Alternate Family ArrangementsPoly Families

Enter the Househusband

One of the factors that complicates the fact that I am sort of a parent and sort of not is that I am the househusband to our family, and Tom’s arrival has changed a lot of the delicate equilibrium we worked so hard to achieve.

It was like someone lobbed a little baby-shaped poop grenade into our lives or something!

Though it is a matter of foot-shuffling consternation to most of the poly community how often a woman (or at least a “hot bisexual babe”) will be extended an offer to join an existing couple under the auspices of polyamory, especially if she’s willing to handle all the domestic responsibilities, most situations (in which this isn’t immediately seen for exactly as skeevy as it sounds) end quickly and usually with enough drama to make the last half hour of Titus Andronicus look like a Tuesday filler episode of The Young and the Restless.

Most poly people grind their teeth at this sort of thing. It makes their eye twitch and that vein in their temple turn purple and throb. Oh, they don’t mind if some dill hole wants to try to bring in sex fantasy/maid/free child care by starting an OKCupid profile as a “Hot couple seeking bisexual woman—must do windows” or something. If they want to try to live the dream, more power to them. Poly folks just tend to hate it when it gets called “polyamory.” In the same way that physicists hate when chakras and Reiki are called “quantum energies.”

I’m not saying no arrangement like this works out. They sometimes do. As much as some people would love to control the definition of what poly is and what it isn’t, the only real constant seems to be an aversion to monogamy as a One True Way (though there is a pretty large subset that works hard to distance themselves from those “just swingers” doing their “just swinger” thing). Poly has a wide diaspora of expressions, and sometimes they include a dedicated domestic and a preexisting couple who all get freaky in a puppy pile after the dishes get put away and the kids tucked in.

Usually not, though.

The situations where there are three people living together and one is housekeeping tend to be more the kind that sort of develop organically over time and less the sort of thing you might find solicited in Craigslist under “Casual Encounters.” Though a large number of poly folk tend to form primary (usually married or cohabiting) dyads and then date with varying levels of intensity beyond that dyad, a situation with more than two adults in a single house is common enough in poly communities.

Often these arrangements are pretty beneficial for everyone. Chores and finances only increase nominally from the addition of more people, but having another person to shoulder the work load means less for all. The fact that we don’t have splatter patter poop stains on the wall and Renee and Will have managed to get six to eight hours a night is mostly because they have an extra person who can do everything from take care of chores while someone watches the baby to watching the baby while someone takes a nap. And the more people splitting the bills, the better.

There’s a reason you want 8 people per house when you’re trying to beat The Sims.

When I moved in with Renee and Will, I was in dire financial straits, going through a divorce, and desperate not to have to drop out of college to get full-time work. Will and Renee had just lost a roommate from their extra bedroom. I had been serious with Renee for about six months, and we both thought it was too early to move in together, but the logistics were too perfect.

At first things started simple. “Hey, I could do the dishes every night if you wanted to knock some money off my rent.” “Catboxes sure are gross! Why don’t you let your pal Chris take care of those for just a few dollars a month!” “Did I just hear you fighting about the state of the bathroom? Toss me another few dollars off rent, and never fight again.” Pretty soon we had this whole system going where I logged my hours and Renee totaled up room and board, and we came together once a month to pass the same $20 bill back and forth.

It wasn’t long before we were adding in more chores and more finances. I did shopping and cleaned the living room—they paid for my health insurance. I dusted and vacuumed and took over most of the laundry—they gave me a Clipper card for the BART. I oil the hardwood floors and put away all the groceries—they let me use the house credit card as long as I don’t go crazy. I wanted a living arrangement that let me write. They both wanted careers and downtime but also a clean house.

These days we’ve given up on close tracking of hours and totaling up the bills. We got tired of passing that same $20 back and forth month after month. I just call myself the househusband (and try not to hate the dudebros who smirk at that). However, we still have a sense of equilibrium. I work about thirty-five hours a week on the house, and they pay for pretty much everything that isn’t an outrageous impulse buy. It lets me save what little money I actually make from writing and teaching.

Though there’s seldom less than 35 hours of work to be done on a house like this with three adults living in it, there is often more. It’s not like I pop out the Bon Bons and tell them “Fuck you; I’m a dragon,” if I hit 36 hours but the dishes still need doing. I just kind of keep track of how many hours I’m over.

A few here. A few there. They add up.

No one really cares about a couple hundred “bankrolled” hours. It seems like a lot, but it really isn’t. That just means I don’t have to worry when I find out that my face is swelling in my right cheek because I need a triple root canal right away, or my computer explodes in a billion shards of glass and metal, each with their own tiny blue screen of death.

But since the baby showed up…a few hundred hours has become several hundred, and it won’t be long before we’re pushing a thousand. There’s just so much more to do. Everything from cleaning up a living room filled with onesies and Bobo The Monkey dolls to all these new silicone breast pump bits that need to be hand washed to a bucket where we soak the horrible aftermath of Tom’s blowouts. And…is this a dirty diaper UNDER THE COUCH??

Of course there are also now the times when I’m taking care of Tom.

It’s not that I want to be the asshole mercenary who says, “Oh, I’m sorry. But would a ‘just a roommate’ watch this baby while you nap? I don’t think so, brah. Did I mention that I was a dragon?” It’s just that I am in a long-term relationship with a married couple in a world made for dyads. While it’s an interesting data point for all the under-appreciated unpaid hours that most domestic spouses work, I watch these hours to protect myself.

I’m not covered in Will’s health insurance. I’m not covered in his retirement plan. We had to hire a lawyer and sign ten thousand papers to make sure that I would be treated in the way the state of California would automatically treat a legal spouse. If I were married, I would have legal protections should Renee and I split up, but in my situation being a househusband makes me very vulnerable. If things go south, I could work twenty years and end up with nothing but a postage stamp apartment, some Ikea furniture, and a bulk-sized box of Top Ramen.

There aren’t really laws that cover the unmarried third in polyamorous house.

Of course I want to think that would never happen because I love Renee and she loves me and I am very fond of Will in his own way, and this thing we have is working. Nine years on, and none of us has blinked. Monogamous people who sanctimoniously told us being poly meant we weren’t “really committed” have been through half a dozen of their own long-term relationships in the time we’ve been together. We look at each other and see gray hair and grandkids.

But the road to the government cheese distribution center could be paved with people who thought a bad break-up could never happen to them. Keeping an eye on all those extra hours I’m piling up is just….prudent.

As usual, I don’t have a lot of lessons or answers. We’re still not really sure how everything’s going to shake out. Renee wants to go back to work but isn’t thrilled that my “cost” would be only a few dollars less than she makes at her job. I’ve already said no to being a full-time stay-at-home “dad,” but yes to four or five hours a day. Money isn’t so loosey goosey around here that they could just cut me a check, but everyone realizes that we’re going to have to do something because right now, one side is kind of being taken advantage of. We’ve talked about Will and Renee kicking into some kind of IRA once they no longer owe mortgage insurance. We’ve talked about converting the garage into a writing office. Everything with a two-month-old is so “right now” and “urgent” that this conversation is on the back burner while hours accrue. But Tom has moved the goal posts enough, and hours are accruing fast enough, that we can’t afford to wait too long.

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chrisbrecheen

chrisbrecheen

Chris lives with his girlfriend and her husband in a polyamorous family. On Friday Dec 6th, 2013, the married couple had a darling boy. Not "dad" but so much more than "Uncle Chris" he spends much of his time either trying to figure out the boundaries between parent/not-parent or navigating a world ill equipped to deal with non traditional families. When he's not trying to be a grounded parent, he teaches English as a second language and maintains his own blog about writing (chrisbrecheen.blogspot.com).

2 Comments

  1. February 6, 2014 at 9:22 pm —

    Very refreshing to see this issue addressed from a unique point of view. I suspect that typically in monogamous marriages if one person is a stay-at-home there are often tensions with regards to what their domestic work is worth. I know couples that definitely suffer from such tensions, and I’ve had to deal with them in my marriage.

    • February 6, 2014 at 9:31 pm —

      Yeah, I’ve known a few such couples myself. One thing that was really striking to me was how quickly things added up when an actual dollar amount was assigned to the labor–not something you see in a normal marriage, even if it’s Dad staying home, but probably worth thinking about as a thought exercise (at least) if someone feels like the other is getting off easy.

      I definitely understand how that trope of “you just sit around all day watching soaps” can foster such strong resentments.

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