Edwin Ancarana, a.k.a. De’Juan is a polyamorous parent, a familiar face in many local scenes, and a recently graduated mental health professional. He shared his thoughts on the complexities and joys of raising kids:
My life is complex.
My wife and I have 4 children collectively (from previous marriages), all boys ranging from ages 21 – 13, extended over two households in Austin, TX, and two households in Raleigh, NC. We have been raising them together for the past eleven years. In addition, over the last two years I have been slowly developing relationships with the 11 year old son of one partner in Austin and the 8 year old daughter and 5 year old son of my other partner in Bryan.
No, I am not a masochist. Graduate school doesn’t count.
No, I am not on a quest to spread my seed; only two of the children are biologically related to me, from my first marriage/divorce.
Yes, I have over two decades of experience in interacting with, living with, and/or raising children, and feel eminently qualified to discuss, mull over, and generally pontificate with authority about it.
Yes, I love being a polyamorous spouse and parent.
And finally, yes, my life is complex and challenged:
By time, distance, and money.
By work and school, holidays and birthdays, events and vacations.
By relationship types and dynamics, exes and in-laws, custody and visitation.
By personal values, family expectations, spiritual and cultural mores.
There are so many areas that I could touch upon. But the one I want to write about today seems to be the most pressing one: What do you do when your children start asking about your poly relationships? How do you act? What do you explain, and how?
Simplicity is my solution, and my approach, to the complexities of poly parenting. Or to be more specific: whatever parenting philosophy, approach, or tool that worked for me as a pair-bonded, monogamous, married or divorced parent will work for me as a poly parent too.
When we first combined households with our partners a few seemingly short years ago, my wife and I worried what our children might ask us, and what we should tell them, if anything. We needn’t have worried. Our children were surprisingly matter of fact about four of us sharing the same bedroom, in exactly the same way they were when there was just the two of us when we moved in together several years before.
Which led to a pivotal observation: children, by and large, simply don’t tend to read into situations the way that teenagers and adults do. The gossipy next door neighbor might equate “four adults living in the same house = sex cult” (but probably not; most of our neighbors simply thought we had a large family). Children, we have found, simply see adults doing adult-like things: going to work, shopping, making dinner, watching T.V., helping with homework, playing games, etc.
Children look to parental caregivers to provide and maintain emotional bonds and structure. The dynamics of these bonds and structure are fundamentally the same no matter how many caregivers and children are involved. So with a few adjustments, I have found that the healthy parenting approaches that I developed in my first, pair-bonded relationship also work in my present polyamorous relationships.
Some brief examples:
When asked a few years ago about the roles our partners played in our son’s life: “You are lucky; you get to have your dad, and [your stepmom], and your mom, and me, and [mine and your mom’s two partners]. So you get to have six parents that love you and care about you and look out for you.”
Healthy boundaries make for happy families. When asked early into our poly relationship why our partners sometimes spent the night in our bedroom: “Adults can have sleepovers, too.”
Partners should be treated with the same respect as and obeyed like parents and step-parents. Likewise, children of partners should be treated with the same respect and expectations as children of parents and step-parents. When one of my partners asked my son to take out the trash and he responded, “But I don’t live here!” she replied, “True, but you will do it anyway because I asked you to.” After gauging both her and my looks of expectation, he replied, “Yes ma’am.”
I find that this approach creates an environment that creates stability by keeping the same family rules in place, no matter what the configuration. It assumes that the poly dynamic is as valid as a pair-bond dynamic, not something to hide or be ashamed of whether it is fully explained to the children or not; this takes a page from the best sex education approaches.
My life is complex. And so very rewarding.
When my oldest son turned 18 and became an independent and emancipated teenager, we told him frankly and specifically about our poly lifestyle. His response: “My dad is the coolest dad, ever.”
That is all the vindication my life will ever need.
Edwin, or De’Juan (pronounced ‘DAY – Juan’) as he is affectionately known among family and friends, is a person that truly loves his life. He has wonderful friends, and a loving, polyamorous, extended family. He has been fortunate enough to be able to live and work internationally (Middle East and Asia), as well as on both coasts here in the U.S., before settling in Austin, TX. He has just graduated this May with a hard earned Masters of Counseling degree and plans to start his third career as a mental health therapist in private practice by the end of the year. You may see him shooting pool at Fast Eddie’s, salsa dancing at Ruta Maya’s, drinking at the Highball, running at Town Lake, or playing with fire and knives at, well, could be anywhere, really ;)