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Why teenage children don’t get on with their father’s new wives

By Bunmi Sofola

THE horrors of divorce, once dubbed the modern epidemic, are nothing compared with  the nightmare of constantly living with the evidence that the parents who’d painstakingly drummed moral values into you are afterall not infallible. Divorce, though painful is at least cut and dried. The end of a marriage is imminent, children, thank heavens, are resilient and adaptable to change.

After the initial blow of divorce, provided that the parents behave in a civilized manner and don’t fight for their children’s affection or grumble about each other, there can be some very satisfying compromise. Not so with polygamy. Polygamy in the sense that you give your wife and children the false impression of a monogamous marriage, then spring polygamy on them. Even the law of the land is very straight-forward as to the legal rights of polygamous wives.

The husband is to start as he means to go on. If you want a polygamous marriage, the first and subsequent wives are to be married under the native law and customs. And initial court marriage makes the addition of more wives illegal. But of course, we know all this is hot air. Backed by the impotence of our judicial system when matrimony is concerned, a lot of men please themselves forcing their wives to live under the most impossible condition, after they’re brought in other ‘wives.’ Admittedly such wives stay for one reason or the other. But what about the children of such an alliance? After living with a set of parents for 15, 20 years, how do they react to the entrance of second and third wives and their staying under the same roof? And sharing all the amenities in the home?

Fadake an 18-year old undergraduate said her parents had been married for 14 years when she started noticing that things were no longer the same at home with their parents. “It started with constant muffled quarrels in their bedroom,” related Fadake. “But they both usually come out pretending that we children, four in all, didn’t know what was going on. I guess they imagine they can cover up their rows and frictions by putting on false smiles and forcing us kids to accept all the unlikely excuses they gave us for their odd behavior.

“Shortly after this bickering, my father got promoted to a post that went with a company house and other fringe benefits. We had a gardener, a cook, a steward and the news that knocked us out cold – someone was expecting a baby for my father, and horror of horrors, she was moving into the house. I couldn’t believe it.

Couldn’t believe the fact that a father who’d been ruthlessly strict with us would dare to flaunt his shortcomings in our presence. But that was exactly what he did. This woman was then installed in the guest chalet. “All of a sudden, we were made to live with this horrid looking woman with a bulging stomach. My mother was positively embarrassed; ashamed is the right word. I promptly discouraged my friends from visiting the house and all the affection I had for my father flew out of the window. Our youngest, who was ten at the time was bewildered and hostile. She was positively nasty to the new wife and when she thought nobody was looking, would sneak up to her and snarl: “Go away, I hate you!” “It was my mother I felt sorry for.

She too stopped encouraging her friends to drop by to stop them gloating over her ridiculous status. That happened about two years ago. I was before then foolishly hanging on to my virginity, but that was quickly remedied, thank to my father. If he could stray, so could I. I know the importance of good education and that is what I am going to get. Even now, I still can’t get over the fact that my father could be so callous, so unfeeling in the way he treated his family for that thing he called a second wife. I used to love him, you know. But now, I don’t give a damn if I never saw him again…….”

Apinke came from a polygamous  home. At 34, she was already the mother of an eight-years old from a marriage that hit the rock barely a year after she tied the knot. A personal assistant to the managing director of a pharmaceutical company, she met a lot of men in her job. Not all of them wanted a permanent commitment until she met Supo, a 45-year old owner of a very flourishing electronics company. He was already married of course with six children, and six months after Apinke met him, she was pregnant. She wanted more children of course and since she lived in a very comfortable flat, she thought her lover would just take over the responsibilities of a husband and let her stay where she was.

“I was wrong”said Apinke. “He wanted a second wife and was determined that I should live with his family with my daughter. My daughter was horror stricken when I told her. She wept that she didn’t want to live with anybody else but my man was not moved. In the end, we married under native law and customs and I moved into a flat in his house. “His first child, who was about 16 at the time, was very hostile to me. She treated me as something unpleasant the dog dragged in. His five other children simply ignored me and my poor daughter was more miserable than ever.

My friends, seeing the     unhealthy atmosphere  under which we lived; simply stopped coming. His first wife always had a cynical know-it-all-look whenever she saw my friends and had referred to them as prostitutes on several occasions. “My husband wasn’t always around and whenever I dared to complain, he always told me to be more tolerant. He had changed too. Now that I was safely in his net, he didn’t care as he once used to.

I had two boys for him then I left. His first daughter’s hatred for me was worse than her mother’s jealousy. Whenever she had friends around, she insulted me indirectly through them. She refuses to acknowledge my presence anywhere and regarded me with contempt. It was a relief when I  finally decided  to pack my bags and leave. My daughter was overjoyed. You know, even now, wherever I  run into my husband’s daughter (my stepdaughter really, though I could never see her that way) she would look at me mockingly and make rude faces at me!

“Some men could be quite insensitive about throwing two warring wives together. No one really likes a live-in-rival but in their anxiety that all their children should live under the same roof, a lot of men stoke the fire of bitterness and resentment within the family they are trying to keep together. When a man married the first time, that’s love”, someone once said. “When he marries a second time, that’s courage.” And Lord knows you need a lot of courage to cope with two or more women.


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