Of children hidden from their ‘deadbeat’ parents
When John Paul* was growing up, he always wanted to meet his father. He was raised by a single mother, who told him his father died two months after his birth through a grisly road accident.
Despite that he always wished to set his eyes on his father’s pictures, it was all in vain.
He had no other option, but to start asking relatives about his background and if anyone knew how his father looked like.
This is how he learned that his father was still alive, and soon after, John Paul started looking for him.
“I was eager to set my eyes on him. I wanted to know him and have him answer some questions.
I wanted to know why he abandoned us and what his plans for us were,” says the 17-year-old.
While his mother was not happy, she had to do something to keep a relationship with her son. She opened up about the lie and asked for his forgiveness.
“I lied to him that his father is dead because I didn’t want him to start bothering me about making contact when he already seemed disinterested.
But now that he knows the truth, it is upon him to decide if he truly deserved to be his father,” said John Paul’s mother during the interview.
John Paul is not the only one who has lived all his life knowing that his absent parent is dead.
There are so many children who have learnt that their parent lied to them.
Mary Wanjiku* also lied to her daughter that her father was dead not because he never contributed to her upbringing, but simply because she wanted nothing to do with him.
“I met him when I desperately needed a baby. I was turning 28 and pressure was pilling up from my family.
They wanted me to get married. I had to sleep with him; that is how I got her. Though he was ready and willing to marry me, I couldn’t give him that chance.
I lied to my parents the person responsible for my pregnancy denied responsibility.
That is how I ended up being a single mother, a decision I regret up to date,” she says.
She has tried several times to look for him and reunite the family, but in vain.
Since she couldn’t live with that guilt she had to open up to her daughter when she turned 18 years, and the now 25-year-old was at first was bitter with her, but later forgave her.
“When she learned the truth, she henceforth blamed me for her misfortune. She even asked me to direct her to her father’s kin, but I couldn’t, simply because I didn’t know.
I knew him through a friend who passed away when my daughter was still young,” says Mary.
Traditionally getting a child before marriage used to be considered taboo, but nowadays it is acceptable by most.
The big question remains: Is it okay to let your child/children get to know about their absent parent?
Pastor Mueni Wambua, a therapist, says parents should open up and let the children know about the missing parent.
If one parent chooses to lie to the child after the breakdown of a relationship between the two parents, that choice will have consequences sooner or later.
It does not matter whether this decision is well-intentioned in that the parent is attempting to make a clear break from the past and move on with the child because the relationship did not progress as expected.
However, since a parent is an identity marker for a child and if eventually, the child finds out that they were lied to, it creates mistrust.
“It is important for the present parent not to paint a negative picture of the other parent and essentially drag the child into their differences.
If possible, parents can have an intentional co-parenting relationship to ensure the child doesn’t have any negative impact as they grow up,” she says.
Wambua adds that the absence of a parent must be well-managed by the present parent.
And there are certain pillars to help with this including taking introduction slowly, meaning they should not assume everything will go fine; being realistic and not setting both themselves and the child up for unrealistic expectations; being sure the child is ready, which could involve preparing for arising questions and conversation ahead.
It also means dealing with unfinished business in the relationship with the other parent to avoid dealing with them through the filters of pain.
“In an ideal situation, children should be nurtured in an environment with both parents. However, this may not always be possible; therefore, families must adjust accordingly and keep the child’s the best interest in mind at all times,” adds Wambua.