“TriParenting” Hogwash Slapped Down

Posted on | December 2, 2011 by Wendy Wright |

A researcher from Sweden argues that if two parents are good, then why not three? In a paper in the Journal of Medical Ethics, Daniela Cutas is heavy on “may” and “might” conjectures and – as you’d expect – light on any evidence.

As timing would have it, Cutas’ silliness was slapped down by a Canadian court when it ruled recently that polygamy is detrimental to women, children and society – basing its decision on solid evidence.

Cutas’ pollyannaish views are a great ice-breaker to mock during that slow conversation at social events. Anyone knows better who has been a parent, lived with parents, raised children, been around children, worked in a committee (particularly those designing a horse), cooked in a kitchen with multiple chefs . . . you get the idea.

Check your real-life experience against the musings of this “expert”:

“…having three committed parents may work out better than having only two, at least in some cases; and it is not clear that pushing the parental numerosity criteria upwards is more likely to have negative rather than positive consequences. There are reasons why having three parents may be better than having only two or one: such may be the increased chances of parental survival and the multiplication of resources in general, as well as, arguably, a soothing of competition for legal parenting by not always needing to choose only two.

“There are also reasons why having two parents or one may be better than having three: there is less potential for inter-parental disagreement or separation although, in some cases, choosing only two can lead to the loss of already formed close connections with the children. Moreover, the disadvantages are not inherent and may even become advantages (better likelihood of reaching reasoned decisions, exposure to different viewpoints): especially when the three parents are committed to parenting.”

Now here’s Chief Justice Bauman of the British Columbia Supreme Court’s decision after reviewing evidence that Cutas somehow overlooked when writing her fantasy:

“[T]here is no such thing as so-called “good polygamy.”

“…the overwhelming weight of the evidence [shows] that polygyny has harmful consequences for both the individuals involved and the societies of which they are a part.

“… the harms found in polygynous societies are not simply the product of individual misconduct; they arise inevitably out of the practice. And many of these harms could arise in polyandrous or same sex polygamous relationships, rare as those appear to be. Here I mention, without limitation, harm to children (for example, from divided parental investment or as a result of less genetic-relatedness of family members), to the psychological health of the spouses, and to the institution of monogamous marriage.

“Women in polygamous relationships are at an elevated risk of physical and psychological harm. They face higher rates of domestic violence and abuse, including sexual abuse. Competition for material and emotional access to a shared husband can lead to fractious co-wife relationships. These factors contribute to the higher rates of depressive disorders and other mental health issues that women in polygamous relationships face. They have more children, are more likely to die in childbirth and live shorter lives than their monogamous counterparts. They tend to have less autonomy, and report higher rates of marital dissatisfaction and lower levels of self-esteem. They also fare worse economically, as resources may be inequitably divided or simply insufficient.

“Children in polygamous families face higher infant mortality, even controlling for economic status and other relevant variables. They tend to suffer more emotional, behavioural and physical problems, as well as lower educational achievement than children in monogamous families. These outcomes are likely the result of higher levels of conflict, emotional stress and tension in polygamous families. In particular, rivalry and jealousy among co-wives can cause significant emotional problems for their children. The inability of fathers to give sufficient affection and disciplinary attention to all of their children can further reduce children’s emotional security. Children are also at enhanced risk of psychological and physical abuse and neglect.

“Early marriage for girls is common, frequently to significantly older men. The resultant early sexual activity, pregnancies and childbirth have negative health implications for girls, and also significantly limit their socio-economic development. Shortened inter-birth intervals pose a heightened risk of various problems for both mother and child.

“The sex ratio imbalance inherent in polygamy means that young men are forced out of polygamous communities to sustain the ability of senior men to accumulate more wives. These young men and boys often receive limited education as a result and must navigate their way outside their communities with few life skills and social support.

“Polygamy . . . generates a class of largely poor, unmarried men who are statistically predisposed to violence and other anti-social behaviour. Polygamy also institutionalizes gender inequality. Patriarchal hierarchy and authoritarian control are common features of polygamous communities. Individuals in polygynous societies tend to have fewer civil liberties than their counterparts in societies which prohibit the practice.

“Polygamy’s harm to society includes the critical fact that a great many of its individual harms are not specific to any particular religious, cultural or regional context. They can be generalized and expected to occur wherever polygamy exists.”

The Wall Street Journal reports today on the problem of medical journals publishing unreliable studies. To stand out among the increasing number of journals, some look to “splashy” papers to get attention.

The Journal of Medical Ethics may have calculated that Cutas’ paper would generate headlines. What it gained in attention, it lost in respect.



Turtle Bay and Beyond is a blog covering international law, policy and institutions. Our experts - at the UN, European Institutions, and elsewhere - explore an authentic understanding of international law, sovereignty, and the dignity of the human person. We expose those who would seek to impose a radical social vision that is contrary to these principles.


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