recently did an episode called What Would Monogamists Do? and I have coined the phrase "it's not a poly problem, it's a people problem". The basic premise is that being polyamorous is really not very different from being monogamous. We have to deal with all the same issues that monogamous people do and very, very few issues that they don't.
For instance, "what about the children?" How do you handle nosy school employees and multiple parental figures? Well, the same way my single-mother sister handled multiple parental figures and her kids' schools. I've told this story before - my sister is raising her two kids while living with our parents. Her two kids have two different fathers. So, right there, the oldest kid had 3 adults on his Approved For Pickup & Emergency Contact lists (his father was not in the picture & not allowed to pick him up) and the youngest kid had 4 adults on his lists (his dad is an involved dad).
Then each kid had daycare, so add +1 for each of them. Then I lived at home while the oldest kid was a toddler, so add +1 to his count for me to pick him up. Then my sister's best friend was practically another mother to the kids, especially when she had her own kids and they were sort of a psuedo-lesbian-without-the-lesbian-sex family. So that makes another +1 for both of them. Then there was the other single mother-friend that my sister lived with for a while, to combine incomes and share resources, so that was +1 for the oldest kid, but they "broke up" in a pretty ugly, dramatic manner, so she had to be removed from the lists after about a year. Then there were the 2 or so years my sister lived with her oldest son's grandparents (the father's parents) in another town, who was across the street from our 2 cousins and down the street from another cousin and 2 blocks over from an aunt & uncle and around the corner from our grandfather, so add +8 for him while subtracting all the previous pluses.
So, let's see, that makes 6 adults on the kids' Approved Adults Lists for school, 1 person who was on there only briefly, and 8 adults who were on the oldest kid's list for about 2 years while the other 6 taken off and then switched again when she moved back. Wait, are we talking about poly families again?
My sister is monogamous. The kid-school problem was simple. She just told her schools that these people were allowed to pick her children up and could be called in an emergency. If they insisted on listing a relationship to the children, we were all either listed as family friend, babysitter, or some family name like "aunt" or "grandmother", whether it was true or not. For example, all of our cousins (my sister's and mine) are listed as "aunt" to my nephews, even though they're actually second cousins to the kids. My sister's best friends are also called "aunt" by the boys. I, as the only actual aunt, am called Auntie, to distinguish that there is a different lineage happening. But I also live the farthest away & the boys have more contact with their "aunts" than their "auntie" (although I am my oldest nephew's primary source of tech support).
People like to ask "how will the kids know who their 'real' parents are?" Well, how do my sister's kids know who their "real" parents are, or their real aunts, for that matter? It's pretty simple ... she tells them. The oldest kid knows he has a different father than his brother, and he knows that I am his mom's sister and all his other aunts are actually his mom's cousins or best friends. The younger kid will learn that after he actually masters whole sentences.
My sister and I were both adopted, and we knew who are "real" parents were - they were the two people who raised us and sat up with us when we were sick and helped us with our homework and disciplined us when we acted up. My sister and I both knew that there were some other people out there somewhere who had actually put together our genetic material, and we knew that the two people whose DNA I had were not the same 2 people whose DNA she had. It wasn't confusing at all. In 3rd grade, I actually got in trouble because a kid was teasing me for being adopted and my retort was "at least I wasn't an accident - my parents wanted me!" So yeah, I knew and I understood. It really wasn't that hard. Even after meeting my bio-mom & siblings, I'm pretty well able to keep it straight in my head who is who. Even bonobos can tell each other apart in spite of living all communal-like.
Which brings us to today. I get a lot of questions like "who do you spend holidays with" and "it must be expensive trying to give that many people holiday gifts" and other things that imply that the person asking the question can't fathom how to juggle schedules and finances when there is more than one person who might be the recipient of important celebrations.
Ever since my extended family, the neophytes, got on Facebook, I have started a tradition of posting an old photo of them on their walls related to whatever holiday it is. For example, on their birthdays, I post an embarassing baby photo. On their annversaries, I post an old wedding photo. On Mother's & Father's Days, I post an old photo of them being mothers & fathers. I thought this was a sweet tradition ... until more and more of my family got online. Now I'm faced with three problems - 1) I'm running out of old pictures; 2) I wasn't around or didn't know some of my family long enough to have the appropriate pictures; 3) I have so many people in my family that if I did this for everyone in order to not make anyone feel left out, I'd spend days uploading pictures for each holiday!
I was raised in a monogamous, Christian, non-divided home. If I narrow the criteria to just my most immediate family, I can hopefully escape the jealous "why didn't you post a mother's day wish on MY wall?" from all the cousins and aunts and family friends and old school friends on my Facebook. But that still leaves 2 mothers and 3 sisters. Then, off Facebook, I still have to call 2 grandmothers! And that's only this year, since I recently lost my godmother and my third grandmother (I have a fourth grandmother, somewhere, but she denies my existence so she doesn't get my holiday wishes either).
So who do I spend holidays with and how do I handle gifts for so many people? First, I evaluate who is actually in my vicinity/budget to spend physical time with. Then I narrow down the list to those I have a first-degree relationship with in order to cut down on time & financial expenses. That leaves me with 7 people to do *something* special to acknowledge on this special day.
I'm talking about my monogamous, Christian, bio/adopted family, not my poly family.
Fortunately for me, none of my partners have kids (and they're male) so I never have to wish any of them a happy parent's day, and only one of my partners' other partners (my immediate metamours) has kids, so I actually do not have this problem as a poly person
. For me, this whole scheduling around holidays & managing the gifts thing is pretty much exclusively a non-poly issue!
By the time the winter holiday season comes around, and all 6 of us who live within driving distance of each other want to spend the day all together and there are only 2 parents of the group who also live within driving distance, this whole holiday scheduling/gift-giving thing is pretty effortless! Sometimes things can get a little complicated, but any time the complication ratchets up as a poly person, it's really no more complicated than what I had to deal with as a mono person with mono relatives. It's the exact same set of complication and the exact same skill set to deal with it.
"But I'm not having sex with my siblings!" Of course not, but nothing we're talking about here has anything to do with sex. I don't have to be having some incestuous relationship with my sisters to make one feel jealous or left out if I give the others more attention or a better gift than her. I don't have to be sleeping with my mothers to want to tread carefully and be compassionate when doing stuff for the other mother so that each doesn't feel abandoned or excluded or usurped. I'm talking about people's feelings and maintaining loving relationships. Sex is not required to make either someone feel a special connection to you or to make them feel hurt by you. And to manage everyone's feelings and expectations in a reasonable & compassionate manner, those are skills that I learned from interacting with my parents, siblings, cousins, and family friends.
If you think there is some novel and exclusive set of relationship skills for managing poly relationships, I think you are making things way more difficult than they need to be and you are just trying to reinvent the wheel. Take the issue of sex out of the equation and just think, "how can I be compassionate and considerate to this other person without neglecting my own emotional or physical health? How can I be compassionate and considerate to these several other people without neglecting either my or everyone else's emotional or physical health? What kinds of compromises can we find to solve the conflict that will either meet everyone's needs, or at least distribute among those involved the amount of sacrifice & compromise that needs to be made in order to have a resolution? How can I do this without imposing limits on other people's behaviour or devaluing one relationship in favor of another?"
I can't upload photos for every single mother I know on Mother's Day. I don't have the time, nor do I have the photos. It is reasonable for me to limit my largest efforts to those I have the closest and most direct relationship to - my own mothers & sisters with children - and my extended relatives will not feel slighted because of the nature of those relationships (and not because I told them "hey, you knew the deal when you signed up to be a cousin - you are less important than these other people here" - a cousin is still a person & sometimes it will be necessary to prioritize the cousin if I want to maintain that relationship. My sister, for example, is very close to our cousins, close enough that she treats them as sisters, but I moved away a long time ago & our cousin relationship just didn't grow in that direction. The "closeness" is about emotional connection, not about them being "cousins" & therefore relegated to a lesser status).
Because those close relationships are ones that I value, I make it a priority to extend the effort to all of them even though there are still several people left after narrowing the criteria. I get to express my love for them, they feel loved, everyone's happy. Yes, it took more time out of my day than if I only said "happy mother's day" to my own mom and no one else. Even if I only said it to both mothers. That's an exchange I'm willing to make because I value those relationships. Notice that I didn't say "a price I'm willing to pay".
Oh, but wait, was I supposed to be talking about poly relationships? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. And I think that's one of the keys to having successful poly relationships.