Growing up, as I came to terms with my queer identity, I began to accept that my family would not look like the one I was born into. It’s unlikely that I’ll marry a man, and I definitely have no intention of giving birth. When I later learned what polyamory was, and that it applied to me, my idea of family broadened. I watched videos of polyamorous triads raising adopted children together, and read articles offering advice to polyamorous parents. My vision of my future family shifted from a vague blur to something tangible, shared, and even collaborative.
Care work, from an economic perspective, is described as work in the home—child care, errand running, cooking, and cleaning. Because it is hard to place a monetary value on this type of work, it is often discounted or left out of economic conversations entirely. Even as more women take on careers, they still do the majority of the housework.
This conversation is incredibly valuable to any home, especially today, when traditional marriage and nuclear families are no longer the only option. Marriage equality is now legal on a national level and is on the rise. In these marriages, it is obviously impossible to adhere to prescribed gender roles.
Same-sex couples have traditionally been more likely to seek external care options when raising kids, according to Polyamory Economics. LGBTQ parents adopt children who sometimes have different genders or races than their own. These parents recognize the importance of their children having adult role models that look like them.
In polyamorous relationships, this outsourcing of care only increases. Polyamorous parents talk about the benefits of having multiple adults in a home to address the different issues a child may have.
In a recent Planet Money podcast, economist Tim Harford points out that while love is arguably an infinite resource, time is scarce. Dividing child care among multiple parents, when done correctly, increases benefits for the child in that home. And it gives adults more time to live their lives outside of parenting and work, diminishing one of the major costs that comes with having a child.
Additionally, if not everyone in a polyamorous relationship contributes financially, care work becomes that much more valuable in a family system. It forces us to rethink how we value labor in our capitalist society. Economic models don’t generally take into account anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the market and that includes care work, according to economist Deirdre McCloskey’s Beyond Economic Man. By adding to the conversation about how care work functions, we can further determine how this labor fits into our economy and include it in formal economic discourse.
In a recent YouGov study, only 51 percent of people under the age of 30 said their ideal relationship would be completely monogamous. But the idea of non-monogamy is largely left out of the economic discussions surrounding marriage and child care. I still find myself longing for a polyamorous alternative to the household models we currently have in place.
According to Polyamory Economics, many heterosexual monogamous couples hire domestic help not because of lack of time, but to avoid disagreement about who contributes what. Seeking outside help can look different than the way it is presented now, though. It doesn’t have to be shameful, and it doesn’t necessarily have to be paid. Monogamous and heterosexual people can take from the polyamorous model by leaning more on friends and family, and seeking help in different areas where they are less qualified to care for their homes and children.
Not everyone is polyamorous, and not everyone should be. But as we move away from traditional marriage and gendered norms, our philosophy on child care should change with it. All sides have the opportunity to benefit financially, and personally, from a collaborative care approach.