MUM, DAD AND THEIR BOYFRIEND
An interview with Elisabeth Sheff
With our society slowly opening up to more sexualities, the world is starting to become more accepting and diverse. However, for many people relationships are still only between two people – a concept that is called monogamy. But the contrary has a name as well: polyamory. In this case, there can be more than two people who show romantic and sexual interest in one another – all of which is consensual. Even though this idea of a relationship might be hard to grasp, studies show an increase in polyamorous couples – and couples with children. Elisabeth Sheff has been following those so called polycule families for several years, talking to the children and documenting their lives and upbringings. In this interview she talks about the future of polyamorous families and that they might soon become the new normal.
Text and cover photo by: Isa Radich
How common are polyamorous families nowadays?
That is a hard question as not all people living in polyamorous families want to come forward and be in the eye of the public. However, there has been research released very recently that says over 20 percent of the currently single people living in the US have already had a polyamorous relationship. That clearly indicates that people are not averse to the concept of having multiple partners and eventually forming a polycule family. *
Does that mean that the number of polyamorous families is increasing?
Yes, I would say it is. When you look at the press coverage and the increasing number of meet-ups dedicated to polyamory, you can spot a trend that shows that there is a definite growth in consensual non-monogamous relationships and families.
Considering this, how does the parent’s polyamory influence their child?
I’ve worked with polyamorous parents and their children for twenty years now and the majority of kids I have talked to have only spoken positively about their life. For small children, it’s mainly just fun. They don’t think about who is having sex with who, they just notice the love and affection they get. Of course, just like in any other family, there might be times where there is tension. However, the children, who are now young adults, all say that they have learnt a lot from their family.
If that mentioned tension occurs, are there any advisory services offered to polyamorous families?
Nothing official. However, there are a lot of networks within the community where people can ask other polyamorous families for help on how to resolve conflicts. Additionally, polyamorous families are not too different from a family where the parents are divorced and have re-married. So, you could simply go to a family counsellor and ask them for help as well. Polyamory itself hasn’t really been around long enough to develop its own advisory services.
Do you think that will happen soon?
You mentioned that you have been following polyamorous families for over 20 years now. Has there ever been any negative response from members of the families?
It is very unlikely that a dysfunctional or unhappy family will come forward and speak to me. However, that doesn’t mean they are not there. I haven’t seen any of this in my data, however, there is always the potential for someone with a dominant personality to create a certain family dynamic that could become almost cult-like. I think polyamory could become a medium for this person to achieve their goals of gaining control and manipulating others.
And have the children with polyamorous parents ever experienced any sort of harassment?
Hardly, because a lot of children already have multiple parents through divorce and re-marriage. People don’t really notice polyamorous families. And if the children feel like someone would be mean to them about it, they simply don’t bring it up. So, there is no real harassment in social or public settings.
What about the misconceptions the outside world has?
People pretty much assume that any form on consensual non-monogamy is messed up. They think it can’t work. Especially because a lot of people have at least once in their life experienced being with someone but also being attracted to someone else at the same time. I call that the polyamorous possibility. Some people might be excited about that but the majority is scared of it and therefore refuses polyamory as a whole. And, of course, a lot of people assume that polyamory is just about sex.
As a researcher and expert on the topic, what message would you like to give to public so they can overcome these stereotypes?
I understand that polyamory is not for everyone. However, for the people that it works, it works great. And that’s all we should need to accept those families.
Assuming that we will eventually accept polyamorous families the way we accept monogamous ones, will we be seeing more polyamorous families in the future?
Yes, we certainly will. Looking at my research and the general relationship trends that have been developing for the last years, I can say that monogamy will continue to be a popular choice but people will realize that it’s not the only one. I don’t see polyamory and polyamorous families replacing monogamy but I definitely see it becoming one choice among many. And, of course, that also means that polyamorous families will become much more common and popular than they are right now.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff is an academic expert on polyamory and children in polyamorous families. The researcher with a PhD in Sociology specializes in diversity and sexual and gender minorities, as well as functioning as a relationship consultant, public speaker and author. Some of her publications can be found on Psychology Today as well as on her website https://elisabethsheff.com/
* (If you want a more detailed insight into the data Elisabeth Sheff is talking about, feel free to download the 2017 study on consensually non-monogamous relationships here: http://journals.sagepub.com/eprint/zAZKfVDZpIytdhZzXJyX/full)