Polyamorous Australian parents juggling lovers with family
A TYPICAL morning in Scott and Amy's house goes something like this: Cook breakfast, make school lunches, yell at the kids to brush their teeth before school. Amy reminds Scott that it's his turn to watch the kids tonight while she goes on a date with one of her several lovers. Scott gives his wife a kiss before rushing out the door. He needs to get to his girlfriend Ruth's house so they can ride the train into work together.
If you thought polyamory was for sex-crazed twenty somethings and creepy cult leaders, think again.
It's virtually impossible to know how many Australians are living polyamorous lifestyles, but if US academic studies are anything to go by, about 5 per cent, or, 1.2 million Aussies are foregoing monogamy for non-traditional partnerships.
And while some of these people might very well be attending sex parties and all-night orgies while the rest of us wash the dishes, put on our jammies and get ready for some Netflix and a nice cup of tea, the reality is that most polyamorous people have jobs and bills and chores and perhaps most controversially of all: children.
Meet Pete. A warm, intelligent 57-year-old who works in education IT. He has been polyamorous since the 1980s, long before there was a specific word to describe his lifestyle.
"I was married for 10 years in a traditional monogamous relationship. I wasn't happy in that marriage and while I wouldn't blame monogamy for that, it was a factor," he said.
The couple split when their two children were four and seven.
Newly single, Pete lived alone and was able to explore polyamory for the first time.
"My ex-wife knew about my lifestyle but she wasn't comfortable with me talking about it with our kids. I respected her wishes and it wasn't until our children were teenagers that I told them," he said.
Pete's 'coming out' to his children wasn't planned. It just happened.
"I was dropping off my daughter's boyfriend and while we were in the car my daughter asked me where I slept when I stayed at [my girlfriend] Lucy's place. I lied and said I slept on the couch. But once her boyfriend got out of the car I decided to tell her the truth," he said.
"I said that I actually do sleep with Lucy and also with my other partner and that they both know about each other and they're OK. My daughter just shrugged and said, 'That's cool. Some of my friends do that.' She would have been about 15 at the time."
Pete's son wasn't so accepting.
"My son joined a fundamentalist Christian church when he was 13. He worried that I was doing the wrong thing by my partners, that both women were getting the short end of the stick. He's 29 now and 100 per cent supportive," he said.
Scott and Amy, in contrast, are in the thick of parenting. Now in their mid-40s, the couple met when they were 16 and have two daughters, aged seven and 10. They also have at least 10 lovers between them, impressive considering they only discovered polyamory three years ago. As Scott wryly puts it, he and his childhood sweetheart are now polysaturated.
"Polyamory was something Amy and I talked about for a long time before we acted on it," Scott says. "It was a conscious and thought-out decision. Looking back on my life I think I've always been poly, but I thought I was just being a stereotypical male. Always wanting more."
Parenting in a poly family isn't without its challenges, but Scott and Amy believe being open and honest with their children is crucial.
"Our oldest daughter understands we have sex with other people and she knows it's not 'normal'. But a good portion of her friends are from divorced families and their parents have other relationships. There are single parents, blended families. In that context it's not so different.
"We only introduce the kids to our more serious partners," Scott continues. "They definitely don't meet every person we sleep with."
Scott says that answering questions in an age-appropriate way has ensured that his kids are as happy and healthy as any other child with two loving parents.
"The first time my kids saw me kiss my girlfriend, Ruth, they were laughing and giggling. But now they don't even pay attention."
If you think juggling work, kids and one partner is tough, Scott has some advice.
"You have to be organised. Amy and I make sure we get two date nights a week while the other watches the kids. We swap weekends but also make sure we have every third weekend together as a family," he says.
"I think our girls are lucky to grow up with an array of amazing, strong adult role models who love them. Sometimes our partners even help with babysitting, and that's always nice."
*All subjects interviewed are real Australians, but their names have been changed for privacy reasons.
Winnie Salamon is a writer and freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @winniesalamon