There are many of you who, like me, are trying to raise children in a society that often is not particularly accepting. Society, books and movies haven’t exactly paved the way to the notion of ethical non-monogamy. We may have opened up our marriage late in the game but we’ve always been open-minded about sexuality and gender roles. We have been trying to keep the standard narrative driven drivel to a minimum since the birth of our first. It was easier in the early years then the real challenge began in preschool. The other little girls had been fed a non-stop diet of “Someday my prince will come.” which our daughter decided to embrace wholeheartedly. A couple of years later a similar thing would happen to our son.
Once they entered school, gender roles were assigned and adhered to. So was the notion of dyadic relationships with the inevitable “first comes love, then comes marriage, the comes the baby in the baby carriage.” It wasn’t enough to tell them this wasn’t the only option in life. I needed backup. I needed to come up with resources that go against the standard narrative and offer positive views on non-traditional families and relationships. It was difficult to find but I found a few alternatives.
Trying to find books, TV shows or even movies with non-traditional families was not as easy as I had hoped. Most are geared toward LGBT families, not polyamorous families and certain not families with parents that swing. They are still a good way to start as an introduction to non-traditional families and celebrating our unique differences. Books like “The Family Book” and “Its Okay to be Different” by Todd Parr offer basic examples as does “ABC A Family Alphabet Book” and “123 A Family County Book” by Bobbie Combs. “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell, “Mini Mia and her Darling Uncle” by Pija Lindenbaum, “Daddy’s Roommate” & “Daddy’s Wedding” by Michael Willhoite along with “Heather Has Two Mommies” & “Mommy, Mama and Me” by Leslea Newman are great books that are specifically about Gay and Lesbian parents.
A book that lightly touches on Polyamory is “Else-Marie and Her Seven Little Daddies” by Gabrielle Charbonnet, and Pija Lindenbaum. In it a little girl is worried the other kids in her playgroup might not be accepting of her seven little Daddies, and I mean little as in nearly doll sized. In the end she finds she had nothing to worry about. Also poly-friendly is “Six Dinner Sid” by Inga Moore about Sid the cat belongs to six different families who don’t mind sharing him. A book that was recommended yet I have not read is “The Little House That Ran Away from Home” by Claude Ponti from “Strange Stories for Strange Kids”. The little house marries two other houses and shows them living in a happy cartoon triad.
The books “The Missing Piece” and “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” by Shel Silverstein are simple prose poems about a shapes looking for their “missing piece.” It’s about self-fulfillment, self-acceptance and, some suggest, non-monogamy. Might be a bit of a stretch to link non-monogamy to these books but I can sort of see where they get that. The ending finds the searching shapes not pairing off but finding happiness in just being themselves. You can take from that what you will. I also like the book “I Love You the Purplest” by Barbara M. Joosse. The mother describes how each of her kids is good in their own way and she loves them equally. It’s mostly about sibling rivalry but I like how it shows you don’t have to favor or love one person more than another. Would be nice to find a children’s book that actually has a real open family in it but that has yet to be written.
Teen readers get a few real characters but not many. Most YA fiction deals with romanticized view of love and relationships. The characters are perpetually decided between two loves. I only found “Love You Two” by Maria Pallotta-Chiarolli. The story is about a girl who finds out her mother is Polyamorous. You can also turn to Robert Heinlein. “Stranger in a Strange Land”, “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and “Time Enough For Love” all touch on issues with religion, individualism and sexuality. The books are geared for older readers so I’m not sure if everyone will find these appropriate for teens. They are often recommended for college age or older.
Movies and TV programs were even harder to find. No one wants to take the chance of having the family values police come down on them for straying from standard themes. Movies and TV only offer shows with stereotypical parents or, at best, single parent or blended families. The only recommendations found that weren’t movies for grown-ups were “The King and I” and “Paint Your Wagon”. The former is not exactly the best example of open relationships as it’s a polygamist family not shown in a very positive light. The later has a woman with two husbands but by the end of the movie she pairs off with only one of them. Neither really puts non-monogamy in the best light.
I always thought the cartoon series “The Fairly OddParents” leans towards Poly as it shows two sets of parents taking care of a child. Yes, I know, I’m grasping at straws by thinking the addition of fairy godparents qualifies as a Quad but it’s all I got. It would seem that Science Fiction movies and shows are the only ones routinely offering unique families and different attitudes towards relationships. Everything from Star Trek to Doctor Who has at some point presented a take on society or character that breaks from standard definitions. They are usually aliens or from the distant future but at least it offers a view that challenges stereotypes and asks people to think differently about how people relate to one another.
I’m hoping that some of this, with additional input from us, will help them to be more open and accepting as adults. They may choose an entirely different path than we have and we’d be happy with that. We can only hope our kids will make decisions based on a positive perception of themselves and others, consider all possibilities and not just mindlessly follow the herd.
Oh, this is great. Although I’m pretty young and not thinking of kids properly yet, I have given this kind of thing SOME thought.
I am deeply monogamous – nature or nurture, I don’t know, but (at the moment) I can’t imagine being non-monogamous. However, since discovering a wealth of resources (for adults) about non-monogamy, I’ve wanted to – when I finally have kids! – raise them to understand that monogamy is not their only option.
One of my teachers at school said she hadn’t done her job properly until her students had the tools to go further than she had; raising kids should be the same. I may not be in the right headspace for non-monogamy, but I’d like my kids to be. I’ll definitely be referring back to the resources listed above when my child-bearing time comes.
Thank you for this!
The 1 season show Caprica (prequal to Battlestar Galactica) had an example of a poly family that was featured prominently. Unfortunately, those people also turned out to be the show’s villians (but not because they were poly)
I plan on surrounding my kid with my polyamorous friends and lovers and their families as a real life example of diversity. I’m not sure how I’ll handle school-age as it has to be known that there are things you just don’t talk about at school without it being a big secret or something to be ashamed of.
There is a very good issue of Loving More Magazine devoted to raising children in poly and sex positive environments.
Judith Levine wrote a great book which documents that information about sex is not harmful to children.
The bottom line: Answer children’s questions about sex with the truth, and make sure, as they grow, that they have appropriate resources available. Don’t worry about talking over their heads. They’ll let you know if it’s too much information. If you lie to them or shine them on, they’ll lose trust in you, and that is a real disaster.
Another good lgbt picture book is King and King by Linda de Haan(978-1582460611):
“On the tallest mountain above town,” the young Prince Bertie still has not married, as is the custom in his kingdom. His mother, a grouchy Queen who is tired of ruling and wishes to pass on the responsibility to her son, insists he must find a princess to marry. The prince tells his mom “Very well, Mother…. I must say, though, I’ve never cared much for princesses.” His mother marches princess after princess through the castle, from places ranging from Greenland to Mumbai, but in spite of their various talents — Princess Aria of Austria sings opera, Princess Dolly from Texas juggles and does magic tricks — they fail to interest the prince (though the prince’s page falls in love with the princess from Greenland). After a while, along comes Princess Madeleine escorted by her brother Prince Lee. At the same time, both Bertie and Lee exclaim, “What a wonderful prince!” The princes immediately fall in love, and they begin marriage preparations at once. The wedding is attended by all the rejected princesses and their families; the two princes are declared King and King, and the Queen can finally relax, sunning herself in a lounge chair near the page and the princess from Greenland. The story ends with a kiss between the two kings.”
Thanks for the recommendation. Will definitely check “King and King” out.
While not technically ‘young adult’ Mercedes Lackey tackles both LGBT and non-monogamy in several of her books, and she definitely writes with young adult readers in mind (her main publisher doesn’t release young adult books, but large portions of her fan base are young adult.)
The Herald Mage trilogy was my teenage introduction to homosexuality, and a powerful depiction of a young man dealing with his family’s disapproval.
The Arrows trilogy includes a few LGB relationships as well, though they aren’t as central to the story.
The first three books of the Bedlam’s Bard series deal with a triad (MFM).
Also Tamora Pierce’s book BloodHound touches on LGBT, with a relationship between two men, one of who has a female persona and feels he was ‘born in the wrong body’ – a man outside and a woman inside. Pierce also tackles LGB in Will of the Empress, where one of her main characters recognizes and accepts her sexuality for the first time.
Aside from those already mentioned, I’m afraid I don’t know any children’s books tackling these themes.
I have young (2 & 4) kids that we’re raising in a poly household. When we read Todd Parr’s “The Family Book” I just insert a line:
Some families have two moms or two dads
Some families have one parent instead of two
(And some families have more than two parents)
When my eldest starts to read, we’ll talk about why Mommy adds words to the book. 😉
While not specifically related to non-monogamy, my kids & I really enjoy Mo Willems’ “Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed.” It has a great message of tolerance, being yourself and how everybody can get along even if they’re different. I appreciate in particular how Wilbur (the fashionable protagonist) and Grand-Pah (“the oldest, greatest, and most naked naked mole rat ever”), handle the negative reactions of some of the other mole rats.
As to all the Heinlein, I read both Stranger & Friday at 15 (and a couple years later, all the rest of Heinlein’s works) and they were formative in how I thought about relationships and sexuality. I wouldn’t recommend Friday for a mid-teen, but I don’t think one has to get to college to be able to handle Stranger.
Another book that I read as a teen that was much more age appropriate, though not specifically YA, is Tanya Huff’s The Fire’s Stone. I’m reluctant to reread it and tarnish the pleasant memories (was the writing any good? can’t recall, might not have been!), but the angsty love triangle was resolved with an open relationship.
Thanks for the book recommendations, finding books for mid-teens/tweens seems to be the hardest. I love that you added the extra line to Todd Parr’s book. I used to change words to books to make them more inclusive when my kids were younger. Once they learned to read they had no interest in revisiting these books to read them on their own. New books were more exciting, I guess. I was sort of off the hook in explaining why the words were different but the explanation would have been a great conversation starter.
Thanks to everyone who have added books to this list! Such great recommendations coming in. When I get enough new additions I might have to update this post.
Unfortunately, I don’t recall the name of the Manga, but when the issue of poly came up in my household about 10 years ago, my then ~16 yo stepdaughter told us all about the manga series she’d been reading where the 2 teens who are the main characters, parents meet and decided to have a poly-quad.
Manga! I’m definitely going to look for this! Thanks and if I find it I’ll post the title here in comments.
The Princess and the Dragon by Audrey Wood is the only book from my childhood that I can remember that is even vaguely “everyone is unique and that’s okay”. Although I was a child who was vaguely upset the princess couldn’t marry the unicorn and didn’t like the vague implication that Briar Rose and Snow White didn’t live together in one castle with their princes.
For early to late teens I’d kind of suggest the Circle series by Tamora Pierce. It’s more families of choice, though the four main characters do have four teachers who act as parental figures. (Two of whom are in a lesbian relationship with each other and one of those two has an implied on-and-off relationship with a background male character.) It’s all very background noise until Will of the Empress which more directly addresses that sex is not an acceptable substitute for therapy, being lesbian in a fantasy world where it’s more or less okay is still tough and that coercion is not cool.
Another series that kind of tackles multiple partners/different kinds of relationships for older teens is the Faerie Court/Wicked Lovely series, specifically the first two – Wicked Lovely and Ink Exchange. Wicked Lovely ends with Donia in a steady relationship with Keenan who has a business partnership with Aislinn who’s in a relationship with Seth. Aislinn’s more or less friends with Donia and Seth later becomes blood brother to Kennan’s former retainer, so it isn’t a quad really, but there was discussion as to how all the relationships would work and everything tied together neatly.
In Ink Exchange the threesome is NOT a healthy one, but it’s obvious that it’s down to character flaws rather than the fact it’s a threesome.
I haven’t read the last two, which may completely dash everything to pieces, but the first two are ‘stand alones’.
Door into Fire and the rest of the Tale of the Five/Door Into series by Diane Duane has poly/open relationships and is very frank about it. Though the series is marked as adult (and I haven’t read the last two yet) mid to late teens should find DiF accessible enough especially if they’re an advanced reader.
I’ve only really read Birthday of the World and Other Stories by Ursula Le Guin and attempted to read her Earthsea stories, but BotW has a few stories that play with gender and her sedoretu (quads which have two “forbidden” relationships) relationship model that made me love it.
Again, probably best suited for older/more mature teens.
I swear there are more books for teens that have poly/open relationship themes, but these are the ones that I’ve read that I can remember. (And I now want to attempt to write a children’s book about polyamory.)
Thanks for the great recommendations. I’m tempted to write a children’s book myself. We should all make an attempt and get a number of children’s books out there. Go for it!
Could I also raise awareness of an excellent poly kids’ book by my partner Sarah called Raf and the Robots?
Her website is storiesforuniquefamilies.com
It’s not a book about Polyamory per se, but a story of a boy who can’t get his busy family to read his book at the moment he wants to – and then learns that all he has to do is wait a moment. It’s set in an unlabelled family of 2 women and a man, which could be a poly family or a blended family, or a couple with a donor or surrogate.
A preview is available here: http://www.amazon.com/Raf-Robots-Sarah-J-Corner-ebook/dp/B00NL6PLTU