The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Sunday, June 19, 2005


Steve, I believe stongly that a polyamorous group family is likely to provide an even better environment for children. Certainly SF writers, notably Mr. Heinlein, have explored this possibility. My father's father died when he was only three years old; his mother died about five years later. He and his younger brother were taken in by an aunt and her husband who (it seems to me) did not really want them. If there had been several other adults in the household, being orphaned in such a way would not have been so traumatic. (My great aunt in question was childless, and clueless about children, much as I adored her as a small child. She died when I was eight years old.)

I have never been in a group relationship, so this is just an ideal for me, not something I can talk about from experience.
David Bellamy
the above letter was posted in response to my previous comments, and I thought it might be interesting to address them directly.  Remember that, in terms of relationships, my primary question is one of the healthy of children.  Yes, you might be beyond the age for children, have already raised your children, or have no intention of having children. There will always be exceptions to any principles you try to lay down.  Nonetheless, I'm addressing things from that POV because it is most critical that relationships work during this period.  Frankly, if you're not dealing with kids, you are pretty welcome to have any kind of relationship you want, if both of you  are consenting adults.
So...what do we know about tribal child raising?  Generally, they operate in a relatively isolated environment.  Everyone knows everyone...intimately.  Everyone is responsible for everyone else's health and upbringing.  Children are touched and loved and supported to an amazing, and healthy degree.  It would be truely interesting to try to replicate this in the modern world.
But however difficult diadic relationships are, triads and larger groups are less stable by an order of magnitude.  I've watched too many of them try to start, and watched them blow up, and seen children shuttled back and forth between states and parents, and torn apart because they have no primary associations...something that I will take the position that children need.
So, then, how might such a thing progress?  I would suggest starting with a mated pair.  They have a child, and the child is theirs. As they bring another person (or couple) into their circle, the child now has "aunts and uncles" who are committed to her welfare. The arrangement should be formalized.  I believe Heinlein had strong marriage contracts that protected property and spelled out reciprocal obligations.  The trick here is that, if things break down, you can retreat to the most basic unit--the primary mother-father-child unit, allow the others to spin away, and still have a healthy family.
Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen cleanly (again, watching actual situations.)   I have most certainly seen some where it seems to work, and the kids are happy and healthy and grow strong.  But I've also noticed that, in a statistically suspicious number of cases, the children of sexually adventurous adults tend to have more problems with body image and forming pair bonds (even if they want to).  This is VERY informal sampling.  But remember that my concern is with the kids, not with adults interested in sexual variety.  Have all of that you want--but the instant you  bring kids into it, your hormones mean less than nothing to only concern is whether you've put those kids first.  I'm not saying that's right, just being honest about the way I am.
Paleoanthropology makes it pretty clear that such groups can exist, and survive.  Are they better than the diad?  Well, that's probably an impossible question to answer without a lot more precision in the question.  If the maturity, intelligence, flexibility, and awareness of the adults involved is phenomenal, I suspect such a poly-structure might be the very best way to grow up, surrounded by love and support on all sides.  I wouldn't mind that at all.  Just remember that it's far less stable, and children need stability during formative stages, or it can have long-ranging effects throughout the rest of their lives.  Tread carefully here.  Children can't chose the families they're born into.


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