I Date Poly Parents & Here Are My Red Flags

“If someone wants to introduce me to their kids immediately, it’s a huge red flag.”

by By Ally Iseman, As Told To Alyssa Shelasky
Are You Open?

I understood very young that I wasn’t interested in having kids myself. Sure, I recognized it was something we were supposed to do, but I didn’t have a great experience as a kid and I never really had that particular drive inside. As I got older, I started to examine the feeling and found more and more reasons that backed up my original choice. Having kids just wasn’t for me. There are so many things I’m more interested in doing, and I am a finite being!

At the same time, I’m 39, and I’m out there dating; I’m non-monogamous, I’m vegan — if I want to only date people without kids, the opportunities are narrowing. So I went from “No thank you, I don’t want to date parents,” to “I’m open to it,” to now, “I kind of like it!” Well, I like it, but have boundaries around it. Like, I honestly don’t mind if you have kids, but I’m not looking to step into the role of a parent. So as long as the kids are fully parented by whomever needs to be parenting them, it’s totally fine.

I’ve dated both moms and dads. I’m sapiosexual, or a queer woman, but I came out later in life so I have more experience with cis men than women. I’m still at the stage where I turn into a bumbling idiot when there’s a pretty girl in the room. I’m immediately 12 again. But I’m working on it! Either way, if it’s a first date with a mom or a dad, I don’t really need to hear about the trials and tribulations of parenting. I definitely want to hear that you have kids, and some context, and then let’s move on to some sexy stuff. If having kids is your whole identity, we’re not going to have much to talk about so there probably won’t be a second date. If there’s friction with the co-parent, or custody drama, I’m probably not the person to date you right now. That’s just not what I’m interested in signing up for right out the gate.

One perk to dating polyamorous parents is that I’ve found that their parenting dynamic is actually a marker for how emotionally attuned and available they are. It’s a sign of how they handle time management or complicated co-parenting relationships. When you date a parent, you quickly have solid indications of their relational skills and the emotional capacities they’re working with.

If someone wants to introduce me to their kids immediately, it’s a huge red flag to me.

Timing really plays into dating a parent. If someone wants to introduce me to their kids immediately, it’s a huge red flag. Like, “You don’t even know me?” Kids can develop deep attachment pretty quickly, and I take my relationship with them really seriously, so if we’re not sure of our longevity potential yet? I have no business meeting your children. Of course, I’m coming from a poly, non-monogamous framework, which means the parents are having multiple relationships and the kids are likely forming relationships with multiple adult figures, which is great, but they ideally should be adult figures who will be securely attached to the family for an extended, meaningful period of time.

There’s an inherent hierarchy to most relationships when you’re poly, but especially when kids are involved. Like, if we’re dating and it’s getting serious, and you have kids and multiple partners and a co-parent — what feels really good is when I’m included in the planning conversations. I like being kept in the loop, not the last to know. I like knowing when something comes up, in terms of sitters or plans changing. Meeting the co-parents ahead of time is also nice, when the time is right. I prefer a process where I’m integrated into the family’s life, not the other way around. A lovely example of how that can unfold is when it’s something like, “Hey, we do a family Sunday brunch together every Sunday, do you want to come this weekend?” That way they’re meeting me, this new person, on their turf, where they’re comfortable.

You definitely have to be flexible when you’re dating a poly parent. There’s going to be child care issues and I’m generally understanding. But if someone has the exact same flaking issue constantly recurring — I’m like, “Do you not have backup plans?” It’s a sign of disorganization. I mean, I get that stuff happens, but I’m interested in a quality of character who can manage their time around everything they’ve chosen to have in their life.

I also prefer to date poly parents who are out. Everyone gets to establish their own frameworks and levels of transparency, so I don’t knock anyone’s choices. But for me? I’m so out personally, professionally, socially — I don’t want to be closeted in any way. It’s just the antithesis to my identity and how I move through the world, so it’s pretty much a deal breaker for me. If you’re not out at work, I can deal with that. But with your family? I don’t want to start a relationship, especially with children, that isn’t truthful.

Interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Ally Iseman is a speaker, community organizer, and non-monogamy educator.

Alyssa Shelasky is the author of This Might Be Too Personal and Apron Anxiety. She is also the writer of New York Magazine’s popular Sex Diaries column, and star of the HBO Sex Diaries docuseries. Her work can additionally be found in The New York Times, The Zoe Report, Elle, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.