SATRC: Parenting while polyamorous

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I’ve read article upon argument in regards to rethinking monogamous arrangements with an open mind. As someone who has spent the entirety of my adult life as a parent, I suppose I always look at these discussions through that lens and I’ve gotta say I’ve not read much regarding what it looks like to parent/co-parent while in a non-monogamous relationship. How do you do it?

-Poly Curious Parent

Kenna Cook

Dear Curious,

I’m a parent of two elementary school age kiddos, and I’m currently navigating custody battles, co-parenting struggles and finding my identity as ethically non-monogamous. I feel you deeply on the total lack of advice and real-life experiences in the media for adults who are juggling parenting and polyamory.

Being in committed, multiple romantic and/or sexual relationships takes a lot of practice and hard work to do well. This means you have to step up all of the skills you would bring into a monogamous relationship–communication, honesty, personal agency, time management, money management, emotional burnout–all of this takes work! And as a seasoned parent, you probably know that even the best laid plans can lead to tears, tantrums and someone needing a nap–either you or the kids!

Parenting–and especially co-parenting after a split from a child’s bio parent–is hard enough without adding dating and maintaining romantic relationships to the mix. I can hardly manage setting up my kids’ playdates, let alone my own.

I’ve searched high and low, and have thankfully found some amazing resources for balancing life as a polyamorous parent.

First, there are a LOT of poly parents out there! Whether they are part of the hippy free-lovers of the 70s or millennial parents that realize it takes a literal village to raise a child, parenting and polyamory is a natural fit for some.

Kevin Patterson, founder of Poly Role Models and author of “Love’s Not Color Blind: Race and Representation in Polyamorous and other Alternative Communities,” is raising two smart and spunky daughters while married and actively polyamorous. He is a great resource for how to talk to your kids about relationships, consent and race.

Koe Creation, a Bay Area sex educator and writer, is second-generation polyamorous and helps families navigate gender, sexuality and relationship styles.

Lanae St. John, aka The Mamasutra, is an educator and coach focusing on helping parents talk to their kids about sex and relationships.

Second, there are people doing research and collecting data on how growing up in a polyamorous household influences kids. This is huge for me–and not just because I’m a sex nerd whose foreplay is reading elaborate data sets. When monogamous people hear that I’m polyamorous and a parent, they tend to all react the same way:

“But what about the children? It’s too confusing for them to meet so many people.”

Dr. Elisabeth “Eli” Scheff has been researching non-monogamous families for the last 20 years. Her research focuses on how both the parents and the kids view their lives, struggles and successes being influenced by non-monogamy.

I was the luckiest sex nerd fangirl this past month to be able to attend a conference on ethical non-monogamy in Tucson, Arizona, where Dr. Scheff was presenting on her research with families. You can check out more about her findings in her books The Polyamorists Next Door, Stories from the Polycule and When Someone You Love is Polyamorous.

My biggest takeaways from Dr. Scheff’s research:

  • Kids didn’t feel pressured to become polyamorous. Kids were open to all types of relationship orientations for their personal relationships.
  • Kids report more personal resilience and have a better time establishing emotional relationships, self regulation and personal autonomy.
  • Kids have more ethical guides for behavior and boundaries from seeing multiple ethical relationships.
  • Kids retain an honest and open relationship with their parents into adulthood.
  • In the original research sample, the parents identify as cisgender bisexual or heterosexual. The kids identify as genderfluid and pansexual. There is more space and acceptance for them to be their authentic selves.

As a person who believes in ethical non-monogamy as one of the healthiest relationship choices for my life, I’ve had to accept that if I’m going to be my truest self, I’m going to have to live that honestly. By coming out as polyamorous, I’m giving people the option to decide whether they want to love the true me or an idealized version of who they think I am. When I’m not living my truth, I don’t give people the chance to consent to whether they actually want me–or my kids–in their life.

Do you have a burning desire, a burning sensation, or an issues that’s about to burn all your bridges? Ask Sex and the River City for advice! Contact Kenna via her website,


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Kenna Cook
Kenna Cook is a pansexual, polyamorous, pun-loving professional sex educator and parent born and raised in the River City. Whether you're inspired or mystified by all those nouns, send your sex and love questions to her for deep-dive discussion featured each month on "Sex and the River City."

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