One is enough

Polygamy and its impact on the mental and emotional health of children


One is enough
by Parisa Saed Al-Hashem

Children develop self-esteem and a sense of well-being when they are raised in a nurturing and loving environment. If abandoned by either parent, children may feel unwanted or unloved. When attention and praise are withdrawn, or absent, children often respond by becoming anxious and/or depressed.  

During my work in the Saudi kingdom's Channel 2 TV as a director and presenter of social programs - titled "With Dr. Paris" - each week I covered a real life story of abused women and children coming from broken families. In making these life stories, I interviewed many social workers, teachers and therapists who treat abandoned women and children. I also visited charity centers such as Al Ashram, Al Wafa, Ensan, King Abdoul Aziz and others. Through numerous clinical interviews, surveys and interviews with neglected wives' and children suffering from emotional abuse and misuse of polygamy, I concluded that children in polygamous household can experience a greater risk of neglect from their parents when father's love and support is absent,  distorted, or divided unequally. Young children are directly affected by their mothers' emotions and in polygamous families their rate of depression and anxiety is positively correlated with the mother's sense of insecurity and depression.   

A high number of these children exhibit symptoms of severe depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, self-destructive behavior with tendency towards violence. For example, a Saudi mother in a polygamous marriage whom I interviewed at Wafa charity center said, "since my husband married his new wife, he has abandoned me and our six children. My children miss their father enormously. My 7-year-old daughter is behaving erratically - she set our house on fire."   

Wasan, a social worker in King Abdoul Aziz charity center, told me, "It is emotionally devastating for children when their mothers are abandoned in favor of new wives." Furthermore, preferential treatment of children according to who is their mother causes a sense of lack of worth for children in polygamous households. Children of the first wife often feel abandoned and unwanted when the father neglects them and their mother, in favor of newer wives and their children.  

Domestic violence is a serious risk in these households as parents may attack one another or the children of less favored wives, or the children from one mother may attack the children from a different mother.  Aside from the actual physical harm experienced by young victims of domestic violence, this abusive environment can seriously affect the victims' mental development and health. This in turn increases the chance that they  become perpetrators of acts of violence.  

The health of the mother, mentally and physically, also has an effect on the development of the child, as early as in the womb. When a mother feels anxious, this anxiety is transmitted to the child and increases the child's risk for mental illness. When mothers worry about the stability of the household, children become insecure. This may affect their performance in school or how they interact with family members and other children. In one case, three young sisters supported by Ensan charity center all quit school due to lack of motivation and severe depression.  

Economically, polygamy makes it even more difficult for a father to provide for all of his children because it becomes more likely that he will have many children. Even fathers who wish to be involved in the lives of all of their children find that they must spend most of their time away from their family in order to provide financial security for their children and wives. When fathers fail to do so, the consequences are dire. Children and mothers experience emotional and financial depravation. In an attempt to find a sense of self-worth, belonging or a father figure, these children are more vulnerable to following people who encourage them to engage in violent behavior. Those children who do not behave aggressively towards others may often turn to drugs or alcohol, experience mental and emotional difficulties, or they may exhibit some kind of behavioral problems.  

The difficulties of being a supportive, loving father are often noticed by the fathers themselves.  One illustration of the difficulties may be found in the International Herald Tribune account of the life of Aga Hemmed Aslant, a Kurdish village chieftain, who lives in Turkey with his five wives, 55 children and 80 grandchildren. When interviewed about his large family he says that he regrets not having only one wife. In order to prevent wives from competing with one another, he was forced to build their homes far apart, which made it harder for him to spend time with all of his children.  

Aslant is so opposed to polygamy that he has forbidden his sons to take more than one wife and has taught all of his daughters to refuse to become second wives. His feelings come not out of shame, but a reality check. He now knows that his wives would become jealous of one another and pick on the weakest ones. On several occasions, he has come across children whom he did not realize were his. Feeding, clothing and sheltering so many children have also been large financial challenges for Aslant. However, as chieftain of his village, Aslant has been able to provide for his family. But this is often not the case in polygamous families.  

It is quite common for fathers to abandon their families when they cannot provide for them. Frequently, the eldest sons will drop out of school in order to find jobs to support the family. This in turn makes it more unlikely that he will be able to support his own family when it is time for him to marry.  

These various difficulties illustrate that the practice of polygamy affects everyone in the family. Polygamy can endanger the family, the pillar of the society in the most serious way. If the family structure collapses, the wreckage is felt by all.  

As a Muslim woman, I, along with many other Muslims, share the following interpretation of Islamic guidance on the issue of polygamy: When Prophet Mohammad exposed his revelation about the conditions under which a man could have more than one wife, polygamy was already a common practice. Therefore Prophet Mohammad revealed that marriage is a divine institution and as such the relationship between a husband and a wife is sacred. If a man takes more than one wife, he is commanded to treat them all equally. But, who ensures that all the wives and children are treated equally and justly? Are the men able to recognize their unjust behavior ever? Are those who misuse Prophet Mohammad's guideline ever able to recognize their unjust behavior?   

To prevent domestic abuse and social disintegrations, each member of society must have an interest for the welfare of women and children. The suffering of neglected wives and children should be everyone's concern. If authorities do not concern themselves with family welfare, society becomes weaker, for the status of families has a profound impact on the strength or the weakness of society.  Ultimately, when women and children suffer, society suffers and pays the price as a whole.  This is true not only about Saudi society or other Middle Eastern societies, but about all societies, as the unit of family is the foundation of all societies everywhere.

Dr. Parisa Saed Al-Hashem is a clinical psychologist.



I was the Doctor They Saw

by DoctorDave on

I am sorry- but I only speak English.  I am an American Physician- considered in our insane country to be what is called 'The Doctor's Doctor'- which means that the doctor's themselves, their family members, and their spouses sought me as their physician.  For over 30 years I have been, and still am- an Obstetrician & Gynecologist. Although indeed I am a man- I feel that compassion has far more to do with what is between your left ear and your right ear, and within your heart- rather than what you have, or don't have- between your legs.

Patient's who sought my care ranged from the Chief Prosecutor of Sexual Discrimination and Sex Crime cases for San Jose County, in San Jose California, and many, many women who had suffered from one form or another of abuse.

My subspeciaty was- until I finally burned out after Wall Street bought Medicine in this most uncivilized of countries with regard to health care- is called Urogynecology.  I was the doc who women sought care from if their uterus was hanging down to their knees, literally, and they were confined to bed, or if they had had 20 botched operations- and even though I still feel that surgery should be the church of last resort- I was that church.

Many of my patients were elderly- and all of them became my friends and teachers.

I was also the doctor that women who had undergone 'female circumsicions' would seek- almost always brought in by their loving husbands- whether these men were black, white, or had stripes- they all shared one thing in common- they loved their wives (or rather, wife- singular).

And the women all were ashamed and in pain because they wanted so badly to give their husband's pleasure.

I found that that is the cost of loving- we lose our hearts to those who we would lay down our lives for- and eventually we will, all of us- die.  The Bitter Sweet of Life.

I could always make the openning of the vaginal canal larger, I could always make a 'functional vagina'- but I could never give them back what they had so cruelly been robbed of- and I would go home so many times and just cry.

It takes a big man to admit that he can still cry.  It takes a huge man to show his tears in public- and it takes a mountain of a man to refuse to wipe the tears from his eyes.

The clinic eventually burned me out- and I did not heed the advice of colleagues who said over and over- 'you have to get out'- 'you care too much'- 'the system is going to kill you'- and it nearly did.

I am now on the East coast- Wellesley Massachusetts- home of Wellesley College- Hilary Clinton's alma mater- a place I left over thirty years ago- vowing never to return to- due to the misspent wealth, hypocrisy, and the bottles of booze and the wild parties I saw in this so called 'dry' town.

Now I have returned at the- literally dying request of my father- to look after my 87 year old mother- who is now nearly blind and can barely remember my name.  I have returned to let her live out her final days in the house she has lived in since I was 3 years of age- and I am now 58 years old.

I spend as much time as I can now returning to my passions of music, writing, and singing- and teach guitar to at risk males, and playing with homeless children- who understand me best.  It's amazing how immaturity can keep one looking and feeling quite youthful.

I am considered by American women's standards to be a 'lady killer'- with penetrating blue eyes- eyes that the Latte' Ladies of Wellesley- the Gucci Gulch crowd- eyes they say are the most beautiful and penetrating they have ever seen.

But I had nothing to do with them, or with the gifts that I have been granted- I can meerly try to give back what I have been so blessed to have had- a roof over my head, enough food to eat, and a family safe from the Guns of War- in the end, we are- each of us- the same story- just different themes.

And indeed we are on the same train- but those of us fortunate to have luggage to carry- we refuse to put down our bags, lighten our load of anger and hostility- and find the sense of freedom that I have found.

I also suffer from Bipolar Disorder Type I- the most severe form.  You should fall on your knees and thank the god of your choice- thank her that you have not had to visit the false heavens, or spend the hours I have in the Hellish caverns of my own mind.

I have had to put myself together too many times now to ever let this disease kill me- though I have cursed God so many times for giving me such beautiful children- so that I could not leave them without a father.

When you have had to put yourself together as often as I have- alone, so alone and scared- for your friends have all scattered like trout- and most of your family no longer talks to you- then sometimes you are fortunate enough to forget to put your Ego back in place.

I have done that- but I have to admit- that I take it out once in a while- but only when I feel the need to show off.

I know who I am now- and no petty person can buy my soul, frighten me, or use me as a cog in their machine.

I have placed a Blog on this great Web site of yours- and you can see a partial look at my face- as well as my favorite quote- or rather one of them-   //   .

Namaste'- Sanskrit for 'I honor the Divine in you'- and for all of you brave and persistent women- I repeat what both Churchill- a fellow Bipolar man- and the Dalai Lama have said:  'Never give up. Never give up- and as Churchill added- when you find yourself in Hell, keep on going- it is your birthright, don't let anyone take away from you what was never theirs to take in the first place.

Dr. Dave- as the kids call me.


one is enough

by Golly (not verified) on

Dear Marxi,

In my openion, this article is mainly targeting the islamic societies. It is unfortuanate that millions of women including women in Iran are suffering from unjust law of plygomy.

I suggest to marxi to read this article again and learn more about this concept,as polygomy is not only exercised by one country or Saudi royal family with welth!!!!...


IS this really an issue?

by MRX1 (not verified) on

How many people you met in life that have more than one spouse? Majority of us have tough time dealing with one wife much else with multi wifes!
now if you are talking about saudi arabia and the three thosusend member of it's royal familiy, well that's the diffrent matter alltogether. If I had that kind of money I would be having hundred's of girl friends wife's you name it!


Where did you go?

by Rake N' Da Riyals (not verified) on

Dr. Parissa,

I'm living in Riyadh. My wife and I used to love watching your program. The first time we saw you on TV and she heard you speaking English, she said, "She's Iranian!" Where did you go? Did you escape the Magic Kingdom, or was your program just a bit too cerebral for the management at Saudi 2? We're waiting for you to make your triumphant return to TV. Khoda Hafez