Raising children is easier with four adults, according to Micah Schneider, making a pro-family argument for polyamory as a lifestyle.
Last April, my family welcomed the newest member of our family. He’s a beautiful little boy, and we’re happy beyond belief. All four of us. And during the time it has taken for him to grow from a newborn infant to a toddler, I have had the same thought, every single day. I look at my son, and shake my head and think, “I don’t know how they do it.”
Monogamous parents, I mean. To be really specific, monogamous parents of babies.
There is so much bloody work to do! Feeding and diapers and changing and feeding and cuddling and bathing and more changing and laundry and more diapers and more comforting and yet more feeding and none of that takes “regular” life into account. Where do monogamous couples fit in cooking their own food, their own laundry, their own sleep, for Gods’ sake?
Babies are hard work, everyone knows that. And they only get more so as they grow bigger. We were blessed with a pretty happy and very healthy child, but he’s quite a handful. When he was a newborn, he didn’t like not being held. And he let us know it if he was put down for more than a couple of microseconds. He didn’t cry unless something was wrong: hungry, cold, dirty or some combination thereof. He still doesn’t. He ate every few hours, needed new diapers or clothes slightly less often, and usually needed help relaxing into sleep. None of that has really changed: he’s pretty consistent. Nothing unusual for a baby, whether he was ten weeks or ten months, and I’m not complaining about any of it.
But I simply cannot imagine doing it with only two people, or worse, alone as a single parent! Because there are four of us, we’ve been able to trade off housework and sleep and baby duty, so none of us are wandering around looking like overwhelmed, exhausted zombie parents. When he first came home, we set up a “baby duty” schedule. Every third night, someone stayed up with the infant so Mommy could sleep (“Mommy” here referring to the biological mom, who was the only one of us who could feed the little guy, since he was exclusively breastfed and Mommy couldn’t pump at first).
We worked together to keep all of the balls in the air. We ate regular meals (that didn’t come out of the freezer or a fast-food bag), the house wasn’t a total disaster, we didn’t run out of clothing, errands and chores got done. Mommy was the most tired of us, but she had a good excuse. Giving birth is hard, and nursing is literally a drain on a mother’s body. Couple that with only being able to sleep, at most, three to four hours at a stretch, and you’ve got one tired woman.
As our son grew, real life began to intrude. Of the four of us, Mommy works from home, but “Little Momma” had to go back to work, and so did “Daddy.” I think I’m going to be “Dad”, or maybe “Da-Da”. (Our son isn’t really talking yet, so it’s still up in the air.) I finished grad school around the time our son was born, and Mommy works from home, so even though she is busy, she is never far away from the baby, and neither am I. Daddy, our primary breadwinner, arranged things so he could telecommute once a week. A few months ago, I found a job, also working from home, so there is always one parent home with the baby, and usually two or more.
We’ve gone through typical new-baby milestones. When he started to roll around, we baby-proofed the house. Then he started crawling and we learned just how poorly we had baby-proofed the first time, and did a more thorough job of it. When he needed to see the doctor, we made the appointments for days when we knew at least one of us could bring him If someone has a deadline or some pressing commitment, there are three other people who can step in. All four of us are listed as contacts, so there’s no hassle. And at just the point in the day when Mommy and I are completely exhausted from chasing the baby around the house all day plus doing our full-time jobs, his other two parents come home. They get bonding time, and we get a much-needed break.
In a lot of ways, my son’s home life is not so different from the one I grew up in. My grandmother and two aunts and uncles lived right next door. There were always plenty of people around to help out when needed. None of the four of us set out to re-create our own version of the extended family, but that is exactly what we’ve got. Except different.
There are a lot of advantages to being polyamorous. There are particular advantages to living in a polyamorous household. We suspected that having multiple adults around to care for an infant would be great, but I don’t think any of us had any idea just how great it would be. Unlike the rest of my family, I can speak from direct experience of the difference between a more typical, monogamous experience of marriage and children and what I have now. My ex-wife and I had two children, and when they were babies, we raised them without additional partners, far from our biological families. It was hard to juggle everything. We did well, but it was often a struggle.
It is so much easier this time. If someone is tired or sick, we have backups. If something unexpectedly comes up, we have options. If someone can’t do something they said they would, someone else can step up and make it happen. I feel sorry for all of the people in this world trying to take care of an infant with two or fewer sets of hands.
Activists in our community will point out that polyamory isn’t about sex: polyamory is about love. I would add this: polyamory is about love and family.
Read more from our special “Polyamory” section.
—Photo Paolo Camera/Flickr