What you need to know:
Giving a child a loving upbringing requires more than a ring, so why are women still afraid to disclose their children to new partners?
“What are you supposed to say on a date?” a tweep asked on social media.
There were many suggestions on how to break the ice, but quite a number admitted they were also clueless and looking for pointers.
The modern dating scene is a jungle. There are too many dynamics as to whether a potential partner will accept you or not. There are prospects that will work for or against you.
Having a child from a previous relationship complicates matters with a new catch even further. So, sometimes women lack the patience to look for someone who will not bolt immediately after they make the disclosure that they have a child(ren). They decide to keep some bones in the closet.
Ideally, single parents are encouraged to disclose their children to prospective partners before getting into a relationship. However, when the rubber meets the road many fail to reveal their children to others even choosing to ‘die’ with the secret.
There are many reasons why women fail to disclose that they have children to men they are dating. Social pressures, outdated traditions, and judgement are just some of the main reasons that women keep silent on their previous offspring.
Game of juggling
Grace Njambi*, 29, had a child from a previous relationship that did not work out. Although her baby daddy is active in their child’s life, Grace lives with her and allows her baby daddy to be with the child on certain days and times.
However, a few months ago, Grace bumped into a man whom she attended high school with and they exchanged contacts. “We struck up a conversation that according to me was quite engaging, and the vibe did not die even after a while,” Grace says.
Weeks after, the man asked Grace on a date. She scheduled the meetup on a Saturday so that her baby daddy would pick up their daughter.
“The first date went really well, we clicked even more, and ended up spending the entire day together. We had a second date three weeks later which also went really well and it was evident we both loved and enjoyed each other’s company,” Grace beams.
Still, Grace kept mum about her daughter.
“I was still testing the waters and I was uncertain of the direction our relationship would take. During our fourth date, I was satisfied, and when he suggested that we should officially be a couple, I decided that it was the best time to tell him about my child,” Grace says.
Her catch reaction caught her off-guard.
“He stared at me in shock before asking for the bill, paying up and telling me ‘it was a pleasure meeting you’ before leaving. I was disappointed for sure but I respected his decision,” says Grace.
Days later, the man texted her and questioned why she had left out that critical piece of information; and if she was embarrassed by her own child.
“He claimed that I was living a ‘double life’ and that he could no longer trust me,” Grace says.
Grace defends that she was not hiding her child, and she loves her dearly, but as a single mother, it’s a ‘juggle’ on when to make the disclosure.
Lies that bind
Grace's script is similar to Mercy’s*. She says that she no longer discloses that she has a child after a previous ex-lover broke up with her when she revealed the news.
“I got my baby boy immediately after high school but that did not hinder me from continuing with my studies. After my baby was two, I left him with my mother and came to Nairobi to pursue my university education.
It was here that I met Mark and we dated for two years. In that time, I did not mention my son because there was never an opportune time to have that conversation.
When I was joining my third year, Mark proposed to me and I said yes. Having taken that bold step, I thought it was right for my now fiancé to know about my son and even plan for them to meet up,” Mercy says.
However, this turned out to be the worst decision of her life. “What followed were arguments of why I had kept him a secret. No explanation made sense and eventually, Mark broke up with me and said it would have been a bit easier for him to understand if the child was a girl,” Mercy shares.
It took Mercy over five years to start dating again and after soul searching she made a vow that she will keep her son a secret from her next partner.
And true to her words, she has managed to do just that for the past 20 years.
“I’m currently married with three other children but no one from my husband’s family knows about my firstborn son. My husband knows that my son is my nephew whose mother (my sister) passed on when he was young and I was given the responsibility to take care of him.
When my son turned 18, I had a conversation with him and explained everything to him and he understood why I did what I did. Even though he never spent much time with us, I made sure he had the best of everything; took him to good schools and paid for his vacations,” Mercy surmises.
Too young to handle
Some women are afraid of letting in on their off springs because they regret decisions they made when they were younger.
Joy Wambui*, 35, reveals that she lied to her husband about her son being her sister’s child and is willing to go to the grave with that information.
"Though I ensure that he gets equal opportunities and support like my other children, sometimes it weighs heavily on me that my son does not know his father and that I lied to him,” Joy says.
Still, Joy holds that some information is best not told.
“After finishing high school, I fell in love with Kevin* a then-campus student, and our relationship was doing fine with just the normal relationship hiccups.
At this time, I was still a virgin armed with Christian virtues and values. However, one night one thing led to another with Kevin and I conceived. Upon sharing the news with him, he said he was not ready to be a father and urged me to procure an abortion,” Joy narrates.
She did not want to and instead, she shared the news with her sister and aunt who together broke the news to Joy’s parents. “At first, they were disappointed in me but told me they would help me raise him as I went to campus,” says Joy.
“Having learned a huge lesson, I worked hard at university and upon finishing, I was fortunate enough to bag a job. Years later, I met my husband and got married. I then took in my child but lied to my husband that he was my nephew whose mother is an alcoholic and since I have a sister who overindulges in alcohol, it was easy to sell the story.
Additionally, my parents who were aged had no capacity to cater to ‘their grandchild’, I told him. This enabled me to live with my own child. Ten years down the line, my husband has never suspected anything and we are all members of the same family,” Joy discloses.
But not all secrets go according to the book. So is Amy Makena* story. She was dating two men- one married, one single— when she conceived.
“I lied to my boyfriend that he was the father of my unborn baby. Excited about the news, James* took over the responsibility of caring for me till I delivered. In fact, I moved in with him and broke off with Brian (the married man), and focused on our family,” Amy says.
However, when the baby was born and was almost a year old, things went awry. “My best friend snitched on me and told James about my previous relationship with Brian. Whether she did that out of malice or jealousy I cannot tell but James demanded a paternity test,” Amy shares.
When the results came back negative, James evicted Amy from his house calling her all sorts of names.
“Efforts of reaching out to Brian to rekindle the love and also inform him of our daughter’s birth bore no fruits with him also rejecting his child. I’m currently a single mother and although I’m disappointed by how things played out, it gets hard for me to disclose that I have a child immediately after I get into a relationship because of the rejection she faced,” Amy says.
Expert view: Why single parents hide their children
Zipporah Kimani, a family therapist, shares that there are a number of factors that hinder single parents and especially single mothers from disclosing the existence of their children to their suitors or partners.
- Fear of how the father of the child would react to news of introducing his child to another man whom they shall call ‘dad’ may hinder the woman from sharing.
“Maybe there is still a relationship between the lady and the father of her child and he is still sending up keep money or alimony in the case of a marriage with him also having a relationship with their child,” she says.
- Additionally, some suitors perceive that having a child out of wedlock is a sign that the lady engaged in immoral behaviour before, hence questioning their morality.
- For one who was raped, the child can be a constant reminder of what she underwent and that not only affects their relationship but also how she views and introduces her or him in social gatherings. “She can be going through psychological torture, pain, regret, disgrace, low self-regard and maybe she has never shared the circumstances that led to her siring her child,” Zipporah explains.
- A woman’s low self-esteem is also a factor that can obstruct her from opening up as she may she is not good enough since she sired her child out of wedlock.
- Fear of the unknown is also a factor as a woman may fear that her relationship will fall apart just like the previous one. A mother may also be fearful of her offspring going through stigma and discrimination from their partner.
- If the mother was not celebrated after she gave birth, it could affect how she relates with her child and consequently how she introduces him or her to her social circle.
- Some also feel that the child could bring another separation between herself and the potential suitor as her lover may not want the responsibility of taking care of a child. Furthermore, if the child is still having a strong relationship with her biological father they may struggle in validating their mother’s current lover as a worthy father.
- A mother can also hide her child from her potential suitor if he or she has a disability. Whether they are still ashamed of their child’s being abled differently or the fear of not knowing how their lover would treat and even react to the news prohibits some women from opening up.
- Some communities may also play a role in standing against a mother’s revelation of having a child especially when it comes to family inheritance where this child would not be recognised as a worthy heir of the current man’s property for being ‘illegitimate.’
When to open up about your other children?
While some have ‘succeeded’ in hiding their children from their lovers for some time, Ms. Zipporah opines that it is prudent to share about having a child as soon as the first date.
“Usually, if a man loves you dearly then there should be no barrier in sharing that you have a child because you also do not know whether this man has a child or even another family.”
The man himself might be having sinister motives and may not be serious about being in a relationship. Though many pursue it as a gamble, it is judicious to always share if you have a child.
Remember rule of the thumb in any relationship is that love builds on trust and not disclosing such information could show the nature of how much belief there is between the two.
“If you love your child and have a relationship with them then you cannot hide them even if you are seeing someone else,” the counsellor says.
“The health of the child is also a consideration because if he or she is sickly then the focus should be on improving their health. Also, the child’s social life can determine how open a mother can be. Is the child ready to accept another father?”
Ignorance of these factors can lead to the child’s poor performance in school, suicidal ideations, withdrawal and indiscipline cases.