LAST week, we discussed the story of the Alabis who had been married for 21 years and had three adolescent children aged 19, 17 and 15 years old. The family life was chaotic with a lot of intimate partner violence (IPV) on a routine basis. The children had become disillusioned and the eldest daughter was having several affairs in search of the affection that was missing in their home.
The second daughter wished the parents would just die while the last born had become a bully and a gang leader in school. He had also started taking drugs and was thinking of dropping out of school. Mr Alabi thought his wife was always nagging him and not giving him peace of mind, whereas Mrs Alabi was depressed and miserable about the frequent beatings and the irresponsible behaviour of her husband. Bottom line: No one was truly happy.
Moving forward today, it is important to clarify that the scenario depicted above is not the only form of dysfunctional home environment. There are several variants, and it does not always need to involve physical violence or not dropping money for the family’s upkeep. Indeed, it may not even appear dysfunctional to all intents and purposes, from the outside. But it may still be causing emotional stress and exert a negative toll on the children.
How can this be? Well, there may be difficulties with both parents not communicating well with each other; or treating each other with disdain. Communication includes listening to the other party in an open and non-judgemental manner, and being willing to make amends and apologise when in the wrong.
This might sound very trivial, but your children are watching you. They are critically observing how you handle conflict and disagreements and they are going to be either mirroring your approach; or become resentful towards one or both parents; or become confused about dealing with conflict in their own lives.
It could also be due to the absence of a supportive relationship between the parents; frequent disagreements over financial decisions; parenting styles – eg blaming one parent for any mistake of the child(ren); excessive and undue pressure on the children to excel academically; or comparing one child unfavourably with other siblings – such that they feel constantly inferior and never good enough, etc.
The emotional toll of all of these scenarios and many more is huge on our children and adolescents. And so many young children are growing up with zero sense of self-worth or are going around with a lot of pent-up anger and resentment, which often translates into anger outbursts and violence.
Others may turn to drugs to make themselves feel better. And it may also be something as small (but mighty) as lacking the confidence to trust another human being; thus having difficulties with interpersonal relationships in school, at work or in starting their own families.
Thus, several individuals are walking around with invisible scars and wounds – some unfortunately inflicted from within the homes where they grew up. Indeed, if we could have an X-ray to examine everyone on the streets emotionally, we may all end up seeing each other as the ‘walking wounded’.
These negative consequences are not restricted to the children in the family alone. The emotional well-being of the spouses also depends on the quality of relationship that exists within the family.
The most important factors are trust, mutual respect, good communication and honesty, and a willingness to admit mistakes, apologise and be willing to make amends. And then really begin to try and do right, moving forward. A home is built, and nurtured painstakingly by both partners over time. There are no problems that are beyond solving – once both parties are genuinely committed to making it work.
What if I had a turbulent childhood and it still affects me now?
The good thing is that as human beings, for as long as we continue to draw breath, we can proactively choose to do things differently. To unlearn bad habits and cultivate good ones. It takes honest introspection and discipline. And if it is beyond you, or you have tried and failed severally in the past; then maybe you should talk to a mental health professional to help you work things out.
The family or home environment is the first and most crucial nurturing space for children as well as for the adult members in the home. A strong and stable family environment is emotionally healthy and guarantees peace of mind, self-confidence and lends itself to the development of children into responsible, well-behaved citizens with a positive outlook on life.
Every spouse will also be happy to return to a happy home that is a safe haven from the vicissitudes of life. The question is, are we ready to make the necessary sacrifices to build strong homes?