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Answer by Sara Stancato:
I am legally married to one man with whom I have two children and heart-married to another with whom I am planning to have a baby. The five of us live together as a family unit, and both relationships are “primary,” although the anarchist in me hates that term.
I have always been in an open marriage, so both my legal husband and I have had multiple relationships. Most were of the friends-with-benefits variety, but we had a triad for a short time. In these cases, my children were too young to understand or it didn’t seem necessary to distinguish between the friends I was having sex with and those I wasn’t, because a) it’s none of my children’s business what I do behind closed doors; b) I am affectionate with most of my friends; and c) children focus on what people do for them and characterize them accordingly. To my children, my friends are “the big guy who tells funny jokes” or “the nice woman who brings me candy” or “the person who gives me piggy-back rides.”
But when it was clear that things with the man who is now my unofficial husband were going to be serious and lasting, I told my children that their daddy was their daddy and no one could take his place, but that it’s OK to love other adults too. When he moved in, I made sure to say repeatedly that we three adults were a team and we would all deserve respect—just like traditional couples, divorced parents who remarry, or any other duo who is co-parenting.
The three of us see my second husband just like a stepfather, and I’ve tried to make sure he has as much rights as a stepfather would. He can pick my children up from after-care and come get them in an emergency if my husband and I can’t get there first. I’m working on making sure that he has the right to dictate my children’s care to medical professionals in emergencies if my husband (who travels frequently) or I (who works farther away) can’t be reached.
As for the emotional and personal parts, I stepped back so my children could define their relationship with my second husband on their own terms. As divorced parents and blended families are something they encounter at school among their peers, they’ve adopted that terminology too on their own.
I am fortunate in that my husbands feel strongly about building a tight family and working as hard at being good parents as I do, regardless of biological ties. That’s not true of everyone, which is OK. Other polyamorous configurations have to figure out their own values, communicate them, and negotiate their roles in a child’s life in a way that keeps the child safe and loved and makes sense for everyone involved.