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.