Happy New Year!
I remember my first Home Science lesson in Std. 4 (fourth grade). We discussed nuclear families. A nuclear family, we were told, is made up of father, mother and children. We all drew two parents and some cute children, standing outside a nice house, basking in the rays of a sun that shone from the top right corner of the page. There was a car by the house. Those who grew up in households like mine where reading was a culture had, by this time, outgrown Well-Loved tales, where we read about The Gingerbread Man, Snow White and that apple, the Wood-Cutter’s Son, and Little Red Riding Hood. We were now getting to know Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, The Famous Five, and What Katy Did. The diabolical Sweet Valley series would soon become popular.
Houses in these books had nice gardens and lawns, and those who lived in them said things like “Golly” and drove Mustangs and dealt with policemen who rode bicycles. Our literary adventures were displayed in our pictures, in the form of peach trees, driveways, and cobblestone paths. Maybe a Mustang or two.
The second Home Science lesson was about the extended family. An extended family, Mrs. Katingima taught us, includes our parents’ siblings and the children of these siblings, and is therefore made up of our uncles, aunts and cousins.
That was it. We discussed no other type of family.
I belong to what is nowadays known as a ‘blended’ family. While it was taboo to speak about this back then, I deeply respect my father for not buying into that culture and for shielding us from shame. He constantly reminded us that we were all valuable and that there was nothing wrong with our family – at least nothing superlatively more wrong with it than with any other, particularly cosmetic families with heaps of secrets buried under their living room carpets. He ensured we all respected and loved each other. While my friends and cousins bragged about intact families and, years later, began to see college-aged men and women walking into their homes claiming they were looking for their fathers, the stench of the buried secrets was no longer avoidable, I realized how important it was that my dad had taught us to embrace our family in its true and beautiful nature. To this day, purely by God’s grace and sustenance, we are all fairly close-knit, albeit, of course, with the challenges that are faced by any and every family.
I am quite aware what a blessing it is that I get along with all my parents and siblings. What I write has some pockets of my own experience, but is based also on observation, and is not meant to malign anyone. I’ll add something to close this paragraph that is inspired by a conversation I had with a cousin years ago: Never look down on your family or think it faces more (or fewer!) challenges than any other. Recognize your family’s identity and be confident. See yourself neither as a giant nor as a grasshopper in family matters, because pride comes before a fall, because you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you, and because better is a dry morsel, and quietness thereof, than a house full of feasting with strife.
I recently watched a family navigate an experience that woke me up to the stark reality of today’s world. With the increase in single parenting and co-parenting, and rushed marriages followed by rushed divorces, blended families have become a lot more common than ever before. This is why I’m writing this. There appears to be a crisis and a lack of both understanding and maturity in managing this issue, and the result is a heap of unfortunate, rash, mediocre reactions that can be mitigated if everybody just steps back, takes a chill pill and goes back to those Ancient Words that forever ring true and change me and you. I have said and will continue to say that the devil hates family. He has no interest in peaceful homes, because a peaceful home creates a solid society. God, on the other hand, is all for family. He is our Father. We are Christ’s bride. The family is a type of our relationship with Him. Dysfunction, so-called (and I say ‘so-called’ because I have yet to find a single ‘functional’ family) is not strange to Him – He adopted Gentiles, calls out to prodigals, and has faced unfaithfulness severally, even from the Israelites.
I’ll briefly mention, before I begin, that in no family should selfishness or disloyalty ever feature. I completely detest it when people feel so free to go to strangers to discuss their family members’ shortcomings in order to gain personal points or benefits. You have no business telling even a cousin what your brother’s or sister’s weaknesses are, especially if this is in an attempt to spread gossip or make him or her look bad. You also have no business keeping your child from his or her father or mother because you have issues with your fellow parent. Family covers family. We now see intimate family information being discussed on TV as the media entertains a nation with one court battle after the other. My brethren, these things ought not so to be.
If you were raised at the same time as I was, you likely had the blessing of being raised by two (or more! )parents. So unless you made an egregious mistake and had a child with a hardcore criminal, why would you deny your child that same privilege? That is not protection; it is selfishness. It’s extremely annoying. (Please accept my heartfelt condolences if you lost one parent along the way.) If you love your siblings, why wrestle over a piece of land? Why make this public? May God shield and heal us all, in Jesus’ Name.
In a blended family, one issue that often raises its head is trust, which often displays itself as jealousy. In my estimation, the most dangerous thing for any blended family is the result of this, which is the formation of camps. One set of siblings against another. One mother’s children or sisters ganging up against another mother.
There are usually two culprits behind this camp formation. The first culprit usually is the mothers themselves. The second, and perhaps most lethal, and definitely most annoying, is this group of women we call aunties.
From what I have observed, unless a man is a total deadbeat and of below-mediocre values and standards, or is mentally unstable, he has a serious and genuine interest in the safety, security and identity of his children. If a mother or stepmother sits a young child down and narrates the ‘evils’ that the child’s father has done, then she turns her child into a therapist, and forces him or her to grow up too fast. “I must protect my mother” becomes the first instinct. This usually translates to “I hate my father”, and guess what else – “I hate men.”
You may think that this will help the child, or is minor or of no consequence, but think of the long-term repercussions. Hating men could mean looking for love and acceptance in women. Hating a father means difficulty connecting with the Father.
Aunties, when it comes to this issue, are often pure gossips and bullies. Aunties can break and have been known to break what otherwise would have been very solid homes.
An aunt may say to a niece, “You’re my niece, but [half- or step-sibling] is not.”
One aunt asked my cousin, to whom my uncle was a stepfather, what his name was. He replied “[First-Name, Family-Name].” My aunt laughed heartily and asked this seven-year-old boy, “Who told you your name is [Family-Name]?”
Any mother who knows her role as the neck in a blended family must make it a priority to be hawk-eyed and keen to protect all children – biological or otherwise – against such malicious aunties.
Some aunts allow children to ‘inherit’ the hatred they have for these children’s mothers or fathers. They maltreat innocent children, as though these children applied to be born, and to come to this world under the circumstances in which they did. Some are just jealous and out to cause confusion because their own homes are unstable. If your sister or sister-in-law ever asks you to leave your home, please be very careful and pay attention. I can bet you that 99% of the time, either it’s a misery-loves-company situation, or she will jealously convince you to leave your home while her own home remains intact. If your life is not in danger, stay put. Do not let another woman drive you out of your home, because your place will not remain vacant.
For siblings: unity is key. It is good, godly and pleasant for brethren to dwell together in unity. Nobody should be able to identify any demarcation or separation unless absolutely necessary; e.g. if this information is needed by the government. Become blindly loyal to each other for as long as you are loyal to the Lord. Pray for each other. Encourage each other. Nip division in the bud, and let all relatives know that they cannot successfully sow discord.
As children, it is our role to honor our parents. It is scripturally not our business to be in their business, of course within reason. It is not easy to navigate a blended family, especially for those who find themselves in one later in life – from the pre-pubescent years and on. But it is possible, and it has been and can be done.
If you have many mothers or fathers, how do you honor them? My cousin M put it perfectly: you balance the allegiances. When he visits the UK, where his stepmother resides, he jokes that he ‘shifts’ allegiances. This balance has to be done while remembering to reserve perhaps a slightly greater honor to your own biological parents. In other words, even while you respect all, you cannot shift your full loyalty to a camp that is against your biological father or your mother.
Wisdom is key. Remember, in a marriage, nobody is 100% correct or 100% wrong. Mothers are especially good at painting themselves with rosy brushes while splashing fathers with mud. Once the aunts add rotten eggs to the painting, it becomes one very ugly picture. Fathers, who often do not wear their emotions on their sleeve and are out providing for the family, rarely have the time or even desire to sit young children down and engage in gossip or discuss personal matters. But know that they, too, experience the difficulties and challenges of marriage, perhaps even worse than mothers do.
Always remember: God will ask you about your own marriage, not your mother’s or father’s. His command to honor parents carries within it the promise of life. Despising any of your father’s or mother’s other children is dishonoring your father or mother. Be wise, for you will be accountable. As someone dear to me once said, in words I am sure I’ve quoted in this blog, charity begins at home. Do not ask God to send you to the nations if you have not obeyed Him in the house.
Love and hugs,