A Pragmatic Approach to Polyamory and Parenthood

Louisa Leontiades Complicated Roots, The Poly Parent

I get annoyed by those quotes attributed to Buddha. Those which leave humanity out in the cold.

Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.

Right then.

That seems like a privileged position, and many of the quotes are peculiarly unhelpful for me, a human. Their wisdom is pretty unaccessible a lot of the time. Prince Siddhartha’s way to achieve enlightenment was to leave his palace and family because he believed attachment to worldly pleasures as a source of suffering. One interpretation of his actions is given in the Dhammapada where a wife and children are considered a ‘soft fetter’. They tie a person to life and to suffering. If that’s the case, I choose life and suffering; for my sake, and for the sake of my children. My life.

Luckily I can, because I am not a prophet.

Few of us have the privilege or inclination to abandon our lives in order to go meditate in a forest for six years and find enlightenment. If I’m going to go all therapist on his arse, I could say that Buddha probably suffered from an insecure attachment style and in order to prevent his own suffering, he decided to actively abandon those close to him, as a means of self-protection.

But I’m probably projecting. Because as an adopted daughter of a narcissist and emotionally absent father, I am also originally an insecure attacher and can smell indicators a mile off. People who know, ask me in disbelief –

‘But if you’re not secure in your attachment style, why on earth do you choose polyamory as a lifestyle?’

The reason is that I am a pragmatic polyamorist.

Some believe they are born polyamorous, that it is an inclination. I believe I choose polyamory as an ethical relationship structure, an alternative to monogamy. I’m also certain that my polyamorous path has helped my through many challenges–including my attachment style–although it’s an ongoing work.

It’s helped me because it has forced me to face my anxieties and develop coping mechanisms for them which don’t objectify others. It has helped me become self-sufficient and responsible for my emotions. Why? Well the prior acceptance that the majority of relationships change flavour over a period of years, has helped me face the potential outcomes of my own relationships. There are no ‘forever after’ expectations, it’s about the natural cycle of life and death, ebb and flow, however long it lasts. To string your identity up to someone else, means you risk losing it when they change. When. Not if.

In my life, I have an enormously rewarding relationship with the father of my children. It was romantic for many years, but as we changed, our honesty, acceptance, trust and freedom supported us in transitioning that relationship into a non-romantic one, never breaking up our relationship, living happily and drama-free with our children. We have other partners who embrace and support our relationship. Who accept and admire that we live together. I have less need to be anxious, because we still have a beautiful relationship. We have of course grieved the changes in our relationship together and gladly hugged each other when heartbroken, we watch others we care about go through a bitter split. They must face the horrible wrench of shared custody, of hurt children and the loss of their relationship where we do not.

For a time at least polyamory also allowed me to spread emotional risk. Long time practitioners of polyamory would be appalled by this–they call it the ‘training wheels’ mentality and it objectifies others. They’re right. It does. And I did. Many people come to polyamory feeling that just one person cannot meet their needs, both because they misunderstand why they need what they need, and in many cases because are unable to take care of themselves.

This is not an advertisement to use polyamory to objectify multiple people in this way (and there are many downsides to doing so); nonetheless I can frankly admit that in the beginning, I also felt more secure having several partners to meet my needs. But it was not a conscious move and I could not change it, until I had made it conscious. All the education in the world cannot bring you to consciousness unless you are in a situation to lay down healthy tenets in your own mind; yet because education so readily available within the polyamorous community, I could recognise objectification when I was doing it. Eventually I could choose to stop it. Additionally although the loss of one partner would be extremely difficult, various other people provided a closer support system. For me, it was easier to work on my sense of security, when I already felt more secure and was acting from a place of trust instead of fear. If you do this too, then I don’t believe that vilification of yourself for doing so is productive. If the goal is to grow more secure, so that you move out of your objectifying patterns, vilifying yourself will undermine it. Have compassion. Strive to do better (if you are in a position where you can).

Thus polyamory destroyed my notions of the relationship escalator; stage 1 dating, stage 2, moving in, stage 3, marriage and so on. Over the years not only have I moved from hierarchical–initially laden with couple privilege–polyamory, mimicking survival patterns of my childhood, but beyond towards relationship anarchy with no need for escalator thinking, where the relationships emphasize agency, trust and freedom. Because of this I am much more conscious if and when I objectify–which in case you wondered, is simply a childhood survival mechanism if you doubt your ability to survive without someone–and I can call myself out much of the time.

Finally, polyamory helps me be a better mother, or rather, it improves the quality of parenting available to my children. Whilst non-consensual objectification–needs fulfilment–between adults is harmful, children can and must fulfil many of their needs from their caregivers, until such time as they grow to support themselves. But as an introvert, I need time to recharge, if not, I get anxious; I feel fear. And I detach. That’s no good for my children. More adults, means more attention, different influences; in our family alone, Swedish, French, English, Greek, Icelandic, Chilean cultures blend with so many passions–comics, communication, programming, travel, business, sport, songwriting, honesty, writing, and above all love. My partners, my partner’s partners and our combined set of resources give me time to recharge, without my children feeling neglected. My support network also dilutes my influence. I believe many single parents like my adoptive mother, meet with a huge challenge of creating a broad set of influences and getting the support they need to rest and heal. I am a less anxious mother because my partners and I combine resources. I am given the space to better heal my own past.

Because unconsciously inflicting such pain as I once harboured towards my children would be terrible. Because part of living up to my side of the bargain as a mother is to heal myself, so that can love them from a better, more grounded place. Because I am succeeding, but it is slow work. Worthwhile work. Yet I fear that some of the damage from my post-natal anxiety has left a lasting legacy. Children’s brains are malleable, and the loving support we have created around them great.

As a pragmatic parent, I hang my hopes on that.

Originally published on Harlot Magazine