BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Say “love child” and Malebogo Sethebe cannot make sense of the “love” part. All the mother of four can think of is betrayal and heart-ache.
“There was a period when my husband and I went through a separation, which lasted for about six months. No marriage is perfect, and we had decided to take a much-needed break at the time. During that period, we kept in constant communication, especially because of our two-year-old boy. We eventually got back together. That is when he told me that he had been unfaithful during our time of separation. Not only that, but that the girl he had slept with had called to say she is pregnant, and he is the father.
That was undoubtedly the hardest time in my married life. When you get married you’re basically told to brace yourself for anything marriage could throw at you but when we received the news they hit me like a ton of bricks. There was a time where he was introduced to his child after her birth; I was present for it all. I remember feeling like an outsider looking in, with emotions of anger and jealousy all rushing in. We eventually went to therapy and worked through it but it was not easy at all, his child is very much a part of our lives and we are all trying to make it work.”
Sethebe’s life may seem like hell, but things can get worse. Imagine your blissful marriage suddenly rocked by the news that your partner has had a child outside of your union. Speaking to Sethebe brings home the true pain and heart-ache of living with a child conceived out of marriage. It is a constant reminder of the betrayal. It is like the infidelity has been frozen in time as a picture and hung on the wall. This child is a living, breathing reminder of your spouse’s betrayal. It is a very painful reminder.
Albert Gaopele, Senior Relationship and Marriage Counselor at Olorato Marriage Counselling in Gaborone told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that they deal with many cases in which couples seek help where a child is the result of an affair. “There are mostly two issues which we urge our clients to deal with the first is the relationship. We urge them to deal with their marriage first so there can be reconciliation and eventually healing. We try to help them see reason as well as take responsibility of their actions so they both collectively make the right choices regarding their union. The second issue is the elephant in the room in this case the child, after the reconciliation and healing it is time to tackle the child issue, for them to understand that the child is innocent in all of this and shouldn’t be punished for anything. Sometimes the other woman can come to the therapy session, it becomes easy when they are remorseful and weren’t really out to break the couples’ home but it is harder when some become hard headed and actually want to break the home. We mainly provide a platform for couples to deal with their marriage before anything else.”
Many married couples often deal with a spouse showing up one day with a child they had outside marriage. A child being the result of cheating can exacerbate the betrayal. While most people think that they would simply pack their bags and bid farewell to the relationship, the truth is that it is easier said than done. The love child has always had the ability to rock social structures, especially in Setswana homes where some married partners choose not to acknowledge the child. It is a catch-22 because they are dealing with an innocent soul who did not ask to be conceived through cheating and betrayal, and did not have a choice of how they were brought into this life.
Kgomotso Jongman, a social worker in Gaborone says we should not call children born in such circumstances ‘illegitimate children’. “Calling the child illegitimate implies that they he/she should have not been born which is absolutely wrong to say. Most marriages do survive this problem; it all lies in how the wrong doer presents themselves and their mistake. We need to understand that the child is innocent in all this. They should not be held responsible for anything. The culprit is the one who broke the vow of trust in the marriage. Are they able to humble themselves and face up to their mistake or do they deny and sweep it under the rug as if it doesn’t exist? When the vow of trust is broken it is earned overtime. If the other party does not trust you then you have to show your humility not through words but through actions. When it comes to your partner, if they are able to accept, forgive and move on (which won’t particularly be easy) then your marriage will be able to survive. The truth is, that the child will always be there (possibly a constant reminder of the betrayal) therefore everything changes in the home; they have to be catered for and planned for as a new member of the family. There are some cases where a partner can give an ultimatum to the other “I don’t want that child in our home, go and take care of them outside”, some people will opt to save their marriage with this ultimatum and in turn abandon their child and let them suffer but that just punishes the child and not the parent/partner as intended. When there is open communication and cooperation in the marriage then it will survive.”
Refilwe Segaise, who works at Seabelo Travel & Tours in Gaborone, says most marriages go through this and the truth is a love child has the potential to break up a marriage. “Most women always feel broken and insecure as they feel that with an older child, you can phone them and check when you should pick them up at the weekend (and they can ask their mum if that suits her). With a small baby, access will always involve seeing the mother and she is extremely unlikely to pass the baby over to the father and let him take it out of her sight. She is even less likely to let his wife be part of this access ÔÇô because mistresses often see the wife as a witch. His mistress had a baby to win your husband, in her mind, if he holds his baby in his hands the scales will be tipped in her favour. She’s not just looking for a father for her child but a husband too. ”