With the traditional nuclear family well on its way to extinction, we are faced with a question of critical importance: who will mind the children? Neither two-career nor single-parent families offer children full-time, loving caretakers, and quality day care is both scarce and expensive. Nanny's are a luxury out of reach for most families making up the 99 percent. Even at its best, full-time institutional care (including public schooling) cannot provide the individual attention, intimacy, flexibility, and opportunity for solitude that children need to realize their potential. Serial monogamy presents children as well as parents with a stressfully discontinuous family life. Meanwhile, an entire generation is at risk, as divorce is increasingly common fact of life.
While we don't yet know how polyamory impacts the rate of divorce; the little data we have suggest that it doesn't. Some people have begun to joke about "serial polyamory," and it may turn out that any kind of lasting relationship is simply less likely in the 21st century. We do know that practicing polyamory can help prepare parents to maintain family ties after a divorce because the issue of becoming jealous when confronted with a former mate's new partner has usually been dealt with already.
Group marriages can mean a higher standard of living while consuming fewer resources. Intimate partners are more likely than friends or neighbors to feel comfortable sharing housing, transportation, appliances, and other resources. Even if partners don't live communally, they frequently share meals, help each other with household repairs and projects, and vacation together. This kind of cooperation helps provide a higher quality of life while reducing individual consumption as well as keeping people too busy to over-consume. Multiple partners also help in the renewal of our devastated human ecology by creating a sense of bonded community.
Group marriage may help provide siblings for children who would otherwise be lonely, only children. It can offer childless couples a low tech solution to the ever more common challenges of infertility. Multiple adult families can soften the ticking of the biological clock by providing older women the opportunity to raise and mother children conceived by a younger sister-wife. At the same time, polyamory helps overcome the apparent design flaw which mismatches ideal age range for pregnancy (20's) with ideal maturity and energy level for parenting (40's). As indigenous peoples know, it takes a village to raise a child!
Group marriage can help parents and children alike adapt to an ever more complex and quickly changing world. One of the greatest challenges facing humans in the 21st century is coping with the increasingly fast pace of life. We're constantly being inundated with more information than we can absorb and more choices than we can evaluate. New technologies are becoming obsolete almost before we can implement them. Trying to keep up can be stressful if not impossible for a single person or a couple. But a small group of loving and well-coordinated partners can divide up tasks that would overwhelm one or two people. Multiple-partner relationships can be an antidote to future shock.
One of the most common concerns about polyamory is that it's harmful to children, but nothing could be farther from the truth. Multiple-adult families and committed intimate networks have the potential of providing dependent children with additional nurturing adults who can meet their material, intellectual, and emotional needs. While parents may end up focusing less attention on their children, children may gain new aunts, uncles, and adopted parents.
More adults sharing parenting can mean less stress and less burnout without losing any of the rewards. In a larger group of men and women, it's more likely that one or two adults will be willing and able to stay home and care for the family or that each could be available one or two days a week. If one parent dies or becomes disabled, other family members can fill the gap. It's possible for children to have more role models, more playmates, and more love in a group environment. Of course, these advantages can be found in any community setting, but people sometimes avoid intimacy with other adults in a conscious or unconscious effort to safeguard a monogamous commitment.
While there no guarantees that polyamorous families, monogamous nuclear families, step families, extended families, or any other kind of family will create stable and nurturing environments where children can develop in an atmosphere of love and security, there are reasons to think that polyamory may be at least as good as the other options for raising healthy children. Maybe it's time for public policies that support polyamorous families!
Adapted from Polyamory in the 21st Century, by Deborah Anapol, published in paperback by Rowman & Littlefield, January 2012, appears by permission of the publisher. This material is protected by copyright. All rights reserved. Please contact the publisher for permission to copy, distribute, or reprint.