You are aged 33, 39 or 42, married with two lovely children, staying in Kiambu or Mlolongo, or perhaps, the far flung Rongai. Each day, you leave home at a few minutes before 6.00 am to beat traffic on your way to work in town. Your wife perhaps does the same since, with her new position at the firm she works for, a lot is expected of her.
Brandon, your son, is not awake. When you leave work at 5.00 pm, you have to attend the funeral fundraiser or catch up with buddies at your favourite spot. When you finally get home, your daughter is fast asleep. You get to see her only if she is yet to complete her homework. Because you are dead tired, a casual “goodnight” escapes your lips.
Revealed secrets of romantic relations of couples in marriage, endless search for opportunities at the cost of attachment to family, in the city or abroad, and (or) long overdue unsolved problems trigger separation, and sadly, divorce suits. The family bond cracks, or, at worse, breaks apart.
Photo courtesy of prezi.com
The families ‘happily’ living together now have a monster in between their once close contact relationships. Bonny is so glued to the PlayStation that he wants no disturbance. Joan is ever on Instagram “double tapping”. Your husband demands serenity at his domicile and cannot put the remote down as he follows La Liga championships.
As the mother, you are making calls to your chama members or redoing your manicure. Everyone takes supper at their own time. You are together yet miles apart from each other. Is the family unit in deep trouble?
A University of Nairobi’s Department of Sociology study in 2019 revealed that only 9.2% of urban families ever have a family meal together in a week. In the study, fathers are the worse culprits for missing the family dinner, followed by teenage children. “Most women professionals miss to link up with their families as they attend to corporate events, as well as attend post graduate studies at the nearest campus”, the study revealed.
The study furthered that modern life means we all lead really busy lives that are largely transactional and cannot allow us to develop deep connections and relationships. This unfortunate consequence of having hectic social and work lives, as well as kids having school and sporting commitments has made it difficult for the family bond to deepen.
Sociologist Getrude Kamau gives a rather disturbing account. “There are families that get together once a year, or by chance. That is, if the father who works in the city gets to travel upcountry for Christmas or a funeral service forces them to meet”.
Getrude explains that the spiraling cost of living and the need to make progress in life has dealt badly on the family unit, as the bond is being sacrificed for economic, educational and professional growth. “There are people who are at their work places for over 18 hours a day and only go home to sleep,” she observes.
Philip Amanda, a city lawyer, agrees that nowadays, the connection between children and their parents is too shallow given that parents mostly get to see them on weekends. “Personally, I get home at around 9 pm and I leave before 8 am”. I only see my daughter twice or thrice a week, and on short times.”
With the increasing need to be competent for certain jobs, to avoid retrenchment, and make an extra coin, many professionals have sought to advance their studies in the evening classes, as well as work overtime to make ends meet. The house-helps have become the mothers and fathers of the children, since they are closer to them and can respond to their needs in time. Some have developed deeper relationships with house-helps than their parents.
Family expert Monicah Musau advises that as much as parents have busy schedules, they need to get close to children. “If they do not, they are simply cooking disaster”, she warns. Most of the children will develop strange behaviours, and since the parents are not close, they cannot notice them on time.
Photo Courtesy of Punch Newspapers
Again, since parents are away and children have known they won’t be back soon, they do all they want, whichever way. No wonder, Monica explains issues of indiscipline, addiction to pornography, laid down personality and indecisiveness is becoming a graver problem among teens and young adults. “Even when they have problems, it becomes hard for them to let them out, or for the parents to realize them.”
While parental absenteeism is one problem threatening to tear the family fabric, electronic gadgets and the ease of access to internet and social media has proven to be even a bigger threat. Teenagers have made WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter their most intimate friends. Indeed, some parents have been caught in the trap.
Young boys are so much interested in internet games, given the reduced costs of internet connections, watching football, or playing video games. While they may be staying together, they will least converse one on one. It is like they are staying in world apart.
Time that was previously spent interacting physically has increasingly been displaced by the virtual variety. A recent editorial in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine made the timely point that social networking “encourages us to ignore the social networks that form in our non-virtual communities. The time we spend socializing electronically separates us from our physical networks.”
Dr. Hana Noor, in her book, Social Media: Usage and Impact, writes, “Real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitized and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.”
Youth Speaker Doreen Mwenda acknowledges the challenge as grave since it even affects growing relationships, especially on those dating, almost getting married, or, young married people. “All that is required is a change in attitude, a commitment by parents and children to make the family meal a priority, an agreement to switch off all electronic devices and some organisation of timetables.” Much as it can be hard, nothing good comes without sacrifice, she interjects.
Divorces and Separations
Much as external factors have been straining the family unit, the alarming rates of separation and divorce signal a bigger danger. Divorce rates are rising especially among the educated and rich Kenyans, whereas the low income earners, who cannot afford the prohibitive costs of divorce, have resorted to separation.
According to the records in Kenyan courts, the rate of divorce in Kenya is on the increase, and could be higher still were it not for the prohibitive legal costs. Legal sources indicate that the cost of filing a divorce case could range from a minimum of Sh 200, 000 to Sh 500, 000, and the case could drag on in court for years.
“Apart from the sky-high legal costs, couples with irreconcilable differences are often discouraged from the court process due to personal reasons, religious factors, family influence or even mutual agreement”, says Naftali Manoa, a divorce lawyer.
At Milimani Commercial Courts, a total of 404 divorce cases were filed at Milimani in 2014. Milimani Commercial Courts is just an indicator of what goes on in other courts in Nairobi and the rest of the country. According to statistics from Nairobi High Court’s family division, although 163 cases were filed in 2005, last year 183 cases were registered, and most of the cases are going on.
Photo Courtesy of Marriage Watch
While divorce cases filed at the Nairobi High Court are largely of civil marriages, divorce cases filed at Milimani are drawn from Christian marriages. In 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015, the number of divorce cases filed at Milimani were 201, 215, 306, 396 and 795 respectively. In 2017 and 2018, the numbers were at 1427 and 1466 respectively. The number of children affected directly by divorce has risen over the past few decades, from about 82,000 in 1997 to 208,000 in 2011.
With the increase in divorce, the family unit, with children being the victims, may have dire consequences on the development of their personalities, and by extension, a big impact to the larger society.
It is difficult to say exactly how many cohabiting couples with children separate, but the number is likely to be substantial. As many as 30% of all births in Kenya, in 2010, were to unmarried parents living at the same address, many of whom may have been cohabiting. Cohabiting couples, according to Dr. William Doherty, a marriage scholar and therapist, are more likely to split up, and one in three cohabiting parents separate before their child’s fifth birthday, compared to about one in ten who are married. The visiting scholar at Kenyatta University asserts that, “Considering these facts, the total number of children who are affected by the separation of their biological parents is likely to be much greater than the number affected by divorce alone”.
Divorced city businesswoman, Maryanne Njoki opines that when men realize their wives have jumped the gender inequality hurdle, and are doing better than them, they get scared. “We had to divorce with my former husband because he could not allow me to carry out my gold and diamond business, which could make for me more money than him”. Divorce, in her perspective is both an indicator of, and force behind, social changes that have improved prospects for women, reduced gender inequality, and fueled development. “A divorce can spawn a sense of empowerment, and greater pursuit for economic and professional opportunities.”
While the partners may get relieved of commitments after the divorce, Fr. Chrisantus Chuma, a Catholic priest, thinks otherwise. The partners are not separated at all in religious and biblical essence. “When they take the oath of, ‘Until death do us part’, it means, much as legal laws can formalize their divorce, they are still man and wife before God”. Therefore, they are wrong in not taking care of their partners, in good times and bad, as they promised each other on the altar as the priest thinks.
In When couples part: Understanding the consequences for adults and children, relationships writer James Mandiberg points out that “Children whose biological parents have split up have worse outcomes in terms of social, emotional and cognitive development, on average. This association remains regardless of whether the parents were married or cohabiting when the child was born”. James further writes in Chapter 3 that “A child’s psychological and physical health can suffer. Children of separated parents are also more likely to have behavioural problems, exhibit anti-social behaviour and to take part in substance misuse. The parents too, cannot have peace of mind when they know the children are suffering because of the effects of the divorce, or separation”. The issues are graver when children of separated couples will experience greater poverty or dimmed opportunities.
With the situation worsening, the youth, who take example of their parents have in a way, devalued marriage and are no longer enthusiastic to get married.
Family scholars have identified a number of conditions that have reshaped young people’s notions of marriage. In addition, young people’s attitudes towards marriage have been swayed by media reports highlighting the dark side of love and marriage (like high divorce rates, infidelity, stalking, domestic violence, etc.). The assumption that time kills romantic love may further undermine young people’s decisions to enter into relationships that can lead to a family.
Much as that is true, other factors play when it comes to the lost interest in making a family among young people. The attractiveness of marriage has also been fainted by the extension of schooling beyond the early twenties, the liberalization of sexual behavior, the availability of reliable methods of contraception, changing gender roles, the threat of divorce, and acceptability of remaining single.
Lately, there is an increase in the number of single parents, children from non-marriage relationships and as well as children whose parents abandon them soon after birth.
Interestingly, despite the changing attitudes towards the institution of marriage, the pressure on the family unit, and the paralyzing economic times among different societies, the proportion of young people opting for marriage is not different from what it was at the beginning the century.
While it faces many challenges, the family, as Pope Francis recently said in a Papal address, “the family most basic, sacred and defining institution that impacts on every part of our lives.”
By abuta ogeto
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