The recent story of a man who has fathered children with both of his live-in girlfriends has received a lot of attention. Adam (36), Jane (27) and Brooke (28) say that being a throuple (in a three-way relationship) is the future of relationships and parenting because it makes parenting easier. Adam remarks, “So many of our friends are in ‘normal’ two-person couple relationships with kids, jobs and all the other typical responsibilities and I see them struggling to juggle their lives. It’s difficult with two people.”
Raising children is difficult. But that doesn’t mean that parents should bring in another adult into the relationship. In fact, the best social science indicates that the addition of a cohabiting non-biological adult doesn’t help kids, it hurts them. And what begins as a sexually harmonious three-some for adults can end up being disastrous for kids.
Regardless of how the adults feel about their relationship, the real question is, “Does growing up in a household with three ‘parents’ benefit a child?” When a throuple raises children, they model that it is okay to have more than one lover at time and demonstrate little need for commitment and exclusivity in a relationship. While hard data on children raised in
poly relationships throuples are hard to find, this doesn’t bode well for their future. However, children of divorce are often in the same boat, watching their parents break their first commitment and begin a relationship with another person and are more likely to struggle to establish intimate relationships of their own. Children shouldn’t learn that it is okay to have two lovers at the same time. Rather they need to be taught that commitment and exclusivity in a relationship are good things, and the most effective way for children to learn this is by watching their parents live out it out.
Jane says that their two boys (one fathered by Adam and another from a previous relationship) “see nothing unusual about their arrangement as it’s all they know.” But I wonder if the adults actually understand how this is impacting the children. Children raised by throuples watch their mother and/or father flirt with and show romantic affection to an unrelated adult. My guess is the adults do not understand how their children are impacted by seeing their biological father show affection to a woman who is not their mother.
We already have the information needed to answer these question. Children often feel jealous toward a step parent, and it is not uncommon for a step parent to feel jealous of a partner’s children. Toddlers even get jealous when their father shows affection to their mother. But we are supposed to somehow believe that children raised in a throuple will experience no jealously or unease whatsoever.
My concern for children being raised by throuples is not abstract. I grew up in a household with my father, mother, and another woman. I hated seeing my dad kiss another woman in front of me. It would anger me to see my own dad with someone else who was not my mom. But at such a young age–like those of the children in this household–I didn’t know how to react or voice my discomfort. I never told anyone how I felt because I didn’t feel it was my place to do so. It took me well over fifteen years to reflect on the household structure in which I grew up, and understand how it affected me. In my late teenage years I began dating two girls at the same time, of course without their knowledge. In the end I hurt both girls, something I now deeply regret. It wasn’t until my early twenties that I began questioning my intentions, desires, and actions when it came to dating. I wish I only had my mother and father with me in my childhood.
Before we declare that the “throuple” is the future of relationships and parenting, let’s wait for these kids to grow up so they can speak for themselves. I’d wager that the children’s perspective on the “throuple” will not be as positive as the adults.
Harmonization and cooperation of two persons is hard in the long term, as we can see when looking at divorce statistics. The same with 3 might be nearly impossible. They have a tiny chance to stay together in peace and happiness for decades. Not a promising model, to say the least. And then we didn’t speak about bisexuality yet. Female homosexuality won’t mean a good example to their children, especially for girls.
It seems best to have a single parent then to avoid these interpersonal conflicts. The article says even toddlers get jealous od their father’s affection toward their mother. Maybe we are in need of a societal shift of parenting norms, but with fewer people involved, not more.
The children will feel odd, feel as though it’s wrong, and be told over and over it’s right. The majority of them will decide to shut up about their feelings about it, and avoid hurting their parents. They will not speak up about it until maybe they’re 20-30 and have kids of their own and go “you know, that wasn’t ideal.” And then they will likely STILL not talk about it, because if they do people will say “But you said earlier…”
I have a friend who married her girlfriend, and her boyfriend is kept in the same house. They’re a ‘throuple’ and have kids. No one is normal. And while everyone says “well, everyone has issues”, these kids are in therapy for a multitude of issues, and had their parents been stable to begin with I think it would have helped immensely.
What a sad situation. Thanks for commenting, Marie.
Kids need a mom and a Dad
As a medical health professional and researcher with some familiarity with the topic, I’m not sure drawing on divorce statistics and infidelity experiences are applicable necessarily to the discussion of throuples or any form of polyamory. In my opinion, it’s a bit of a stretch and somewhat intellectually superficial to compare the family dynamic of injecting a step-parent into an already challenged relationship to that of inviting a third partner into a stable, loving relationship. Further, I fail see the relevance of presenting the motivations of unfaithful, womanizing behavior as germane to the topic. Regarding exposing children to homosexuality, that is a separate complex discussion, but I would suggest that it is unlikely heterosexual parents will be exposing children to gratuitous heterosexual sex, and it unlikely parents of other sexual preferences will as well. But back to the topic of throuples, this editorial article seems to lack insight and reads as if the author is confusing terms and lumping all poly forms into one – because it’s naturally easier that way. I encourage readers to learn more about this topic beyond this short-sighted lay interpretation before making such judgmental accusations as “sad” and “sick.”
Scott, thank you. I believe that honesty is key in any relationship— honesty between members of the romantic relationship; and honesty between parents, co-parents and children. Little ones will grow up seeing if there is jealousy and betrayal in their household; or they will see if there is love and trust, no matter how many parents they have to nurture them.
“When a throuple raises children, they model that it is okay to have more than one lover at time and demonstrate little need for commitment and exclusivity in a relationship.”
Throuples are by definition committed and exclusive. Otherwise, they aren’t a throuple, they are polyamorous. Throuples raising children model social cooperation.
Consider that for hundreds of thousands of years, Homo Sapiens raised children as tribes, not couples. 85% of all human societies embraced polyamory. Most humans that existed over the span of our history were raised by numerous “parents” – not two.
The aversion to polyamory started with the Romans, either as a means to boost the economy with the unintended effect of disenfranchising women (the stated purpose), or as a means to simultaneously boost the economy with the added benefit of disenfranchising women (my bet).
Having more loving parents does not mess kids up. Have shit parents, whether one, two, three, or fifty, messes kids up.