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Too young to be a step parent

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

After almost 30 years of marriage, Brian Kigen’s father left his mother a year ago after he fell in love with another woman. “None of us had met the other woman.

We thought she would probably be a widow or maybe a single mother in her 40s who could match his intellect and win our hearts somehow. However, what we got was not at all what we had imagined or hoped for,” narrates Brian.

Well, Brian’s father is 51, Brian is 29, his siblings are 27 and 25 respectively and their father’s girlfriend is 24, younger than them all! Brian doesn’t fault his father for the separation. He admits his parents had a lot of problems for a long time and his mother is a difficult woman to be around.

But it’s the way in which he decided to go about it that disgusts him. He cheated on their mother for months, proposed to his young mistress, and then left home to live with the woman, who is still in campus.

“The entire family is in shock. We feel betrayed and humiliated, everyone is laughing at us. These days we barely go home or even see eye to eye with our father. And our mother is going into a state of depression,” laments Brian.

He says he does not want to cut ties with his father, who does not care what they think unless they accept their stepmother. But it is hard for him to play nice and act like it is all well. “I also cannot stop wondering why my dad does not look at that woman like she were someone’s daughter, his own daughter or even imagine my sister marrying someone his age,” he retorts.

Becky Ogola, 27,  is also in the same dilemma. She and her siblings were raised by a single mother. Her three siblings are all in college in Nairobi and last year when they went for the December holidays back home in Mombasa, they were shocked to find their mother dating a 30-year-old man, 15 years her junior.

“First, when we got home, we realised that a lot had changed about our mother. She was suddenly obsessed about make-up and wore clothes that ideally should be worn by women in their 20s.

She then dropped the bombshell—she told us she had invited someone special over for dinner, and if all went well, they might be getting married soon. We were shocked and embarrassed to see it was a young man almost my age,” says Becky.

Many children, like Brian and Becky, have gone through or are still getting over the shock of their parents in their 50s, 60s, or 70s wanting to be in a relationship with people half their age or younger. Why would anyone want to marry someone so young, someone young enough to be their own son or daughter?

Boaz Murichoh, a sociologist, says it is not uncommon for someone to feel disturbed by their parents having a partner who is younger than they are. It has always caused huge rifts in the parent-child relationship. There is also the embarrassment factor—it is awkward to introduce a younger person as your mother or father.

When a parent marries someone younger than their children, the situation can affect their own choice of relationships. They will also wonder if they ever knew their parent at all, and ultimately question the basis of that relationship and eventually start disrespecting their parent.

“Children may also be forced to start seeing their parent who has resorted to dating a younger person as a sexual being, which makes them uncomfortable, thus cutting links with them,” says Murichoh.

He, however, explains that parents are human beings, too. They could be struggling through a stressful life event such as a divorce or midlife crisis, which can often bring out the ‘teenager’ in your parent and leave them wanting to feel loved, lusted after and youthful.

Murichoh says re-entering the dating scene may be frightening, and many men and women turn to younger partners because they see them less threatening and less risky. These young partners tend to look for the same things: respect, love, and a chance to feel good about themselves among others.

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