Saudi Arabia: Mothering With Polygamy

I have a question.  How and when does a woman living in polygamy tell her children that Daddy has another family?  How does polygamy impact on the children?  Does it make him or her feel less wanted by the father?

An interview that I conducted back in April 2009 was with a Saudi woman who grew up in a family of polygamy.  Her words continue to pierce my heart as she shared her perspective.

“I resented my “other” family terribly when I was little. I love my father, and adored him when I was small, but he was always so busy. When he came to see us, it was primarily to see my mother (can you say conjugal visit?).  I tried hard in everything to make him notice me and my efforts.”

In another earlier interview from May 2008 another Saudi woman shared very candidly what it felt like to grow up in polygamy.

“For me, I didn’t like my father having more than one wife. It was not good for us; not from my father but because of the woman. She will never like the other wife, for sure. At least that’s my feeling about that. I also do not like any man who will have many wives. It is not good for the kids. Yes, 100%, it is not good for the kids.”

Saudi Life had a recent article which tackles mothering while in a polygamous relationship.  I think the author provides practical and sincere advice but the overall reality of being a child or a mother in polygamy is not cut and dried as American Bedu earlier interviews illustrate.


26 Responses

  1. Polygamy is almost always a disaster for everyone involved. It creates suspicion, mistrust, hatred, jealousy, you name it.

  2. It’s sad when daddy is all about the sex (and a variety of it) rather than building relationships with his wife and children.

  3. When a system is abused so to are those involved. Even in the Quran it was only meant as a last resort for the suvivors of war as they had no other means to support themselves or protect themselves and they greatly outnumber the men due to the war. It was also never meant to do so without the knowledge of your wife and acceptance of your wife as this would harm her. In addition, it was never about the young models but for the widows who often times had children.

    Now with today’s times it is absolutely unnecessary to do this except to fulfill your need for variety to the expense of your family which in turn harms society and this actually damages women and children more in cultures that ensures a society contruct to limit women abilities and empowerment.

  4. On the positive side, there is less polygamy in Saudi Arabia today than in earlier times. But, it does still exist. I wish someone would do a long term study on children raised in polygamy.

  5. Actually, if you read the verse, it says that men who are to selfish and stingy to help out widows and heir children just for the charity of it, can marry up to four, so they can demand payment for their support with sex.
    Why is it that women are always supposed to trade sex for upkeep in Islam? Why not put up some rules which give women and children some rights to inheritance, alimony, paid work, or even some sort of social system? Regular Zakat for the support of those less fortunate? That would indeed have been progress.
    Denigrating women to work as in-house hookers for their survival and that of their children really is not.`

    I think it’s a very unhealthy practice. I denigrates marriage, which should be the ultimate relation of trust, partnership, love and devotion into a cold, shallow, inhuman business/sex deal.
    Besides being hell for the women, it can only be very detrimental for the social development of the children growing up in such surroundings, and therefore for the society.

  6. By the way, today’s ”God of the day” is Arion. One of my favorites.
    I like the older Gods much better, they do not whine so much about world domination and how women are evil and should be covered with fabric and locked up, and shut up and just provide sex and babies to men.

    Arion was the son of Poseidon and Demeter, Poseidon was trying to rape Demeter (these older Gods behaved very much like the prophets of later gods behaved ) and Demeter changed into a mare to run faster, and Poseidon changed into a stallion to run even faster, caught up with her, and a nymph and the black talking stallion Arion were the eventual result.

    Your Guide to the Gods:

  7. This is a very interesting topic. Once I had heard from an individual that was raised with a polygamous father, that this would be the last thing they would consider for their own lives, as it was causing distress for the children.

    Indeed there are still polygamous families in Saudi. Usually the husband has had a ‘ problem’ with the first wife and then he conducted the second marriage.

    The first wife usually decided to stay, because as a divorcee her options would become very limited- in either seeing her children or ever remarrying.

    The children are really always the victims in these scenarios, where jealousy is running rampant between the two women.

  8. It’s interesting to note that many saudis/other muslims claim that women are deeply respected in islam, and that they live in a “gilded cage”. After reading the current post on AB plus couple of others from past years, it looks like men relegate their 2nd/3rd/4th wives to behind an “iron curtain”.

    That’s so sad! What hypocrisy!

  9. With all my respect, my question would be, why cant the women marry 4 men, where now a days some women are taking care of her husband.
    Funny to say that. But i dont see one good side of marrying more than one women! I suppose God subhanahu wa taa’la is smarter than that.

    Were is Love when 4 women are around you? How can you even give them care and even pleasure in bed!

    Sry for my english but i hope i explained my point clear enough.

  10. While I believe that it’s possible to love more than one other person at the same time, modern society is going to place a stigma on relationships that are out of the realm of “normal”- which generally means love between one man and one woman.

    Marriage used to be about carrying on the family lineage, begetting children and creating a home for these children. As it becomes more about self-fulfillment and happiness, it doesn’t surprise me that relationships are taking on more and more different forms.

    Regarding this post specifically, I also think it would be interesting to interview children of such marriages. I am curious to find out if in families where the wives are happy and openly in a polygamous relationship, the children have a different relationship and idea about polygamy than in ones where the father has perhaps married each woman separately and the children were not informed of the “other” woman/women until much later in life.

  11. Four wives = four mother-in-laws! … something to think about. 🙂

  12. Well in Saudi polygamous marriages are seldom done because of “love” or other affection. That implies that the man dates the other women before marrying them, which isn’t the case. He simply wants to sleep with someone else other than his wife, or if his first wife can’t have kids, he marries another one. The first condition can be solved by faithfulness, and the other with adoption, which isn’t allowed in Saudi.

  13. Mezba LOL!
    Nice one Nayef

  14. In this day and age family is the basic unit of society so if we want a united society we must start in the family and surely polygamy causes discord between the children so a one wife family is the solution. Nayef put it so nicely be faithful. My father had a friend who married 3 and when he was old he was telling my dad that the biggest mistake he made was marrying more than one because the children hate each other and do not help each other.

  15. F’s dad had another wife, and F says he’s rather be single than married into polygamy… not that i would tolerate
    polygamy, I’m socially condition to accept the one man one woman rule, anything beyong that as in polygamy, affait, etc., etc., would result in my walking out or F sleeping with his eyes haff open .
    In his family 2 brothers are polygamous and the rest hate polygamy… the brothers hated it too when they couldn’t be with their dad an dresented it etc., but they choose it too. as for siblings between spouses, F is v close to one of his step-brother and his step-sister. i think it has more to do with the lifestyle they lead, they both live away from saudi adn like us are married to non-saudi’s .. they also left to study together so a bond was built. but he always says neither his mom nor the other wife was happy, blames his dad for ruining many lives…. sad.

  16. My husband’s best friend’s dad had a second wife (he is son of the 1st wife), he told us one day how they found out many years later that their dad had a 2nd wife with some children already. It was a huge blow, they all coped to forgave him when he fell ill. But in this case they are close to the other woman’s children. They realised that the only one to blame was their dad, nobody else.
    He also said he would never ever be in poligomous relationship, that it only hurts people involved, specially the children.

  17. Ahmad you are so right!

  18. I agree with Achmad, I have always maintained that if men can have four wives then those wives should be allowed four husbands. That’s only justice.

  19. Bstick,i agree tht the system has been abused to merely satisfy the sexual hunger of these ‘men’.no longer is it about helping out widows n orphans like back in the prophet’s day. It disgust me,to say the least.

  20. Ahmad,NO husband is more than my mind n body can handle.i am not sure what woman in her right mind would want another man to complain tht her cooking is lacking in salt and tht they need a massage froo work related stress!

  21. Even if the system is handled in the spirit it was written down in the Quras, I really think there are better and more humane and dignified ways to support widows and orphans (they are not real orphans if they still have their mother).
    Having to be the number so-and-so and having to provide sex and pop out more babies for some dude just to have a roof above your head and to have your children fed would not be every woman’s first choice.

  22. More than one husband…now that’s hell!

  23. Achmed, I love your suggestion very much! Here is the proposed change to koran 4.3, to be renumbered 4.3 – A:

    “And if you fear that you cannot act equitably towards orphans, then marry such MEN as seem good to you, two and three and four; but if you fear that you will not do justice (between them), then (marry) only one or what your right hands possess; this is more proper, that you may not deviate from the right course”.

    Hope and pray that allah/mohammed will approve of this change asap and also reflect this revision in the preserved golden tablet that they keep by their golden bedside stand on their golden throne:)-

  24. Mrs. B … if you had 4 husbands you would most certainly be the one getting foot massages, food served to you, the house cleaned, etc. etc. and not the other way around. You would be pampered because they’d all be wanting your attention! 🙂

  25. Thats the thing Wendy,they would all need attention.i can’t handle constantly needing to gv attention to these grown up is aplenty. 😉

  26. This is a blog post of a current family situation in…China.

    It is NOT normal nor socially accepted for a man nowadays in China to have more than 1 wife simultaneously. The level of sadness and familial dysfunction/resignation is clearly reflected in the author’s comments. The reason why I am posting this is that: across many cultures, polygamy is not helpful to harmonious family relationships nor are any wives totally happy and feel completely “free” to make their own decisions /determine their own path what’s best for family vs. what the husband wants/holds the power in the end.

    Extra-marital affairs now in China and among the Chinese community world wide, is not acceptable at all. Just like most cultures that favour monogamous marriages and recognize those legally.

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