This post answers another $500 backer question for the More Than Two crowdfunding campaign (over in four days!), but it’s a little special–because it’s for my mom.
What do openly polyamorous children most want to hear from their parents?
Franklin and I thought this was a really good one, and likely something a lot of people would have opinions on, so we decided to crowdsource the answer via the campaign page and our social media feeds. We got lots of great answers, which I will share with you in a moment, but first I’m going to give my answer–and I know my answer isn’t everyone’s.
I think what an openly polyamorous child wants to hear from their parents is much the same as what any child who is openly different in some way that is not well-understood or socially accepted–whether the social norms in question belong society at large or your particular family. We want to know that you love us, that you accept our choices even if you don’t quite understand them, that you’ll continue to be there for us, that you want us to be happy, and that fundamentally our relationship with you won’t change because of this new, different thing you’ve learned about us.
There’s more, though.
We’ve probably always done things you didn’t quite understand. How did you respond when your son, at six, decided he wanted to wear dresses and play with Barbies? How about when your daughter decided when she was 11 that she was going to change her name and wear nothing but black? When your nine-year-old got kept in at recess because he wouldn’t recite the Pledge of Allegiance at school? Because we noticed. We didn’t just notice because you let us get away with it or turned a blind eye. We noticed how you responded when other adults would make condescending comments over our heads, thinking we didn’t hear. We noticed whether you defended us, or spoke of us with pride–or when you lowered your voice and said, “well, it’s just a phase, you know, kids”–barely concealing your embarrassment.
We could tell when the weird things we did, maybe the weird things we were, made you feel ashamed. And if you felt ashamed, so did we. We learned from you whether to hide who we were or whether to be who we were, whether our real selves belonged in this world or whether we needed to pretend to be something else to fit in, or worse, to be loved and accepted by the people whose love we needed most.
Know what? That hasn’t really changed. We hear it when you call one of our partners our “friend” in conversation. We notice it when only one partner is welcome at family gatherings. We feel it when we find your close friends only know about one of our partners. Each of these things can be a subtle message that deep down, whatever you may have said, you still feel something’s wrong. Maybe even that you’re ashamed of us, or of the people we love.
We know that this thing we do, this thing we are, is kind of weird, and we know it’s going to be hard for you to understand. But part of us is still that six-year-old boy or that 11-year-old girl, learning from the way you react to us–and our partners–whether our authentic selves belong in this world, or not. It’s true that many people whose parents shamed them (or were ashamed of them) or rejected them, at least in part, for who they were, or consistently made it known that they weren’t good enough, or normal enough, or just not enough, have gotten over it. With supportive friends and self-work and a few years of therapy, they’ve developed a sense of self-worth so resilient that they can brush off even the most cruel, consistent parental undermining.
But that’s a hard thing to do, and it takes a lot of work. And anyway… don’t be that parent. Let us save that strength for other battles.
Cause believe me, we have them. The question specified openly polyamorous children, which means we’ve faced a lot of those same struggles you might be facing right now. Struggles with disclosure: whom do I tell? How do I tell them? Do I just mention all my partners normally in casual conversation, the way a monogamous person would? With social acceptance: what will people think? With visibility: we’ve probably been asked to keep it quiet–just as you’ve probably wanted to keep quiet–told something along the lines of, “Well, I guess it’s okay, but why do you have to talk about it?” “Why can’t you just keep it in the bedroom?” (Shame, again: this is something I am supposed to hide.) And we have to shake that off. Every day. Learn to trust ourselves and believe that what we are doing is okay, that we are okay.
So (maybe) the best thing you can do for your polyamorous children isn’t just to love us and accept us. It’s to own us. Be proud of us. When your friend is talking about her son’s talented opera singer girlfriend, boast about your daughter’s brilliant software engineer girlfriend and her postdoc boyfriend who does research in the jungles of Ecuador. Ask how all your son’s partners are doing. Remember their names. Invite them to Christmas dinner–no matter what the grandparents think.
But the question was about what a parent might say, not do. So maybe the thing we most want to hear is, “I’m proud of you.”
And now, our readers weigh in on the subject:
- “We support you, even if we don’t particularly understand it.”
- “If you’re happy, we’re happy.”
- Like all children they want love, support and acceptance from their parents.
- “I’m glad you have such a big family to be there for you.”
- “How are [lists all the names w/o leaving someone out] doing?”
- “I’m so glad our lessons in love, communication, & intentional family sunk in!”
- “How many of you will be coming to our house for dinner? Your whole tribe is welcome.”
- “Your partners are all valid, acknowledged, respected, welcome.”
- “If you’re happy then we are happy for you. How many chairs will we need at Thanksgiving?”
- “How are your partners?”
- “I am so glad that you are happy!”
- “I trust you to know what makes you happy, and I will make an effort to know the important people in your life.”
- “Good for you! I hope they’re all treating you right.”
- “Wow! We won the lottery and we have so much money we don’t know what do with ourselves! Want some?”
- “Let me buy you a house.”
(I have to admit, those last two are pretty tempting answers, all things considered…)
Thanks to everyone who offered their input!