Q. I’m currently in a relationship with a male and female partner who live together. I am a single, kinky (more or less queer) parent venturing forth into the world of poly again. My partners and I are arguing like mad over their boundaries, or lack their of. It’s getting intense and near breakup time. They feel that I am trying to “change them”, which is not the case. I simply require more boundaries for the safety and protection of my child.
I’m not sure how to demonstrate this need of mine to them.
A. Ah boundaries! The most important part of a healthy relationship. Right up there with sexual satisfaction and hygiene preferences. As parents, our relationship boundaries exist to protect ourselves and our families. I see you as a family Anna, you and your child. And sometimes it’s difficult in poly land when families can’t blend. The whole point of polyamory is to be emotionally available to our intimate or sexual partners. We’re supposed to be there for each other even times when orgasms aren’t on the menu. So sharing meals, watching Netflix together, maybe running errands with your lovers are all awesome and important. But add kids to the mix and boom! You’re spending family time together.
Family time is when your child and you get to just hang out and have random conversations. Time when your kid gets to put down their defenses and just be part of a family. This time is crucial for families to have. If we invite the people we are dating into this intimate space, those people have to understand, respect and appreciate that invitation.
If we’re not inviting our lovers into that space, then they need to understand, respect and appreciate that boundary. Also, and this is the hard truth, not everyone we are romantically involved with needs to be invited into our family time. We can keep those boundaries. It’s part of being a parent. It can take years to develop the kind of trust between a parent and a romantic partner to have that person around our kids. It is not a given. Dating me does not mean you have access to my kids. Don’t hate the player- hate the game. Too many kids get hurt by adults brought into their life by dating their parent. We can’t stick our heads in the sand and think it can’t happen to our kid. And it’s also ok to be upfront about that too: “I have this boundary because I’m protecting my child.” If the person you tell that to has anything other than a supportive response… stop fucking them.
Having boundaries also flows into our availability for phone calls or text marathons or chat sessions. Sometimes you won’t be available to take the call or return that text because you’re busy parenting! It’s not that you don’t want to be in the midst of sexting, or that it wouldn’t be awesome to be having a skype game of strip poker, it’s just that well, you’ve got other little dependent beings to care for.
And I love that you’re coming from the perspective of “How can I demonstrate..,” because it shows you know that you have some work to do with this too. When dating people who aren’t parents, we have to teach them how to treat our family and make sure we’re speaking the same language when it comes to relationship expectations. It can be a lot of work to keep communicating a set of priorities that your lovers have yet to, or aren’t planning on experiencing.
And another reason for boundaries: reducing the drama jetlag! Poly processing can be a lot. It’s hard for people who don’t have kids, it’s hard for people who have primary partners, it’s can be really, really hard on an un-partnered parent. So no, I’m not playing when I say, don’t involve me in this situation, it places too much pressure on me. Our kids don’t care why we’re on the verge of tears, they just care that we are on the verge of tears. Having too much relationship drama affects our emotional availability to our children. This may mean leaving a relationship because I can’t hang. That happens too. And I am ok with that. I have to have partners with a low drama quotient. Maybe I miss out on some hot sexy times, but my household stays intact. And honestly, there are plenty of fish in the low drama sea.
So how to demonstrate your need for boundaries? Tell them why you need them. Contextualize your relationship boundaries within your familial obligations. It doesn’t sound all that sexy, but at the end of the day, you as the parent are responsible for your child’s well being, and nobody else is. I’m not sure exactly what your conflict is about in regards to boundaries, so I hope this post has helped. We can most definitely be kinky, poly and queer parents. We just need partners who understand what that means. It can work if everybody agrees that your child’s well being must be at the center of any relationship agreements you make and that can include not including them.
Best of luck out there,