When do you tell your child your partner is not their father?

Saturday August 17 2019

Growing up with both parents is every child’s

Growing up with both parents is every child’s dream 

By Christine Katende

Trinah Namayanja (not real names) got to know her biological mother at the age of 23. “Few weeks after my graduation, my father and my stepmother summoned me to their bedroom. It was unusual because growing up, my siblings and I were never allowed in our parents’ bedroom. My heart started pumped too fast as I wondered what I had done. Kneeling down on a carpet, my father revealed to me that the woman I had known as my mother all my life was not my biological mother.”

“I was dumbfounded. I had a million questions to ask my father. I did not know whether to be sad or happy. I was thrown in a pool of bewilderment. This woman was so loving that I had never imagined she was my stepmother. She always referred to me as her first born and never missed an opportunity to advise me whenever I strayed, she recollects.
“I cried and wondered why my mother chose to abandon me. What did my father expect me to do? Did I need to know my biological mother, anyway? Did my father expect me to call or visit her? Did he want me to forget about the woman I knew all my life and start loving another woman he claimed was my real mother? I needed a starting point?” she laments.
Five months later, Namayanja says she got the courage to call her mother. She says she asked if she could visit her and she accepted. “It took me time to cope. But I decided to face reality. When I went to visit her, she gave me a warm welcome. We talked about many things and I asked her why she abandoned me. She admitted that her relationship with my father did not work out and he did not allow her to take me away with her.
Many years later, Namanja is learning to love her mother. “I visit her often. We communicate a lot on phone but loving her is not an easy process. Our relationship will be better with time,” she says.
Fred Mukasa’s story is however, different. He was introduced to a new family after his biological father had passed on. But his grandmother and two of his uncles knew about it.
“I was about 15 years when I was introduced to a new family. My stepfather hated me so much but I never knew why. One day, my mother revealed the truth about my paternity,” he painfully recalls.
According to Agatha Kisakye, a child psychologist, every child has a right to know who their real parents are. “No matter how long you take to disclose it, no matter how hard you try to hide the truth, the child eventually gets to know. “Many children get so hurt after disclosure. They feel betrayed,” she says.
While there is no formula or specific age to reveal to children their biological parents, Kisakye says telling them at an age when they understand is ideal.
She, however, cautions guardians to be mindful of the children’s emotional state and engage a known family friend, an aunt, and uncle or a child psychologist to break the news and help the child to cope.
“You may not be able to do it alone. At that point, children have so many unanswered questions and emotional trauma. They need to be supported. Be kind enough to tolerate them ,” she recommends.

Counsellor's take

Mariam Nagujja a counsellor, says no matter how the mother might have been hurt by the child’s father, she must never block a child from knowing his or her father. “The child will need to identify themselves at a certain point or fill in documents, such travel or academics paper,” she explains.
“Revelation should be done between the age of three and eight . At this age, a child is receptive to any information and they can easily adapt,” she notes, giving examples, “introduce the parent as uncle or aunt but let there be connection. At some point, it will be easier to disclose.”
“Revealing a biological parent to a 20- year-old only hurts them. It affects them psychologically.
“A child is put in a situation of ambiguous loss with endless questions. Some run away from the home
She says disclosing depends circumstances.

What others say

Judith Kusiima Mukama, Civil Engineer
Between the age of six and eight, children usually feel established enough in their family to be threatened by learning about their biological parents. Preschool children still have fears about belonging somewhere else instead of where they are at that time. So telling them before six is too risky. Also waiting until adolescence to reveal their biological parents can be devastating to a child’s self-esteem and to their faith in their current parents.


Luke Owoyesigyire, Police Spokesperson Kampala Metropolitan
As long as the child can talk and reason, around the age of nine or 10, tell them their real parent. Children can know whether or not you are their parent, even if you do not tell them. Yes, they will get hurt, but eventually the sooner you do it, the better. Children are known to forgive easily. So don’t hide the truth from them.

Jacinta Ntale Ocama, Policy coordinator
From day one, this child needs to know their father or mother. It is their right. They need to have a relationship with their biological parent from the beginning and it’s unfair to take that away just because you and the other parent have broken up. However, if you are to keep it a secret, then you might as well keep it forever and make sure that the child never finds out. Otherwise they might never forgive you for hiding the truth from them.