Saudi Arabia: How Well Known are the Children to One Another?

In the United States there is a drama called “Sister Wives” and it is a reality tv show featuring a Mormon man and his four “sister wives.”  This show began with all the wives living under one roof in a large “compound” type of house.  Now the wives each have an independent home.  According to Wikipedia there are 17 children between the four wives.

The show portrays that the wives tend to get along well and sincerely care for one another.  The children see no distinction among themselves and interact together routinely.

Polygamy is not legal in the United States and in the case of ‘Sister Wives,’ the marriage of the first wife is the only marriage seen as a legally validated marriage.  The other three marriages are viewed as “spiritual/religious commitments” without the benefit of a legal marriage.

Whereas in Saudi Arabia, a Muslim man may wed up to four wives at one time and each marriage is recognized as valid.  Yet, unlike Sister Wives, in many of the cases, the Saudi wives will have little to no contact with one another.  It’s not unusual for wives to live in different towns or countries.  The children may or may not be that well known to one another.

I am not an advocate of polygamy.  Yet I do not believe children should be isolated or feel the “side effects” of a decision that adults made.  Children are innocent and whether their mothers have animosity towards one another, the children are related by blood through their common father.  I think it’s important for the children to be known to one another and given a chance to have a relationship.

What do you think?

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19 Responses

  1. While I have no personal experience with polygany, my biological father went on and fathered more children that are unknown to me after my mother divorced him. At this moment in time the once large extended family I had has dwindled alarmingly as many have passed on or become distant from each other. While I do not think much about my unknown half siblings..at times I do wonder what it would be like to have them in my life…to know what sort of people they are and if we have anything in common (because I do not have much in common with my full siblings).

    I do agree though that the adults in these polygamous marriages need to get over themselves and behave in a manner that teaches their children the benefits of having large extended families. Otherwise…why bother engaging in such a marriage if your just going to be spiteful, jealous, and mean about it…and pass those feelings on to your children? While I understand that not all women choose to live as one of 2, 3, or 4…regardless of how she came to be in that position…she should never pass her feelings of resentment and anger on to her children by limiting their contact with their extended family.

  2. I don’t understand how someone could agree to polygamy unless they were okay with their significant other being with someone else (i.e. in an open relationship) or each person in the relationship was interested in being with the other people in the relationship. I realize it goes on, and I try to be open-minded but sometimes it’s hard for me to wrap my head around.

    I would think it would just be weird for one wife to never meet the other(s).

    There’s a book about open relationships called “Opening Up” which is supposed to present a more neutral view on it.

    What consenting adults choose to do among themselves is their business- not mine.

  3. My husband is a Muslim Iraqi, but I flat out told him I would kill him if he ever took another wife. He takes that threat fairly seriously since I was a soldier and had deployed to his country years ago. Luckily, his family has never condoned multiple wives so it was never something he considered even before meeting me.

    On the other hand, I’ve talked to women that are on polygamous marriages and many of them seem fine with it. I don’t judge them since it was their choice. If they are happy that way, who cares. We all know what works best for us. I’m just not into it myself.

    As for the children, I agree that they should know each other. Family is family, regardless of inner politics and relationships. It is wrong to keep brothers and sisters seperated.

  4. Oh, great. Another post to get fired up about. These exchanges do take their toll. I had to get on youtube to find a comedian to laugh to last night. Some GOOD stuff there.

  5. Polygamy may be illegal in the USA but boy o boy do some men love to have 4 or more wives and a stack of children. Its not such a distant problem and everyone sees saudis or muslims as the only ones that do it..which is incorrect.
    I gotta agree with Coolred..no matter what i hope the parents are mature about it all.
    In all cases i have seen/known personally with saudi polygamy situations..the co-wives lived next door to each other..all children are brothers and sister and know /love each other. Both mothers are held in the same regard by children. Not sure about early relations between co-wives but as both become older they are inseparable especially when their husbands pass away.

    link above about polygamy in Utah..interesting to see the dynamics of the family and to interaction between the wives.

  6. I remember a friend in Abu Dhabi sharing how a couple of students in her classroom didn’t realize they had the same father until it came up somehow. I imagine that being quite the shock knowing your father has a second (or maybe third or fourth) family out there somewhere. Same with people in other places suddenly finding out that they have half siblings out there.

  7. And then there is the issue of sperm donors. How does one know whether or not they might be marrying a brother or sister. Canada is now passing a law that the name of the donor does not have to be kept secret. It is becoming an issue now that the children of these donors are wanting to know more about the other half of their heredity.

  8. Well, I think it’d be hard to avoid feeling resentment and anger toward someone who has materially damaged your situation in life. The challenge is to not transfer these feelings onto a child…

  9. F’s mom and her co-wife couldn’t stand each other.. but the kids get on fine. some are close some not.. it’s more based ontheir character traits than who the mom is … In his family he is extremly close to a brother and a step-sister. doesn’t bother miuch with his own brother . their views are far apart, their upbringing and choices are different and their choices rub the other the wrong way. nothing to do with the mothers…
    After his father passed away the family closed around his mom ( she being the cousinand first) and quite literally dumped the 2nd wife .who is fine with her kids and her brothers… but she was never happy with polygamy i guess. not that she had a choice to voice her opinion.

    sometimes women chose it sometimes it’s thrust on them in saudi.. i’m ok with polygamy aslong as it’s not forced on anyone…
    but F would never dare to take another wife 🙂 i don’t think the bond between a couple can be shared. it’s too possesive a bond for that. and too intimate. irrespective of if 2 pwople are married or not, if i’m commited to one person i expect the honor to be returned. we’ll at aleast it’s to my closed mind 🙂

    but i agree kids in polygamous families should atleast reap the benefits of extra play mates …

  10. There is no inherent reason separate the children and cause them to be distrustful or dislike one another. We have to remember that they are the next generation and should learn how to get along with one another among themselves.

    As for polygamy, I disagree with it. I am Chinese-Canadian, born and raised in Canada so obviously my views more North American. But century ago or less polygamy did occur among..the rich, etc. for centuries. Except I guess the term was concubines, courtesans….euphemistic term.

    But I have 2 face-to-face Chinese-Canadian good friends who each had 2 grandmothers through the same grandfather. They didn’t care about the other “woman” and why should they? It’s not their birth mother.

    I have read and heard far too many stories of marital difficulties and hidden jealousies, power struggles when there is polygamy.

    Human nature wants single-source, exclusive intimate, love relationship long term for many years, decades…jealousy is natural occurence, hurt, etc. is a very natural result if it doesn’t happen.

    It’s hard enough to make 1 marriage to 1 person strong and loving, never mind other partners in the whole mix.

    Sure I sound judgemental, of my ancestral cultural. Why shouldn’t I be when it wasn’t long ago, that occasionally baby girls in China were given up for adoption, or worse, killed. I do honestly see polygamy a patriarchical invention. Unless the wives each have their own bank accounts, full control and run away ..when she gets fed up. 🙂

  11. My friend’s father had a few wives but he kept them in different cities. Hey, actually different countries! Riyadh, Aden and Ethiopia. His father was a trader and had a villa and a wife in every port! LOL Somehow he does know all of his siblings and I never heard the words ‘step’ or ‘half’ ever used. And he spoke of the wives as his Mother #1, Mother#2(his actual mother) and Mother #3 (at least when describing them to me, I don’t know what he called them to their faces). I know he traveled with his father to all these different villas but I don’t know anything about how much the wives actually traveled.

  12. @Lynn

    Where was your friend from? If you don’t mind me asking.

  13. He was from Yemen

  14. @Lynn

    That’s odd, being from Saudi I know it would be hard for a person of Yemeni origins to secure a trip to Saudi Arabia if he wasn’t gainfully employed in Saudi Arabia, so it would be pretty hard to juggle three wives in three different countries. Also, I’m assuming here that his wife was not Saudi, because that is close to impossible. It’s hard enough for a Saudi male to marry a foreigner, so I can imagine how hard it would be for a Saudi woman to marry a Yemeni.

  15. All the cases of polygamy I know of personally in Saudi have led to a bad relationship between the first wife and the husband, no relationship between wives and bad relations between the first set of kids and their father- though they are often ok with their half-siblings. None of the women I know accepted it at all- and their husbands knew how they felt about it and did it anyway. I have briefly met a couple who were ok with it- but all the adults agreed- so that is a different story. There is also a certain amount of social ostracization that can go along with it. These number two wives are viewed as, and treated as home-wreckers (which they are) by many.

    @JC,
    It is difficult but I know a few Saudi women married to foreigners- and marrying an Arab is easier than marrying a non-Arab. Many Yemeni’s have Saudi branches of the family- especially among the merchant class so it might be a Saudi cousin of some kind. Or maybe a Yemeni who grew up in Saudi.

  16. JC, I really don’t know. If I knew then (30 years ago) what I know now I would have asked more questions Perhaps I did but I don’t remember now anyway 😉 We usually got stuck on the ‘Mom#1’ not being his birth mother! I don’t know if any of the wives were cousins or not but my friend had been ‘engaged’ to a cousin since birth, I believe, so it is very possible. They were a wealthy family but the father was deceased already when I knew my friend. His brother from his ‘first mom’ (that’s what he called her to us) was who ran the family business and provided his funds (as well as his sister’s) while they were here going to school. Now that I think about it I believe he was from the last marriage as he did not have younger siblings other than that sister that was with him who was from the same mother.

  17. Purely theoretically I have nothing against polygamy, or polyandry. I don’t think it’s natural to humans, and hardly ever works out well, but if grown up, consenting adults, who are not forced or blackmailed into it, by others or religion or society, then I say go to it.

    Of course that would mean for example that if a man has three wives then those three wives should be allowed to have at least three extra husbands. And of course same sex partners should be allowed to get married.
    I think everybody should be allowed to get married to everybody else as long as everybody in the marriage is a free consenting adult.

  18. “Sometimes the no.2 is treated as a home wrecker” — so true and so sad. In our family, My FIL decided to marry 2nd time, with no input whatsoever from my MIL, he didn’t even care how she felt ( and he was considered a great husband and very loving !!!!) F’s step-mom hardly had a choice, her wedding was arranged , she hated it and did not want to be someone’s 2nd wife… but again who asked her? After having 4 kids th e1st couldn’t have anymore so being a wealthy man ( and i assume one who could support a whole footbal team) FIL decided he needed another wife to beget more kids.

    In this case i place blame solely on the man and the system which permits the male to have rights over a female….
    the wives , kids etc. are all pawns in the games he played. God i couldn’t stand the man. When we were there he had a stroke and the entire time his only goal was to get F married to nice saudi lady . F being his first and future head of the family i guess he couldn’t abide the face that he had married outside the country, without the parents consent and worse refused any part inthe family trade… uggghhh thinking about him still gives me the shivers… 2 of his sons are true followers of the dad — well i’m surprised the rest turned out fine, a miracle in itself.

    I’ve yet to see a polygamous family all happy happy living together and sharing the love. not saying they are not out there, but the ones i know keep separate dwellings and i can’t for the life of me get why these women think the sacrifice is worth it. — oh i forget it’s all for heaven 😉
    hmm sad .

  19. My most unusual experience with polygamy actually took place in Pakistan. I was invited to a woman’s home for lunch. I knew she was a widow. When i arrived there was another and younger woman there who had some young children. When my widowed friend introduced to me it was “this is my sister wife.”

    The two women lived together and took care of each other and the children, especially since they were both widowed. Each wife had a floor of the house that was entirely hers and very spacious.

    They said that even before their husband passed, the living arrangements were the same except the husband took turns where he would sleep at night.

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