Elizabeth Mukiibi was married with nine children before death snatched her husband, 17 years ago. Known to her as a wonderful father and husband, she did not have any suspicions of infidelity and had grown to trust him over the years. “We were happily married for 48 years before my husband passed on,” she sadly recalls, adding, “But one day, my husband returned home with three children. I wondered where he had got them from. Before I asked him anything, one of the children called him ‘daddy’, asking him to take them to the washrooms.”
Elizabeth was dumbfounded. She, however, says she remained calm and served them dinner. “He later confirmed that they were his biological children. I started imagining how many times my husband had violated the vows we made on our wedding day,” she recounts.
Mukiibi, now 85, threatened to file for divorce then, an idea her husband did not approve of. “This was the hardest challenge I had to encounter through my marriage life. I have never felt betrayed like I was that time. My love and trust in him began to fade away,” she says.
However, she reveals that no matter how depressed she was, she later accepted the children, treated and nurtured them into responsible adults they are today. The three have grown to love their stepmother so much, that they never spend a month without checking on her. Even after their father passed on, they have all lived in harmony.
“When two people get married, they not only vow to stick together during good times. It is a package, full of bad, good moments and challenges. The man you adore today could be a father to two other children out of wedlock. Stepchildren should never be a stumbling block in a marriage. You only need to know how to deal with children your husband had with another woman before he married you or even after.”
Jonathan Okiru, a counsellor at Family Life Network, advises women to accept the children because in most cases, they are innocent.
“This situation calls for maturity. Treat the stepchildren as members of the family,” Okiru cautions, adding, “If circumstances allow for the child(ren) to join the family, allow them in, this will strengthen your marriage.”
The counsellor advises couples to include the children in the family budget. “Whenever you are making financial plans for the family, let part of the fund go to these children.”
Just as Elizabeth did, Okiru urges women to endeavour to treat stepchildren fairly.
Getting involved in the day-to-day activities helps a parent to keep abreast with what is happening in the home. Okiru says, “If it means picking them up from school, do it. Remember to celebrate their birthdays. Do not forget to shower them with love.”
Prepare them for new parents
Agatha Kisakye, a child psychologist, says couples should mentally prepare children to receive a new parent. “We always assume that children can cope in every environment. But they need to be prepared because someone else is going to take the place of their original mother.”
Kisakye explains that the transition may not be smooth, adding that the woman at home may meet resistance. “When children show signs of resistance, do not withdraw. “Talk to them and help them adapt to the transition. As a new mother, take time, buy time and allow time to build a relationship because to them, you are a stranger. Even if they knew you before, they have never known you in the capacity of a mother. Let time be your tool to draw them closer,” she says.
Kisakye emphasises the need to watch the language, tone and temper. “These children are anxious about the kind of treatment they will receive from you. Be mindful how you talk to them. Of course, parenting stepchildren is a lot easier when they are younger. As they grow older, use witty but more peaceful means to live with them.”