Are Multi-Partner Relationships Good For Kids?

More and more people are identifying as non-monogamous or polyamorous, meaning that they ethically pursue multi-partner relationships. The effect of such relationships upon children, however, is the subject of vigorous debate with potentially harsh consequences.

This article reports on some of the studies thus far, both rigorously researched and informally carried out. However, there hasn’t been a lot of research done on this topic, partly because it’s been under most scholars’ radar, and partly because poly parents are reluctant to speak to anyone “official” for fear that they’ll be judged unfit as parents. As the author points out, there is a “common perception that children in poly (and nonheterosexual) families are at higher risk for sexual abuse than those in monogamous families,” which is actually unfounded, but must be considered by anyone in these situations. Studies of gay and lesbian families have provided some parallels, such as the notion that most of these types of families that experience instabilities are facing pressure and criticism from outside the family unit rather than from within it. This indicates that non-heterosexual, non-monogamous families aren’t inherently unstable or dangerous for kids, but perceptions of them as risky can be harmful.

One Swedish academic published a paper arguing in favor of multi-parent families, specifically triparent families. Among other reasons, having more adults committed to raising a family means more resources (both financial and emotional) for the family unit, as well as spreading out parenting tasks among a greater number of participants to lessen the burdens. Apparently “what seems to matter for children’s emotional well-being is family process, whatever the number of, genetic link with (or lack of it), sex and sexual orientation of, their parents,” which is a good indication that multi-partner parenting is as good as (or perhaps even better than) the other kinds of parenting out there.

On a more sober note, this poly parent is losing custody to the parent who claims to have gone back to being monogamous, despite indications to the contrary, since the poly lifestyle is perceived as harmful to children. A person’s relationship choices should not be seen to impact their fitness as a parent any more than their skin color or career, in my opinion. I hope that more research backs this up so that parents can focus their energy on parenting rather than how they should represent themselves to outsiders. (Thanks to @Wolven for that last link.)

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About Jeana


Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.

  • Naamah

    The whole thing is ridiculous.  Kids live in relationships with two sets of step-parents after a divorce, and that is considered normal.  How could having more adults who get along with one another and genuinely care about the kid be bad for that kid?  How can having more trusted adults available to a kid be bad for that kid?  I’ve never read an argument against poly relationships being bad for kids that doesn’t apply equally to monogamous relationships that wasn’t completely insulting or ridiculous.

  • Jeana Jorgensen

    I agree with you, and I think it’s really a problem of people’s mindsets dividing things into “good” and “bad” categories that are mutually exclusive. As anthropologist Ruth Benedict said, “We cannot see the lens through which we look.” Since most contemporary Westerners are raised with a mindset or worldview that says “ONLY monogamy is good,” that means by default that everything else must be bad… regardless of the mounting evidence that monogamy doesn’t always work for everyone or last “til death do we part.”

  • ExpatBarbie

    I think this is one of those things that can work on a case-by-case basis – not until you try it will you know if it works.  Or not.  

  • Mens Sex Toys

    It’s not so much about the subject of the research for me, but more about this intention we seem to have to make every child’s life identical to another. We’re creating a society built on standards, benchmarks and conformity, where every child has the same youth, every child is equal and every child is raised in a “utopian” landscape. Whether you look at education, households, income or relationships, we’re constantly telling parents what is “normal”, and that if you raise your child differently to others it’s somehow a bad thing.

    Inequality exists, across every aspect of life. But while this is in some cases sad to see, it is a required part of Human existence. It’s what creates diverse and interesting people. We are a creation of our lives to date, like a painting, ever evolving.
    With all these suggestions of what is an “ideal” way to raise a child, we’re creating facsimiles – not paintings.

    We should be encouraging parents to raise their children as they see fit, have the relationships they deem appropriate, live the lives they want to live. As long as it’s not harming anyone.

    That’s how to create interesting, modern, innovative and inspiring people.

  • Jeana Jorgensen

    I think dual-partner-parenting also works on a case-by-case basis. Some parents make a go of it and end up raising their kids wonderfully; others don’t. I don’t see that the number of parents involved in parenting the kids has anything to do with the quality of their parenting.

  • Jeana Jorgensen

    I agree that the emphasis on uniformity in contemporary American life is really disturbing and unhelpful. Forcing teachers to only cover material for standardized testing, for example, does not encourage kids to actually learn in the classroom.

    Hopefully we outgrow this desire to make everyone identical. Ideally, everyone would have equal access to the same opportunities (everyone would get a decent education, health care, and so on), and then people could go on to live unique and innovative lives from there–regardless of one’s sexual orientation or number of partners or whatever.

  • Holly Moyseenko-Kossover

    I tend to think any time that there is at least one good parent, that kid is at an advantage. Sometimes it takes a village to raise a child. I have a few poly friends with children, and it’s been interesting to see how they deal with it (and they all seem to deal with it differently). A good friend lives with her husband, her partner, and her teenage daughter. They debated not telling her that the partner is a partner… but then they realized the kid is mature enough to understand the situation and if they didn’t tell her, she’d figure it out fairly quickly. Having an extra adult who is involved positively in that child’s life seems to be only positive. It’s an extra person who can pick her up if she’s sick at school, and can cheer her on.