly aware of how the adults interacted with each other.”
Like other kids their age, they knew the adults had sex and preferred to know as little about it as possible. They also knew that other families were frequently different from their own families, and that this information could sometimes be upsetting to adults. Children in this category began to actively think about how to explain their families at school, to their peers, and to other adults. (Emphasis mine)
In Sheff’s interview of teenagers 13 to 17 growing up in polyamorous families, she found that they “were generally establishing an increasing level of independence and an identity formed outside of their families, more invested in their own social relationships and sexualities than were their younger brethren.” For instance, teenagers found themselves “being less focused on their parental relationships as their own social relationships eclipse familial bonds in emotional urgency. Teens in poly families often considered whether they want to have poly relationships themselves, or if they would prefer monogamy.”
Polyamory Harms Children
But do children with polyamorous parents do as well as other children, as Sheff claimed? There’s little data about polyamorous groupings available so far, but social science tells us that the best and most suitable environment for children to be born and raised is with both of their biological parents in a marriage. No other type of relationship is as good for children as that one.
In a recent study, “The Puzzle of Monogamous Marriage,” the authors write:
Much empirical work in monogamous societies indicates that higher degrees of relatedness among household members are associated with lower rates of abuse, neglect and homicide. Living in the same household with genetically unrelated adults is the single biggest risk factor for abuse, neglect and homicide of children. Stepmothers are 2.4 times more likely to kill their stepchildren than birthmothers, and children living with an unrelated parent are between 15 and 77 times more likely to die ‘accidentally’. (Emphasis mine)
If the parents of a child have an obligation to care and rear their child, as everyone recognizes, then the child has a right to belong to a family structure composed of her biological parents and only them. As Melissa Moschella writes,
By acting as the biological cause of their child’s existence, and by providing the genetic and biological basis for their child’s personal identity, parents establish a personal relationship with their child. This relationship gives them the special responsibility to, in a sense, finish what they started when they brought a new human person into the world.
Just because children can’t choose their family structures doesn’t mean that adults won’t harm children by deciding to disregard the structure of natural marriage. With polyamory, society is embarking on a vast and sweeping social experiment. The primary victims of that experiment will be children.
*The documentary includes possibly offensive material.
James Lopez is earning his bachelor’s degree in political science at Indiana University and graduate degree in philosophy at Biola University. He is the president of Biola Anscombe Society and a Youth Council Member at the International Children’s Rights Institute.