Bi Space column, fall 1998

written by Bobbi Keppel; edited by Alan Hamilton
This article appeared in Interweave World, fall ’98. BobBI Keppel and Alan Hamilton write a BI SPACE column for every issue of this quarterly. Interweave is a BGLT membership organization for Unitarian Universalists. [This article was written from a bi perspective, for a non-straight but not necessarily poly or poly-familiar audience. It’s reprinted here by permission of the authors. -js]

In a polyamory workshop at the international bi conference in April ’98 [in which many Poly Boston members participated -js], in response to someone’s expressed concerns about children who form close relationships with their parent’s other partner(s), I spoke positively about my children’s experiences. I said my only regret is that we didn’t make more of a ritual out of partings - times when we or our other partners or friends moved on.

Memorial services, such as we had when my husband died, celebrate lives and relationships and recognize what has broken. Unfortunately, those sorts of rituals rarely happen when relationships fracture in other ways. Whether the relationships come about because we are bi or not, I believe honoring the relationship(s) and recognizing the fracture(s) are helpful to us and to our children.

I’m treading on dangerous territory here. We bis know that not all of us are polyamorous; and neither those who are poly nor their partners necessarily have children. But most of us who are out as bi have been criticized, attacked, and oppressed because non-bis assume we all have more than one lover/sex partner; and that if we do, we are bad people. Briefly: we don’t and we aren’t.

I’m writing about our family’s experience as seen by me - I’m 65 - and by my children - 36 & 33 - whom I’ve been interviewing for their points of view. (My husband died suddenly when they were 15 & 18.)

To be honest, we’ve all thought of ours as an extended family where some of the “extensions” were sometimes sexual. If you’re worried about whether or not your kids will be warped by your other sexual relationships, our kids say they didn’t know or care about the sexual part, just the quality of friendliness various adults brought to our family. They loved having interesting adults around who were welcomed into the family and who were available to talk with, make music with, learn with, and fall back on when parents were busy, sick, or otherwise unavailable. Some of these adults lived in town and were regulars in family activities. Others were traveling folk musicians who stayed with us a few days or weeks while on tour. (Our editor, Mike Drayton, was one of the latter. He achieved undying fame at our house because, at a time when our son was car crazy, his group visited annually, traveling by antique Mercedes.)

These folks and their relationships taught our children that good or bad relationships do not depend on the number of players and/or whether or not they are married, and sometimes showed them alternatives to their parents’ more dysfunctional behaviors. In fact, our demonstrated respect for folks who did things differently from us was a major way in which our kids learned to respect differences of others. See! Kids might learn good UU values from responsible polyamory. There’s a concept.

So, what about the partings? When relationships fractured, we usually gave some indication of what was going on. The younger one says he would have liked more explicit commentary on what made others’ relationships go better or worse. Both would have preferred to have known sooner when things were going awry. They say we prepared them well enough for friends moving out of town and really did informal rituals for many of those moves. I did much less well when I moved away several years after their father died. Kids need to be prepared for “divorces” of all kinds and helped with those rites of passage.

I’m only talking about one family and one way of doing things. Everyone will do theirs differently, and that is as it should be. What guidelines might be helpful?

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong about polyamory. Celebrate it! Be proud! (Most other folks are doing it too in the guise of “affairs” and serial monogamy, which might be better called serial polyamory.)

If your partner(s) are good and responsible folks, welcome them into the family.

Know that kids need lots more adults in their lives, not just their parents. We used to call this “aunts, uncles, grandparents, neighbors, and friends.” You have opportunities to enrich everyones’ lives.

Make the boundaries very clear to everyone. Ours were: no drunkenness, no illegal drugs on the premises, no inappropriate sensual/sexual stuff with our kids, clean up after yourself, do your own laundry, phone in if you’re going to be late or not show, notify parents in advance if you’re taking kids off the block. Prepare the kids for separations. Be sure they know what is going to happen, when, and as much of the why as they can take in. Do an appropriate ritual whenever possible. Talk about the separation before, during, and after, even if the talking is painful. “After” may be many times over many years.

Finally, whether or not you have kids, consider being a responsible adult in the life of at least one child. Alan has received wonderful feedback from adult UUs who tell him he made a huge difference in their growing up when he chose to be in their lives as such a person. That’s a way to make the world a better place.