I’m watching my mother-in-law baby proof her house for my nephew since my husband’s brother and his wife will be there any minute with the kid in tow. My mother-in-law moves around the space quickly. It’s clear she has a routine. That she’s done this dozens of times.
She closes doors all up and down the hall. Picks up a baby gate and places it in a strategic location. Shuts and secures another baby gate, a sturdy wooden one that blocks a set of stairs.
After this, she moves to the kitchen, where she secures all of the drawers with a babyproofing system. Takes the knobs off the stove.
I feel kind of weird not helping (I’m like that), but I know I’ll just get in her way, so I sit and drink my tea and watch her. It’s a ridiculous amount of work changing over her house like that. I wouldn’t have the first idea how to start.
My own house in relative terms is a death trap. Nothing is babyproofed. I’m not even sure it’s really adult proofed. And by this, I mean that I’m sure if you really wanted to, you could find a way to hurt yourself there. Just using the house somehow. If one were so determined. Since it’s 100 years old and designed a bit like a story told by multiple narrators who each contribute one sentence at a time.
And as I sit and watch her scramble, finding it an amazing expenditure of energy but one that makes sense for her to be doing while simultaneously something I can’t envision myself really doing at my own place, it dawns on me that I’ve had this exact feeling before.
It’s essentially how I feel when I watch a new polyamorous couple metaphorically babyproofing their newly opened relationship.
Three General Camps Re: Relationship Rules
It’s interesting. In general, there tend to be a few major camps when it comes to the subject of rules in polyamorous relationship systems.
One camp says that rules are essential. And many people will not open a relationship without a rules structure in place.
Another camp says that rules are ridiculous, unnecessary, and depending on what they are may even be unethical.
Still others say that rules are trash and that agreements are fine. The following distinction is often made: Rules typically have a moral absolutist vibe to them — they tend to run around in the land of Thou Shalt Not. Commandments. Moral edicts.
Agreements, conversely, are simply what all parties agree to. They can include prohibition or prescription, but the idea is that they stem from the individuals themselves, not from a sense of what is universally morally permissible.
I actually see the merits of each of these points of view.
What I have found, however, is that most people don’t. They tend to argue aggressively for their camp and to think the other ways of doing things are misguided, ineffective, or possibly unethical.
It’s Very Common to Start Out with Babyproofing
The most common progression I have seen is that a lot of newer polyamorists start out with rigid rules structures and with time and experience and learning to understand themselves and how they generally operate in a consensually non-monogamous relationship system that they begin to need fewer of them. They relax.
Or to put it another way, where there had once been a giant baby gate blocking the stairs, there isn’t anymore. They have learned to trust that nobody’s going to tumble down it and crack their head open.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t lock their front door. And it doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t take other precautions.
But the babyproofing tends to fall by the wayside with time and experience.
It’s Easy to Forget Where You Started
However, I’ve also noticed that more experienced polyamorists will sometimes take one look at a babyproofed relationship system and weigh in verbally with open disdain. Even if they once had similar precautions in place themselves.
It’s easy to forget the way you felt when you were learning the same lessons. And it’s easy to think that you’re doing someone else a favor by emerging as the Ghost of Christmas Future, providing huge spoilers on the fact that one day they’ll learn not to grab the knobs on the stove and burn themselves.
But there are a few problems with this:
You’re potentially robbing that other person of the same lesson you learned. It’s a bit like doing someone’s homework for them. Will they get the same grade? Yeah. But you robbed them of the lesson.
There are good reasons to babyproof when you don’t know what you’re doing. While you’re learning and building skills and getting experiences.
You probably wouldn’t have listened to you either (even if you think you would have, you’re probably wrong about that).
There Are a Time and Place for Babyproofing
Now, will the babyproofing have to eventually come off? Yes.
And eventually it will. One way or another. Whether you take it down yourself, your partner does, or it accidentally crashes to the ground.
But are there a time and place for babyproofing an open relationship? Yes.
And I say this as a person who generally advocates for as little babyproofing as possible.
For more information on opening a relationship, including examples of actual relationship agreements others have used, please see my geeky quickstart guide to polyamory.