The extended family

In Africa we have a saying that goes: “It takes the whole village to raise a child.” As Africans we follow this saying to the letter.

Rarely, we find couples who have raised all their children by themselves. Out of the total number of the family off springs, some are raised by relatives.

This is necessitated by issues such as finances, school and outright laziness on the part of the biological parents. But is not the topic of discussion today.

My reason for raising this topic is to discuss best practices to follow when raising relations’ children. We have heard stories of how the extended family has become a ground for abuse and all sorts of unfair practices.

One aspect we fail to talk about is the unfairness exerted on the legitimate children. What happens when the children of the house feel overwhelmed by the newcomers?

This may seem trivial, but it is actually about power balance between a man and a woman. A husband will bring in people from his side and the wife will try to bring in as many relations as she can, too.

In the end, there is neither space nor respect and dignity for the children; no communication and consideration. Bad blood develops between the couple, spilling over to the children. This might affect their upbringing and school performance.

I think it is important for a couple to agree on whether to raise children of their relations. The mistake we make is to assume that newlyweds must take one or two children to live with. This does not only encourage the spirit of laziness among parents who strategically send their children to their ‘well-off’ relatives in town who themselves might be struggling financially.

On the flipside, not all extended families bring negative vibes. Actually, an extended family is one of the strongest ways of fostering unity and love among our children.

When children from various families are raised together, they grow up knowing each other as siblings. In the end we have relations that are closer and supportive of each other.

But for this to happen successfully there is need to appreciate the fact that the host family must not only be willing, but have the capacity.

They must also be given power to raise the children on their terms. Interference from outside brings negative vibes in the home.

In the end, when the extended family notion is practised with respect for the host families, it becomes is one of the best support systems we have as Africans. But when it is abused or imposed on a young couple, the results are disastrous.

Raising children is not only a matter of putting food on the table. It is also about giving them direction every step of the way.

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