Thursday, June 5, 2008

Raising Kids in Non-Traditional Families

Yesterday Salon.com posted an article authored by Laird Harrison entitled Scenes from a Group Marriage. In it he articulates what it was like for him being raised in such a family as a boy. It wasn't all happy, but there were many benefits, as he demonstrates. His article also demonstrates how much need there is for resources for poly parents to learn how best to nurture their children in the face of changes in family structure.

Being the passionate poly advocate that I am, I spent a fair amount of time commenting to others' comments (as of this writing there are 127 of them) and clearing up misconceptions about polyamory and poly families. One commenter, Laurel962, is clearly passionate about traditional marriage and families and commented at length a number of times. The following is my most recent response to her.

Laurel962 wrote: "I know that a lot of people would like to get away from this, and maybe in the distant future (and gee, I hope I am dead by then!), men will get pregnant and gay couples will be able to have biological children with each other. Maybe triad marriages will be able to create chimera children composed of THREE sets of DNA."

My response: OK, get ready to keel over, then. I know a polyamorous triad of two women and one man who wanted to have a baby together. One of the women was already in menopause, and the other had fertility problems. She could gestate a baby but not conceive one. The grown daughter of the older wife donated eggs that were fertilized with the triad male's sperm in vitro and implanted into the womb of the younger triad wife. Today these three are the proud parents of six year old twins in a very stable, long-existing family. Having three parents makes caring for twins much easier. And of course, the twins are related by blood to all three parents.

Still breathing?? Sorry, I really don't mean to be disrespectful. It's just that it's time to accept that families come in many different forms and they are going to continue to do so, so you might as well get used to it.

"But until then, a child can ONLY EVER HAVE one real father and one real mother -- and no system is more ideal than to have that child concieved, born and raised by the loving, committed parents who created them out of their own unique DNA and are tied to that child by blood, history, family and genetics, as well as their own committment, responsiblity and yes, love."

Certainly it's often lovely when children grow up with their biological parents, and I would agree even optimal so long as there is no serious dysfunction within the family. But as I've demonstrated above, that doesn't necessarily mean their family must be limited to only two biological parents (or two parents, for that matter).

Neither does it mean that children cannot thrive without both biological parents. In the case of divorce, certainly there are some challenges, and how parents manage to continue to co-parent makes a huge difference.

As an example, I have one child, a daughter, who is now 31. I was divorced twice during her childhood, which I never wanted to happen, but it did. In the second marriage it wasn't my choice, and I left my first husband because he was emotionally abusive to me - I felt I couldn't risk her emotional health by continuing our marriage.

Both her father, who learned to control his own behavior around her, and her stepfather stayed involved in her life, which is true still today. She went to college, got an associates degree, a bachelor's degree, is now the mother of a two year old with another baby on the way. She is working on finishing her master's degree in security management (think Homeland Security), which she will have by the end of the year.

While her husband was deployed to Iraq four years ago, she enlisted in the Army herself, went to officer candidate school, became a commissioned officer and was honorably discharged at her request about eight months ago after attaining the rank of Captain.

Her husband (also a child of divorce) is a career Army non-commissioned officer who has served for ten years now. As an infantry squad leader he lead missions in the Sunni Triangle and came under fire every day for 14 months. Today he is responsible for some of the honor guard that carries out the ceremonial funeral duties at Arlington Cemetery, and they also attend the President at the White House. Last week he commanded the soldiers who attended the President while he laid the wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldiers at Arlington Cemetery.

I'm not pro-divorce - it's a painful and difficult experience - but I am saying that children can do just fine in less than perfect family circumstances, my own family being just one example.

4 comments:

Daisy Bond said...

Yeah, exactly where is the evidence that a genetic connection makes any difference in parenting...? Oh, right: nowhere.

Anita Wagner said...

I don't think it makes a difference when children are loved and made to know that their parents are their parents no matter what their biological relationship with them.

Still, blood ties have a long history of importance as a traditional means of forming familial bonds. I can understand why biological parents who love each other feel a lot of gratification at birthing and raising their biological children.

I prefer to think that both ways are entirely valid for raising children, but I agree that love is what matters most.

Ashley said...

Ummm, I'm kind of confused about your story about the 2 women & 1 man relationship... how are their twins blood-related to all 3 of them? Maybe that's what those people like to tell people to make the younger lady who carried the kids feel better... But it's just not true. The babies are still just made up of 2 people, not 3. It's DNA won't reflect the woman who merely gave birth to them. If that were so, you wouldn't have women carrying babies for their brothers as favors to their sister-in-law... that would be incest.

Anita Wagner said...

Ashley, I don't mean to imply that these children share all three parents' DNA or that the parents tell this to the children - only that the children have, or had, at least in the beginning, their birth mother's blood flowing through their veins, making her a part of them as well, if not hers genetically.