By Irene Lamunu
Sociologists Zinn and Eitzen refer to family as a haven or place of intimacy, love and trust. The family is an agent of socialization and the primary source of influence behind the formation of personality and the growth of a child. A family is an important concept in the world over especially in Africa. Generally, everybody belongs to a family, which is much larger than an individual. A family is not only made up of a man, his wife and their children, however, in Africa for example, a family constitutes of a wider community. By birth, an African becomes a member of a wider community that the non-African designates as the extended family. Robert Cliquet wrote a paper: Major trends affecting families in the new millennium. It states that the 20th Century has witnessed remarkable changes in family structures and dynamics in Western Europe and North America. There are smaller household sizes, a further shift from the extended to nuclear families, a decrease in nuptiality and an increase in separation or divorce, the appearance of new forms of unions such as: unmarried cohabitation and living-apart-together, changing gender and intergenerational relations, and last but not least, a substantial decrease in fertility, often to below-replacement levels.
The more the African family is extended, the more it gets the feeling of pride and security. Even if as an individual, one does not feel important they will grasp his full importance as a member of the extended family in Africa, thus the family defines the individual. Great decisions like marriage are never made individually; the extended African family is a place to practice solidarity. One cannot conceive a family life without the community sharing a meal. The community shares both the sorrows and joys of the family. In the African family, this way of life maintains a joyful environment and one is never alone in their misfortunes. One is always surrounded in times of difficulty and joy. Modern realities are eroding this community practice in Africa, particularly in the towns and cities where people are becoming increasingly indivualistic and egoistic. The Africans used to say that raising a child was wholly the responsibility of the community or village but the practice is slowly fading away.
Today, raising a child is solely the responsibility of the parents since modernization is taking control of the whole situation and even the parents do not have time to sit around and bring up their children because many of them are busy working. Today’s parents don’t have time to monitor what their children are up to and how they are growing up. Most parents have left the responsibility of raising children to schools teachers and baby sitters or housemaids. Husbands and wives are too busy running up and down looking for money, and they don’t have time to sit down as a family with the children and give them tips on discipline and growing up. Teachers today spend more time with children than their parents and the maids or baby sitters at home pick up from where the teachers have left off. By the time the parents get back home, some of the children are already sleeping and don’t know what the children have been up to.
Christine Aciro, a resident of Bweyogerere said she loves her children so much but she also needs to look for money to take care of them. She leaves home as early as 6.00 a.m. every morning while they are still sleeping and leaves the children in the care of a house help. She said she only returns at home at 8.00 p.m. and has very little time with her children that is why she entrusted the children to the maid. Her argument is that the children need a comfortable life and she needs to work for the comfortable life for the children. Meanwhile, Florence Nakiyaga of Buikwe town says her husband walked out on her and her three children three years ago, so, she has to fend for the children single handedly. She owns a shop in Buikwe town and says that, “Leaving my children with a maid is not an option, so every time I am going to the shop, I take my children with me. I have no one to leave them with, we only return home to sleep”. Her greatest fear is the people her children associate with because she cannot control them. She says the children hear so many things from different people but they need to eat and get clothed. This, she says has been going on for quite some time. Nakiyaga agrees that today’s world has changed so much unlike during her grandmother’s young days where it was never heard of a man walking away from a home and the women would persevere any hush conditions for the sake of her family. She said, today it’s hard to find a woman who will persevere any hush conditions imposed to her by her husband or in-laws. She added that all this is happening because women are becoming independent unlike those days when women had to rely on men for everything. “Today a woman can afford to pay school fees and buy food and cloth her children without help from a man”, she said.
The changing work role of women has caused much concern about the survival of the family; most women can mix work with marriage and motherhood and handle or better share the resulting household responsibilities. Sar A. Levitan and Richard S. Belous in their paper: Working wives and mothers: what happens to family life states that: American families seem to be besieged from all sides. Divorce rates are climbing; marriage is being postponed, if not rejected; fertility rates are falling; increasing numbers of children are being raised only by their mothers, either because of divorce or because their parents were never married; and wives and mothers in re-cord numbers are rushing out of the home into the labor market. So this is not only an African problem.
Sserwaniko, a resident of Namengo in Lugazi Municipal council says that he is a long distance driver who sees his family once in a week. He states that it hurts him every time he is on the road but he has no choice because he needs to feed his children; he is worried how his children are growing without enough guidance from him. He adds that today’s society has changed so much unlike in his time as a child. He always saw his father and mother everyday because his father and mother were peasants who were around at any time and the discipline in their home was good. Sserwaniko added that, he is not sure of the discipline of his children because he doesn’t have time for them.
One taxi driver, Kiwanuka John who resides in Jinja says that today children do what pleases them and very few listen to their parents. He adds that the way children dress these days is a sign of lost values in our society.
Most parents have left TV’s to baby-sit the children and no one is at home to control what the children watch! Another problem Kiwanuka has come face to face with is the smart phones as he puts it. “Those have contributed a lot to eroding the morals today. Children are copying everything they see on the phones especially on face book. You find a child concentrating more on Facebook than schoolwork. They can stay on the phone the whole day but will not be able to hold up a class book for 30 minutes,” Kiwanuka added. Kiwanuka noted that the issues of the phones and television are not only with children but also wives at home. They forget the family and concentrate on televisions instead. He said that once some women are at home all they concentrate on is watching their favorite soap operas or telemundos. They always leave the job of taking care of the house to maids and children.
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