Children & Open Relationships: What People Are Not Talking About

Guest Blog, Dmitry Vulfovich, M.A.

In addition to having my own family, working as a therapist allows me to witness many different types of family dynamics, which got me thinking on the newly popular topic of non-monogamous or open relationships. I want to disclaim that this post is biased due to me currently being in a monogamous relationship, although I hope to bring some new insights to the readers that are considering the idea of opening up their relationship.

One major transformation that happened for me around my relationship was having a child. This new person’s life whom I now feel and incredible amount of responsible for forced to me revisit the topic of polyamory from a different angle and with new wisdom. Before having a family, I regarded polyamory as a type of lifestyle or a personal preference that I did experiment with in my early twenties. With the responsibility of this little human, I’m starting to rethink my previous cosmology of what it means to engage in romantic, intimate relationships within the human species.

I am not claiming to know what the optimal relationship style is for every person, that is not the point I am speaking to here, yet what I find more fascinating are the familial and hereditary implications of non-monogamous relationships that I have seen in my work with families and clients. It is important that we look at and explore not only the isolated experience of adults in polyamorous romantic relationships but the long-term theoretical impacts of these relationships on children and their overall heritage and cosmology.

One of my great passions is studying tribal societies and shamanism. I have learned, that in many cultures around the world, some did have non-monogamous marriages and relationships that existed for functionally related reasons tied to collectivistic values and a much lesser identification with individual possessions. One piece that stands out about these cultures that we as Americans are often missing, is that for the most part, there was relationship permanency in the community. In some of those communal/ tribal settings, a child may not have had a single pair of parents. They would rely on a permanent network of caregivers and extended family through which the child felt rooted (because everyone was always around); similar to what we in the western world call a family tree. I am partially speculating that those that partake in polyamorous relationships in the West are lacking this secur belonging, although from what I have experienced for myself, my clients and people whom I have seen this play out, my speculation is not far off.

Also, children look to their parents and grandparents as an example of how to live their lives, and often children with divorced parents are wary of marriage. I am not saying that polyamory and divorce are correlated, but that for grandparents to stick together for 50 years sends a pretty strong message to their grandchildren about life and cooperation with partners, for example. I’m curious as to how stable the polyamorous household is for children growing up in Western civilization and if it’s truly sustainable.

From my own experience, I am overwhelmed by how much of an impact my grandparents have had on my life and the narrative from which I originate. I found countless examples of these types of parallels in my work with families, and how their hereditary predispositions create invisible narratives that became slowly unveiled through therapy. Parent’s choices and behaviors can have a lasting and profound impact on their children, who are constantly observing and being subtly influenced by their surroundings. Later on as adults, these now grown-up children often carry out similar types of relationship dynamics as their parents did until they gain insight and consciously reverse the areas that are dysfunctional. I’m curious about what children need to feel connected in this world so to have the best chance at living a securely attached life and whether the playful toiling with polyamory is appropriate in a delicate time of environmental and social collapse.

I am asserting my relationship with my wife is not only for me, but for my daughter as well. It is almost like we are creating a story for our daughter and that our loving bond is very much a symbol of her existence and that there is great responsibility to uphold that narrative in a beautiful manner.  The flip side of this is, that I don’t think that marriage should operate just for the children because relationships do stagnate and people do live in guilt for years in fear of traumatizing their children from divorce and that is not good for a child either. Although, there is something very ethical, sound, and outright important about considering children as one factor in how you choose relationships, monogamous or not.

I am proposing a holistic approach to relationships, where there is every reason to be together in a partnership, trio, or other non-monogamous situation, including sexuality, friendship, and children. This argument might not directly apply to people who do not wish to have children, but they probably influence children on some fashion regardless. My main challenge for people to look at when exploring relationships, is to consider the more expanded implications of how they live their lives beyond their immediate needs for gratification and preferences.