THE 'LITTLE' SECRET

To tell or not to tell: Dilemma of parents with 'outside' children

Confessions of cheating, hidden families and unsuspecting fatherhood to children of another man paint a grim picture of marriage, with some secrets never coming to the fore until a spouse's death

In Summary

• Spouses keep it secret to protect their marriages, keep getting financial assistance, for pride and cultural beliefs

• Psychologist Faith Mwangagi, however, roots for complete disclosure

Would you tell your spouse if you had a child out of wedlock?

Two years into her marriage, Anita Muthomi* (not her real name) woke up one day to respond to a knock on the door, and her life has never been the same.

At the entrance was a woman who claimed that Anita’s husband was the father of her son, and all she needed was child support.

 

The bitter truth was that not only had her husband cheated on her, but he had also fathered a child outside their marriage.

 
 
 
 
 
 

“It was surreal. At first, my husband denied ever knowing the woman, but when he was confronted with evidence, he accepted responsibility,” Anita recalls.

"It was very hard because I had to choose between forgiving him and divorcing him. In the end, I chose to stay."

The ‘illegitimate’ child was brought to stay with the family, but life was never the same because every time she saw the child she was reminded of her husband’s betrayal, a sad reality that she still struggles to deal with to this day.

Anita's story is not uncommon. Opening up to a spouse about a child sired out of wedlock has been a herculean task for many couples. Some opt to take the secret to their graves.

Just before the late Kibra MP Ken Okoth was cremated on August 3, a second 'wife' with whom he sired a son emerged.

The woman approached Okoth’s family, demanding that her five-year-old son be recognised before his ‘father’ was interred.

 

The High Court recently declared unconstitutional sections of the law that gave men the leeway to either accept or reject responsibility for children born out of wedlock.

 
 
 
 

In a ruling by Justice Jesee Njagi, the law made it harder for absentee fathers to reject or fail to maintain children they sire.

Most poor spouses who have sired children out of wedlock end up in prison for defaulting on child support.

The court decreed that parental responsibility is mandatory and cannot be left to the woman alone.

While some couples would readily let the skeleton out of the closet, why would others not be ready to reveal the secret of having a child born out of wedlock? The Star took the streets for answers.

Most women and men interviewed said they would rather go with the secret to the grave than confess to their spouses about the 'outside' children.

Reason? To protect their marriages and their children, to continue getting financial assistance from the spouse, pride and cultural beliefs.

PROTECT MARRIAGE

Nathan Njoroge* has three children with his wife, whom he describes as the most wonderful woman God ever created, and whom he would never want to lose.

But Nathan said he has four outside children that she knows nothing about.

"She can't know," Nathan said. "I love my wife badly and if I tell her she would leave me, so I can tell you one thing — that secret will die with me."

Nathan's four outside children are all adults, one as old as his marriage. In fact, he has five grandchildren by these children and they, too, do not know their stepmother.

"It would be hard for her to know, yes," Nathan continued. "That is why I can't tell her. It would kill her."

But more than that, he said, he is sure she would leave him and he could not live with that.

When asked why he did not come clean after the birth of the first child, Nathan said she would have had one reaction — she would have walked away from the relationship.

"So now or 30 years ago, it would still be the same," he said.

Over the years, he has kept in close contact with his four outside children and has always been there for them financially.

"The truth is that I am a humble person and anywhere I go, women just love me," he said. "It's not that I go out and seek these women. And they all know about my wife, I don't hide her."

While he does not regret his children, he regrets that his wife does not know and, according to him, can never know.

"I don't think there is any way she is just going to find out, unless I tell her after all these years. She might find out yes, but that is when I am dead. That time anything can happen 'cause I won't know," he said.

Amanda Wanyoike*, 41, a business executive at a Nairobi bank, began her affair with a colleague without much thought.

"It was just a drink with a colleague. Drinks turned to dinner, and dinner turned to sleepovers four months in, I didn’t stop it. It wasn’t weakness at play, I thought, but something else," she says.

She felt guilty and awful, for she had a husband and two children, but she couldn't resist the draw to the colleague.

“As awful as it was to my family, and I knew it was awful, I couldn’t resist the draw,” she said.

One year into the 'hidden 'relationship, Amanda fell pregnant.

"I went in to see a gyna one morning for family planning. The gyna broke the news that I was one month pregnant. I was so confused but terminating it was not an option," she recalls.

Her husband, she said, is devoted and loves her dearly. He has a thriving career and salary to match, so she couldn't leave him.

"I decided to keep the baby and deceive him the baby is his. Telling him would only ruin the marriage and the baby daddy is only after my money. He is a junior colleague," she said.

Two years on and Amanda has not let the cat out of the bag.

"Our marriage is still flourishing, no red flags raised about the baby. The baby knows my husband is the father and vice versa," she said.

Asked whether she is still in a relationship with the colleague, Amanda said, "Well, we see each other but not as often. I guess he found someone else, so you can imagine if my husband left me for someone who does not have time for me. I would be miserable."

CULTURALLY UNACCEPTABLE

Jane Thiong'o *, 33, said she cannot reveal news of having a child out of wedlock to the husband, unless she became pregnant before marriage.

Jane said there is a backlash to the idea that if a woman cheats, she’s damaged and slutty, but if a man cheats, he’s, well, a man.

She confesses that playing the role of the “good wife” — whether that means dutifully making dinner or, you know, not sleeping with the neighbour — is no longer desirable for most women.

"We want to have fun and sometimes fun men are not our spouses," she said.

Jane has three children. She is, however, unsure about the father of her lastborn son.

"I remember engaging in intercourse twice on the day of conception. I was out, had a one-night stand with an old friend. Later when I got home, I got intimate with my husband," she said.

Jane, however, said she cannot do gene-testing. Neither can she tell her husband, for fear of being judged and marked as a 'prostitute'.

John Kamau*, 28, a  graduate, said culture and fear of ridicule is the reason he cannot tell the wife.

“Culturally and historically, a child belongs to the society. And a woman, as per our culture, belongs to the society. Our work is to procreate. After procreation, whatever happens after you’re gone, that’s the work of the society,” he said.

 

PRIDE

John James* said he cannot reveal to the wife about his five-year-old daughter he sired out of wedlock, for it would taint his image.

“I don't want to be seen as the bad guy. Each person has an image they have projected to their family, friends and workmates," he said.

He said the fear of being vulnerable also drives him to put the secret under wraps. 

“Exposure and disclosure, which are true elements of integrity, are also hard to express. The pain of being vulnerable may be tough to bear,” he said.

James said he has a sense of pride that can be wounded by such confessions.

“At times, we keep things hidden because we are too proud to stoop low and confess wrong,” he said.

Psychologist Faith Mwangagi, however, roots for complete disclosure.

“Dealing with undisclosed sin or failure could bring strength to a relationship if handled well,” she said.

"No one is perfect; we are all imperfect people with a desire to be made perfect one day."

Edited by Tom Jalio