As polyamory – the idea that humans are capable of loving more than one person at a time – makes its way out of the closet and into American consciousness, poly parents are becoming targets of a new wave of prejudice and ignorance.
People who’ve been culturally programmed and prepped for sexual monogamy from birth often assume non-monogamous parents are sexual deviants who will neglect and perhaps even abuse their children. At best, they think couples exploring polyamory will destroy their marriage, end up divorced and break up the family.
Writer, actress and author of “Wide Open,” Gracie X is one of many polyamorous parents who are trying to dispel this myth.
“The assumption is if you break one rule, you will break all the rules,” Gracie said in a recent interview with Polyamory Diaries. “You are ‘out of control’ and that might mean children being hurt. There is also another related assumption at play: since our sexuality is an important priority– we are negligent parents. None of these assumptions are true.”
After 20 years, Gracie decided it was time to open her marriage. She says having sex with and loving more than one person has made her a better mother. And having four adults parenting under the same roof has given her kids a glimpse of the “tribal” experience most of humanity has been missing out on for thousands of years.
The happy housewife
“I was raised by a stylish, diva mom of the ‘Mad Men’ era, twice divorced, slightly embittered, but unequivocal when she told me flatly – ‘Sex is the one thing a man can give you that will make you happy.’ Female orgasm was an act of pride and rebellion, it was her brand of feminism. ‘The whole world is geared to satisfy men, and you need to make sure they satisfy you,'” Gracie writes in her blog.
Gracie took her mother’s advice to heart (and passed it on to her own daughter). A sexually frustrated mother of two, she knew she had to get her own needs met to best enable her to meet the needs of her children. She loved her husband dearly and was highly compatible with him as a parent and life partner – she just wanted more sex, and didn’t want to have to cheat or get divorced to get it. So she did what any honest person would do and told her husband what she wanted – another man.
“Several years ago I started to realize I wanted a lover,” Gracie writes. “Hank and I were best friends. We’d been married 25 years. I loved our children and our family life together. However our relationship had moved into life partners more than lovers.”
Eventually, Gracie and her husband both found other lovers, converted their home into a duplex, and moved them in. Gracie and Husband #2, lived on one side of the home, while Husband #1 and his girlfriend lived on the other side. The four adults teamed up to parent four kids – two of Gracie’s and two of her new husband’s. It was her version of “a happily-ever-after Walt Disney movie.” She was able to keep her family intact, while reinvigorating her and her husband’s sex lives.
“In our culture prioritizing sex and good parenting is perceived as a contradiction,” Gracie said. “The culture is particularly skeptical of a mother who seeks sexual fulfillment outside of the marriage.”
But she claims having more orgasms has given her more energy to be present with her kids.
“Kids can’t meet adults’ needs,” Gracie said. “But sometimes parents look to their kids to get their needs met, and that’s not healthy.”
The ‘New Fangled Brady Bunch’
A household with four adults meant a household with four incomes, four people to help with housework, and, therefore, four people who weren’t stretched too thin to give their children the positive attention they needed.
It also meant four different skill sets and four different perspectives to help balance the kids’ worldviews. Hank’s girlfriend Valerie liked taking the kids on hikes and nature walks, while Gracie enjoyed helping them with their writing (she recently co-wrote a screen play with her son). Hank, an architect, helped the kids decorate their rooms and build furniture for the house. Oz played chess and did math puzzles with them.
“We are all loving, smart people. We all have different gifts. Last year one of my kids needed extra help in a certain subject at school. I was so proud of my unique family. One parent recognized our child was struggling; another set up a study plan, a third got a physical to see if there was a vision issue, the fourth adult made the whole thing fun by finding creative study ‘games.’ If this isn’t a village at its best—I don’t know what is,” Gracie writes.
Additionally, Gracie thinks poly parents are often particularly effective communicators. In order to succeed in polyamory, people are forced to sort through a lot of deep-seated emotional issues, and to do that, they are forced to learn to communicate.
One communication method popular in poly circles is called NVC or Non-Violent Communication, which teaches people to embrace and sit with their negative emotions before trying to determine what unmet needs might have triggered the emotions and brainstorming with their partners on potential solutions. The key is for the person experiencing the emotions to take ownership of them, to not blame anyone for them, and for the person listening to listen without judgment.
This, along with the general attitude in polyamory that people don’t own people, including their children, is what Gracie thinks has fostered trust and open lines of communication between her and her children.
She says she knows a lot of poly parents who are “not as threatened by their teenagers. They’re not as threatened by somebody having their own individual needs and space. They don’t have an ownership mentality about people in their lives, and teenagers, I think, really appreciate that.”
The friendly “divorce”
After four years of living together, Hank’s girlfriend Valerie decided she wanted the two of them to have their own private space. So they moved a couple of miles down the road.
While many might interpret the move as failure, Gracie views it as the best of all worlds. She still considers Hank family and one of the two great loves of her life, she’s able to co-parent with him on extremely friendly terms and she’s ecstatic that both he and she have gotten second chances at erotic love.
“Success in a marriage is measured by how much that person helped you grow and transform, not by how long you stayed married or sexually attracted to one another,” Gracie said.
She says her kids are comforted knowing how much she still loves their biological father – a feeling that is socially unacceptable for most divorced monogamous couples to express.