Children of Polygamist Parents Reveal What Their Childhoods Were Like

It's a lurking question.

It's something that's coming up more and more in modern relationships. How does Polygamy affect kids? Does it, at all? In theory there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it unless there's a lack of consent or communication.

u/Jaizoo asked Reddit:

Children of polyamorous/polygamist parents, how was your childhood and when did you understand? Did it affect your idea of love?

Here were some of the answers.

Jealousy

My parents were in an open relationship until around the time I was 17. I didn't know what an "open" relationship was until I was 8, but people in my life would keep making jokes about it that I suddenly understood once I got it.

To be honest, it was really rough. Not only did my parents pursue people that I had already known (such as my classmates' parents), but from time to time they would get very serious with one of their other partners. My mom in particular was in a secondary relationship with another woman from the time I was 3 until I was 14 years old. She was basically like a second mother to me, and when it finally all "blew up", I never saw her again and began to feel like it was a problem with me and not my parents.

I also felt insanely jealous of the other partners when I was younger. I felt like my parents cared about them more than me and that they would leave me to go and start a new family with them.

I didn't mean to paint the whole experience as negative! There were a few positives, and I feel like because of how open my parents were about their situation dating was a lot easier for me than other people. Plus the extra Christmas presents were always a bonus.

Afterthought

My observations are that a lot of kids who grow up in what the adults considered to be poly households just thought of it as "dad is banging the babysitter" "mom has a special friend." Not everybody, obviously, but I think a lot of what goes on in sex positive circles, and has gone on since the 70s, is fundamentally about adults. Children are an afterthought. Not everyone, not always, but the Heinleinian fantasy of sexually liberated emotionally stable adults raising children together? I've never seen it and I have seen a LOT of poly.

I've also seen a lot of het poly situations break up over paternity concerns.

Generally, the kids I know who grew up with any kind of poly around them overwhelmingly decline to repeat the experiment themselves. There are very prominent exceptions, like Sugar Baranco, but generally speaking I observe children of any kind of poly situation, no matter how stable, grow up to seek monogamous partnering.

Moira Greyland's book is the really the only book I've read that gives a sense of what growing up around this all was like, although it's politically problematic for a lot of people and badly needed better editing.

A Whole Different Issue

I found out a few months ago that my parents apparently had an open relationship when I was a kid.

It didn't affect me at all. They had an adult life which I didn't know about. They were very open about sexuality, but they also recognized the line between healthy discussions of sex and oversharing.

My childhood was sh-t, but that had nothing to do with their polyamorous life choices.

A New Perspective

I grew up with lesbian parents who were not polyamorous, but my biological father (sperm donor) has always played a big role in my life and he's been happily in a three person relationship with two other guys for the past 25(?) years. I grew up in New Zealand and they lived on the other island to mine, so as a kid/teenager I regularly (once or twice a year) went up to stay with them as a mini holiday. Think of my dad and his partners as uncle-type figures in my life, which was super important for me as a growing boy given that I come from a family of mostly women.

I honestly respect their relationship so much more than anyone else I can think of. Its open, and entirely based on the love they have for each other (and others). In my dad's view, if you really love somebody then you want what's best for them, you don't want to put restrictions on their freedom to do things in their life. If someone does feel the need to put restrictions on the freedom of their partner, he thinks that it may be rooted in the insecurities they have about themselves, which is their own problem to be fixed within themselves. Mostly, he just believes in love; sexual, romantic, familial, or anything in between - which I totally respect and am open to.

There are so many other things about their relationship that I value, but that's the gist of it. One of my siblings doesn't get on that well with my dad due to personality clashes but I like to look for the best in people, and I think that he has a lot going on for him in his ability to live his life the way HE wants to. Growing up in a relatively conservative family I feel very proud of him to be at this point in his life where he's able to truly express himself.

Meh

I grew up with a dad who had 3 wives. My mum was the second wife before divorcing him. He replaced her about two years later. This may have contributed to how 'meh' I am about relationships, I have never felt the need to be in one because mainly, I never saw the benefit of being in one as a woman. Every woman was just... 'one of' as opposed to having her own identity.

Swingas

Do swingers count? My parents do freaky things, that is their bag. It's still them the two of them at the end for nearly 40 years.

I had a lovely childhood with loving parents, who behind closed doors did big ol freaky.

Edit: my parents had a really open and liberal attitude to sex and relationships. They never minded about my clothes or boy friends. They were more concerned about underage drinking and unsupervised underage parties. (18 is the drinking age)

In early uni I was friends with some diverse people. One of them saw an ad in a swingers magazine that sounded like them, showed me, I asked them. Mum and Dad responded by doing their embarrassment lies. I mean I would do the clothes washing twice a week, I knew they had some odd night clothes.

It was a bit of a meh response from me. I can't really judge them. They never judge me.

Now I'm in my 30s I just give them light hearted shit about their retiree swinger parties and hip replacements whenever they ask me about grandkids.

Don't Be Selfish

I grew up in an "extended family"

It wasn't until I was about 15 that I learned what that meant.

I had several half-siblings, and several "aunts and uncles" that were just around and part of our life. (In a good way)

When my younger siblings and I learned the truth, it was all at the same time. I count myself lucky that I was 'old enough' to rationalize it; by my two younger siblings were not. (11 and 13 respectively when we learned)

My next youngest sibling has only just held down his first serious relationship and they're getting on 30 yrs old. Everything up to that was casual encounters and pushing away anyone who got too close.

My youngest sibling was 11 when they found out; and it wrecked them as well. They developed an "ultra cling, then ultra dump" cycle - fall madly in love for 4 weeks, then distance.

I think that as long as parents' choices on their personal life are kept away from the children, and that _most importantly _the primary parents / care givers of the children are able to role model a healthy and loving relationship; then it doesn't matter.

But the warning I'd give, is that if that blows up and become an issue while the children are still maturing and creating their own identities, it can have a big impact.

Resentment

I grew up in a Mormon family that practiced polygamy. My father had three wives, my mom being the last and youngest. Things were pretty okay as a child - it was pretty neat having three moms. If I couldn't get something from one of them I'd ask another. Seriously. Having lots of brothers and sisters was pretty chill, too. Although, in retrospect I probably didn't get the individualized attention I may have needed as a child. My dad and I both agree on this point nowadays.

Anyway, my blissful existence changed around the time I was 14/15. We woke up to find that wife #2 had moved herself and her children out in the middle of the night. These were my sisters and brothers, we were devestated. My parents tried to protect us from a lot of the fallout, but it was pretty inevitable.

I'm 30 now, and don't really have any relationships with my half brothers and sisters from either wife. My mom and dad remain happily married in a mongoamus relationship, and I have my two full siblings to love on. As I've gotten older though, i've learned that the houshold was not as happy as I may have thought it was. There was a lot of resentment to go around but no one was forced into anything either. Everyone went into it as consenting adults.

I don't know if it's effected my view of love. Polygamy would never be for me, I'm far too selfish for that. So long as there is consent among ALL parties, and open communication if someone wants to do it I really don't care. A lot of my extended family is still FLDS and I love them.

Love Don't Cost A Thing

Well this is something I can actually answer. My childhood was mostly normal with the exception of more parental figures. It is hard to get away with childish hijinks when you have 8 or so parents, and I suppose you react to that situation in two ways. Like my sister, in which you get really good at hiding your really bad stuff behind a smoke screen of constant misbehavior, or like me in which is mostly don't do anything. I understood that my family was different pretty late in life. I didn't even really figure out that god parents were much closely involved with my actual parents, or that the "friends" that stayed over sometimes were actually their boyfriend/girlfriends until probably middle school. I didn't really care though, they were as much family to me after I figured it out as before.

As for if it affected my idea of love is hard to say because my ideas about love are non-standard, both to societies and my parents. I'm much more open to open relationships that most people and find monogamy stifling even though I don't date much. But unlike my parents I find the very concept of marriage to be abhorrent. The idea that people need a contract to show someone that they love that they love them is so ridiculous to me that I can't fathom why anyone would bother outside of tax benefits. But my parents were married, and my god parents were legally married, and they were all handfasted. I honestly thing all things being the same if my parents were monogamous, I think my ideas would still be similar to what they are now but it is impossible to test.

The Lies

I'm a teenager but not living with my polyamorous dad but this is still happening.

My father impregnated a woman, and she gave birth to a girl. They weren't married and my half sister grew up relatively estranged with her mother. Then he met my mother, got her pregnant (with me) and married her right after. He then had three more kids with her, two girls and another son. Then they broke up (messily) and my dad ran away to be with his best friend who is a lesbian. I don't understand all of it since I mostly grew up with my mom but my dad now has three wives including the lesbian woman. He also has 7 children with those three women.

I hate my father. He's evil and manipulated all of us to believe everything he says. He's really good at making friends, and he has this reputation of being 'Jesus like.' He even plays into the image by having long hair and a really long beard. My dad calls himself a Christian but he's a cheat. He claimed to be a contractor (he's not) and cheated his church into paying for really bad construction work. He's the definition of a narcissist, he has claimed all of these crazy things. He said he broke his hand but his wives (by the way, he's in his late 30's, two of his wives are in their early 20's) healed it by praying. He said that he has synesthesia (a form of autism according to him) which allows him to detect personality types. He lies so much, he told all of us that he has a liver condition that is treatable by some expensive drug or some bacteria in hops. In normal people language, that means he's an alcoholic.

I know that turned into a rant about hating my dad but there's little to like about him. And it's sad knowing that almost 10 of my other siblings have been conditioned into seeing him as some great man other than the crazy hack he really is. My eldest half sister and my full siblings are the only ones who are old enough to understand this. And we have the advantage of growing up somewhat detached from him. Although I admit I used to be underneath his spell, he used to tell us to report our mother to the police for being abusive and stuff like that.

I've anonymously tipped off CPS a few times about my young half siblings' living situation to no avail. They live in a really cramped house with no heating, a barely functional kitchen and not enough hot water to clean everyone. My dad doesn't use protection, if the 12 kids wasn't evidence of it enough already.

Oh also, I really like how I'm named after him, and the other 11 of us have names that start with the same initial as him. I'm changing my name as soon as I turn 18.

My mother's family has always been against my dad's living situation. But my dad always said that it's because they were ignorant and didn't understand love. My dad and his three wives are God's will according to him. I always ignored my family. I had cancer when I was a kid and I didn't have a lot of time to develop mentally. So I think that's why it took a long time for me to understand how messed up things were. I always felt a connection to my dad since we share the same name and he made me feel special by saying stuff like it's God's will for me to have cancer. And how it inspired him to start a charity to help kids like me who have cancer. The charity hasn't done anything in several years by the way, but someone who said they worked for him messaged me saying he uses his charity to write off things as tax free.

Cool

So I'm seeing quite a few negative experiences on here. I feel bad for the people who did because as a child you don't have control over your upbringing or how you feel/process what's going on. As for me it was a very neutral/positive upbringing.

For starters, I grew up with a dad and two mom's. Myself and my friends growing up all thought it was different but cool. There's always someone home when I got home from school. Always someone to talk when I had problems. It was nice.

First time I realized my parents were swingers was when we'd visit other families for major holidays like Halloween parties and things like that. It was a yearly tradition and it was great to see all the other kids around my brother and I age. Wed hang out and do kid stuff while the adults talked and sh-t.

As we got a bit older we started noticing little things. Like why is "Mr. Smith giving Mrs. Johnson a foot massage? Mr. Johnson might get mad..oh wait he doesn't care?? They're just chatting it up like its all good. Whelp okay then."

But to be fair to my family and their friends they were always great to us kids. Never felt neglected or like we were weird or anything. My family was always very sex positive but also taught me that sex is a private thing. So we were never exposed to anything other seeing adult humans being a bit more affectionate to each other then you'd expect. But I always thought that was kind of sweet, even as a kid. Like why aren't more people like that? I was always told growing up that whatever your preferences are, however you swing, as long as it's safe and consensual it's okay. Nobody needs to know your business though and it's nobody's fucking business either. Be yourself and be happy.

Though reading through these posts again I feel like I mightve gotten a lucky draw being born into a swinger "community" of sorts (I guess?) and living in a very liberal area.

Mormon Or Polygamy Is The Issue?

Obligatory not me, but my wife. Her dad was a polygamist and it gets weird. He was with a woman, J, and had about 5 kids with her. While with J he got with L, and L convinced her sister S to get with him. He had 5 kids with S of which my wife is one of them. The entire relationship ended because he legally married L which was a deal breaker for J & S. My wife and her siblings are pretty open about their dad being an idiot, and I dont think it effected her idea of love nearly as much as being Mormon did.

Baby Sitter

My childhood was okay as far as a loving family is concerned. All of the bad things didn't have to do with my parent's choice of relationship style, just life happening to people.

Anyway, I was thoroughly loved and raised around many people that cared about me. I had many "babysitters" that were more likely my parent's girlfriends. I was always around an open attitude towards sex, relationships, and towards the "outsiders" of society. My parents spoke about minorities (racial, sex, gender, class, etc) as if there was nothing different from them, so in my eyes, there never has been any differences.

I didn't really understand that my parents lived "differently" until I was an adult, maybe 23-25yo. Everything just kind of made sense all of a sudden.

I've become that which I never understood. I'm happily married and I've been with my wife for 14.5 years now. We have dated women together for about 7 years. We have a girlfriend right now and she's very lovely. I hope that she's in my life for a very long time and my wife feels the same towards her. I'm a very lucky man. They're both so amazing.

Social Safety Net

I'm a little late to this but my parents are polygamous. My dad has 3 wives. I'd say my childhood was pretty good. I especially loved growing up with lots of siblings. They've always been like a social safety net. To this day my siblings are my best friends. We all grew up together in one house as a family so I always knew the other two wives as my mom's. It wasn't until I started school that I realized it wasn't normal. As far as my idea of love? I think it gave me a more liberal view. I grew up seeing people attack or judge my parents for loving each other and their kids while hurting nobody. It made me think everybody should just mind their own business about who somebody loves as long as all parties are consenting adults. And on a more personal level, seeing my parents interact with each other and overcome their jealousies taught me that love is more than just an emotion. It's a commitment. That being said, I don't think I could ever commit to more than one person. I'm not that selfless????.

Mental Health

Reading this post over my wife's shoulder encouraged me to finally join reddit. So you could say this is an important topic to me.

My parents were monogamous until I was about 13 and my older siblings had moved out. They were pretty much done with parenting and decided to develop their relationship "to its next stage". The process wasn't always mutual, and there were a lot of power plays. That meant an open marriage for a few years, a second wife for about a year, and then a marriage with another couple. It was all happening as I was a young teenager, and it was pretty F'ing intense. Try to imagine the emotional brinkmanship that goes into changing a relationship that drastically in just a few years. The second husband couldn't handle it, tried to take his insecurities out on me and then left. They were very honest and open, we had emotional processing discussions all together in the living room, and no one wore clothes in the jacuzzi, but I sure as hell didn't share any of this with my friends. I lied my way through high school.

Many of you have said not to bring kids up in this environment. I'm not certain that's a hard and fast rule IF the relationship is polygamous BEFORE they're born, because some people here have been fine with that when that's how life started. But I definitely agree that you should not turn a kid's world upside down while they're in the house. If my parents would have listened, I would have told them to wait until after I moved out.

Also, side effect, it pisses me off that when occasionally I have gone to a counselor ('cause mental health is a thing, you know) like when my parents got sick, then passed away, combined with career change or parenting stress, the counselors always want to talk about this for like 3 sessions. It's just too titillating for them to ignore. Moths to the flame. I'm like, "I came to you with a problem about grief. Don't get off on how my parents hopped from bed to bed while you're billing me." I'm serious, but it's also funny.

How has it affected my relationships? I went on exactly one date during all of high school, and was invited to one party that wasn't a friend's birthday party. As soon as I moved out and went away to college, I found a girl within a week and dated her happily for a few years. Never had a problem finding a good woman to be with, and never wanted to be with more than one. It has probably also made me much more aware of emotional communication and how important it is to avoid playing games with other people's feelings. I've been married for 20 years now and have no intention of opening my marriage.

Reading about some of the kids currently in this situation, especially where there is dishonesty or games being played, is very upsetting to me. I wish them all strength, and the clarity to know that their parents' crap belongs to their parents and not them. Don't let anyone else judge you based on what your parents do.

Need A Functioning Unit

My story is essentially biology becoming destiny. My dad was profoundly catholic, he later became a theologian. I was raised in mostly traditional values with the exception of birth-control, they were all for it. I went on to become fairly traditionally minded myself, peaking at around 21 years old. Just a catholic boy from catholic parents.

Then I had a terrible crisis of faith and started questioning everything. I came to realize that I didn't relate to monogamy and exclusivity at all, and that the only reason I was "faithful" even to my f-ckbuddies, was because I wanted to protect their feelings even if it was a pain. I wasn't jealous at all myself, so I started to pursue a serious open relationship because I honestly thought it was the perfect match for my temperament and my emotional style.

The time came when I disclosed to my mother that I wasn't monogamous, and she replied "You are just like your father". I thought she joked for a second. Apparently he had persuaded her to try swinging in the early years of their relationship, but she was never really into it. Most of the tension in their relationship came from that. It completely shattered the image I had of my parents.

I had been watching some lectures about sexual behaviour in humans and other animal species, and how the tendency towards promiscuity it was highly inheritable. It also came associated with a lot of other psychological and physical traits, and my father happened to tick most of the boxes. Surprise, surprise, so did I.

So I was raised to be exclusively monogamous, rebelled against it, embraced polyamory, realized I had been following in my father's footsteps the whole time. It's like he had built this traditional framework around me to guide me away from his own slutty lifestyle, but couldn't fight the slut within me.

That said, most of the poly people I've met are quite weird in some way, and I wonder if I really want to date people like them. I'm really starving for a healthy, functional, well-adjusted example of an open couple in my social circle.

Re-Closed

My parents were swingers. I didn't know until I was older. I got to hangout with some of my friends more than others because their parents would swing with mine, lol. It made for a lot of sleepovers which I thought was rad at the time.

Ultimately, I found out that my mom did not want to swing so she closed the relationship back up. My dad just kept cheating. They got divorced when I was 12.

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