How to Be Inclusive of Non-monogamous Parents in Parent Education

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For educators today, there is an increasing presence of non-traditional parents’ relationship styles in the mix, whether they are single parents, younger parents, older parents, non-monogamous parents, or same-gender parent couples, transgender parents, etc. What this means is that parent-educators should prepare themselves to cultivate an educational environment that is inclusive of these minority individuals and adaptive to their needs by familiarizing themselves with these diverse groups. This article provides some best practices for working with non-monogamous parents in the classroom.

1. Know Your Students

Since there is an increasing prevalence of non-monogamous relationships recently (Emberger, 2009), parent educators should not only be aware of this, but also know and understand the intricacies of the non-monogamous population. As discussed in Tristan Taormino’s insightful resource, Opening Up (2008), non-monogamy comes in many forms including partnered non-monogamy or open relationships, swinging, polyamory, polyfidelity or group relationships, solo polyamory or singlehood, and more personalized variations and combinations of these (Taormino, 2008).

  • Partnered non-monogamy and open relationships consist of a committed relationship between a pair with the freedom to be involved with other people for erotic activities that are generally temporary, commitment-free, and non-romantic.
  • Swinging is similar to this, but there is a strong emphasis on the swinger “lifestyle” and the establishment of the swinger community where swingers meet sexual partners outside of their dyadic committed relationship and emotional intimacy with these sexual partners is distinctly discouraged (McCollough & Hall, 2003 as cited in Emberger, 2009).
  • Polyamory, as described by Davidson (2002 as cited in Emberger, 2009), is a form of non-monogamy that allows and harvests emotional intimacy in multiple significant relationships.
  • Polyfidelity and group relationships consist of committed multi-partner groups rather than dyadic couples (Taormino, 2008).
  • Solo polyamory and singlehood permit being single to be a choice rather than a default temporary latency period between monogamous relationships (Easton & Hardy, 2009).

Non-monogamy

To become more familiar with the non-monogamous community, here is a list of resources.

In the shadow of the monogamous majority, the non-monogamous population has reported facing challenges with prejudice from mainstream monogamists, pressure of conformist ideals, complications of social relationships, development of self-identity, and regulation of core relationships (Keener, 2004). According to Goldfeder and Sheff (2013), their children may form bonds with their partners as they cycle in and out of their lives, experience social stigma from intolerable peers or community members, and suffer from household overcrowding or privacy deprivation by additional partners around the household. Along with these disadvantages, however, there are also specific familial aspects of non-monogamous parenthood that are advantageous for the family and children, including greater pooled resources and income, additional adults to give homework help, increased diversity of skill set, more adult attention and accessibility for the children, and a strong foundation of honesty, intimacy, and authenticity (Goldfeder & Sheff, 2013). When working with parents, educators should recognize that these challenges and benefits can affect their students’ parenting as well as their students’ choice of relationship style.

If educators become aware of their worldview toward diversity around them, they can work to develop their worldview in a way that is capable of intercultural adaptation (Bennett, 1993 as cited in Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2012). Knowing the details about the non-monogamous population is key to the ability of educators to know and understand their students and accommodate their needs. Educators should still treat every student as an individual, eliminating any preconceived notions or stereotypes that they may have about minority groups in order to create an educational environment of safety, diversity, equality, and openness. By creating this type of inclusive environment and being knowledgeable about the non-monogamous population, students will feel comfortable with the information and feedback they are receiving from the educator and to learn about parenting in the context of their lives from an educator who is accepting and knowledgeable.

2. Prepare Your Students

When working with both monogamous and non-monogamous parents, the task of preparing them to approach the topic of non-monogamy with their children is crucial. There’s a chance that may have had something to do with why they’re attending a parent education class in the first place. Parent educators should work with their students on the skills necessary to discuss the concept of non-monogamy with their children in an age-appropriate way that also normalizes the option to have a non-monogamous lifestyle. Young children between the ages of five to eight years old who have non-monogamous parents, according to Goldfeder and Sheff (2013), tend to egocentrically see their parental figures as simply adults in their lives whom they have various relationships with rather than seeing them as adults who have various relationships with each other. As children get older toward adolescence, they are met with the developmental task of discovering a sense of belonging and identity within a group (Erikson, 1950). At this stage, as children become more consciously exposed to other children at school, they become aware of the things that they have in common with each other and the things that make them different from each other, including their family structure. If they are in a family with non-monogamous parents, they begin to realize this and there is talk among their friend group about it (Goldfeder & Sheff, 2013).

Adolescent

It becomes the duty of the parent educator to prepare the parents for conversations they will have with their children in which relationship style differences may come up. Taormino’s chapter on parenting in Opening Up covers a lot of what this would look like. Parents should be made aware that the children will want to know how it affects them, partly due to their characteristic egocentric view of their lives, and may need concepts explained to them in different ways, based on their cognitive ability and pre-existing schema.

3. Help Your Students Develop Realistic Expectations

Parent educators should be equipped to assist parents with developing realistic expectations for their children, in this case, regarding the existence of non-monogamy in the world. For both monogamous and non-monogamous parents, it is essential that their expectations of their children allow for freedom of individuality. In regard to non-monogamy, this means that children should not feel obligated to conform to the style of relationship that is in place in their family by their parental figures. As children grow older and reach adolescence, they are simultaneously discovering their sexual and romantic interests and beginning to develop their sense of identity (Erikson, 1950), and they may come to the realization that they identify with a relationship style that is different from that of their parents. In order to establish an atmosphere conducive to identity freedom within the household, parent educators should help parents to examine the worldviews they hold on relationship styles in order to help them be open to accepting their children for who they are. Educators should facilitate their students’ internal processes of becoming aware of their worldview and the diversity in the world around them and developing an understanding of it. This will help them to analyze their views on the wide variety of relationship styles and will help them to achieve a level of acceptance for the diversity that their children may present. The educators should serve as role models for this, exhibiting an adaptive understanding of both monogamous and non-monogamous parents in their classes regardless of the style of relationship that the educators themselves are carrying out in their own lives.

4. Use Resources for Your Students (and You)

Given that each educator has one singular worldview, it is vital in cultivating the inclusion of the non-monogamous population that educators provide their students with additional resources to better their understanding of non-monogamy. One way of finding resources is to ask the minority population themselves for recommendations (Hammer, 2009). This is a great way to tap into their worldview and to receive a body of literature and information that these individuals have identified with in a positive way. You may also want to enlist the help of parents who identify as non-monogamous to serve as a target group.

To further your knowledge on specifically non-monogamous parenting, this blog provides a series of resources.

For a list of further resources from the Kinsey Institute, click here!

Adapted from: Piazza, M. (2013). Best Practices for Parent Educators: Methodology for Inclusion of Non-monogamous Population (Unpublished). Widener University, Chester PA.

References:

Cushner, K., McClelland, A., & Safford, P. (2012).  Human diversity in education: An intercultural approach (7th ed.)  New York, NY:  McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Inc.

Easton, D & Hardy, J. W. (1997). The Ethical Slut. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

Erikson, E. (1950). Childhood and Society. New York: Norton.

Emberger, R. A. (2009). Considering polyamorous clients’ needs and evaluating clinicians’ attitudes toward poly clients. Retrieved from: http://www.rebeccaemberger.com/polyamorousclientneeds.htm

Goldfeder, M. & Sheff, E. (2013). Children of polyamorous families. LSD Journal, 5, 150-243.

Keener, M. C. (2004). A phenomenology of polyamorous persons. Retrieved from: http://user.xmission.com/~mkeener/thesis.pdf

Taormino, T. (2008). Opening Up. San Francisco, CA: Cleis Press Inc.

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7 responses to “How to Be Inclusive of Non-monogamous Parents in Parent Education

  1. Great Read! I think it is also important to recognize and acknowledge that some care-takers/parents don’t even understand the concept of non-monogamy. What they have traditionally heard are marginalizing names like : whore, THOT, gigolo, slut or freak. But in certain communities they have never used the term NON-monagamous. Many students may not even understand that non-monogamy is an option. They also have not seen healthy models of non-monogamy or monogamy. Not seeing healthy models of monogamy and non-monogamy make the ideology challenging to process and participate in. I have yet to see a lesson plan about non-monogamy but it would be great to see one developed and incorporated in traditional sexuality education.

  2. I would love to see a follow-up post with tips and suggestions for non-monogamous parents on talking to their kids about relationships styles. I think that many people who don’t have “traditional” relationship styles realize that they should talk to their kiddos, but many of them aren’t sure HOW to do it.

    I wonder if kids whose parents are dating (and not monogamous, but not necessarily non-monogamous in their committed relationship styles) face stigma from other children who live with their nuclear family. Have you seen any research on this? I know this used to be a stigma, but I believe that things are changing with the shift away from “traditional.”

    • I haven’t found any research on that specifically, but I would assume that if kids whose parents are dating face are facing any stigma, it would be a different kind of stigma than for most forms of non-monogamy. From what I’ve read about the judgments passed on different relationship arrangements, the open, polyamorous, polyfidelitous, and swinger relationship arrangements are often judged basically because they are different, but singlehood is judged because it is viewed by society as a temporary state of being that should be resolved by dating and achieving the “goal” of marriage which is the ideal in our society. Either way, with the increased rate of divorce over the past few decades, it’s becoming very common for kids (even those whose parents do subscribe to traditional monogamy) to have some number other than 2 parents simply because of divorce and re-marriage, so even in the traditional, there is a shift away from traditional.

  3. Taormino’s Opening Up is a great resource for learning about non-monogamies! Growing up, I do not recall family styles apart from single parent homes and nuclear families being discussed. Including non-traditional relationship styles in curricula and lessons is crucial for creating an inclusive learning environment and I am grateful that you covered it.

    I appreciate your inclusion of children and parents not necessarily having the same relationship styles. I have seen educators assume that children from non-monogamous households will also seek out non-monogamous relationship styles for themselves, however educators must remember that everyone is individual. Assisting students in further understanding their worldview and helping them become more accepting of the their children is an approach I have never seen incorporated into the classroom, but I believe it has tremendous value.

    Thank you for including that each educator only has but a singular worldview and therefore must seek out additional resources to better understand non-monogamy, and other sexuality topics. Some days it is easy for me to forget that my worldview limits my understanding of students and family systems, and I must continue pursuing additional perspectives.

  4. Thanks for this post Malia! I remember discussing family systems in school, but non-monogamous families were never thrown into the mix. I also really liked that you included educators only have one worldview because non-monogamous families really isn’t something I would think of, until someone else brought it up. Children should be taught the scope of family systems, so they can be exposed to all different types of relationship styles. I know if I was the child of non-monogamous parents, I would feel pretty excluded in a lot of the discussions that happened in school regarding families. I am going to try to be more aware of how inclusive I am being, and incorporate non-monogamy in my lessons. Thanks!

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