Helping children understand unconventional families

Not everyone comes from the ideal family set-up of father, mother and children. Parents and guardians outside this set-up have had a lot of explanation to do to their children. However, the new curriculum lends a hand in this

Just after her daughter turned two, Leila Hamisi and her husband separated. He disappeared from their life. Now, six years later, her daughter cannot stop asking about where her dad is. This question makes Leila sick.

“I mean, her father made it clear by his absence that he does not desire to have a relationship with his daughter,” she says, adding that she has no idea how to properly handle telling her little girl that her father chooses not to see her.

Leila’s dilemma is one faced by many mothers and fathers, who are raising children alone. In some cases the heartbreak is caused by an absent parent who does not want to be involved and in other cases, the child is a product of an illicit affair between a mother and the child’s father, who could be raising another family. The list is endless. Either way, a parent/guardian who is raising children without the help of a partner is sensitive to the deep wounds the other parent’s absence can have on the emotional wellbeing of their children.

Leila is, however, glad that the new education system, introduced to Kenya schools at the start of this year will help her child answer that question. She is among parents who would reap from the benefits of the new system of education curriculum.

Speaking to parents during St Bakhita Schools New curriculum parents workshop, Joyce Mwaura, one of the key developers of the new curriculum and also, whose school, Kids Zone Educational Centre was among the 10 pilot schools for the new curriculum in Nairobi, said there will no longer be confusion going forward.

“Some children get sensitive about the fact that their dad doesn’t live with them because they feel all the other children at school or in their neighbourhood have two parents living at home,” she points out.

That is why it is, especially important for schools through the new curriculum to point out that there are different kinds of families, from those with divorced parents to single-parent homes with adopted children and so on. “Well, you need a mother and father to have a child, but is that the only kind of family?” she asked, adding, “What about children who live with their grandparents? Or those who are adopted into a family? They still have a mother and a father, but the family started in a different way. What about children who live sometimes with mum and sometimes with dad? What about children who live with aunties, uncles or older brothers and sisters? What about stepbrothers and stepsisters and stepparents?

She urged parents not to feel offended when children come home to ask about what kind of family they live in, because being assertive about their situation will help boost their confidence in school as well as help in the learning process.

“It is okay to let your child be proud of their family setting, after all, it is not their fault to be in the situation they are in. Some children live with their grandparents, some with uncles or aunties, single parents and so on,” she says.

Parenting coach Peter Watiti says gone are the days when nuclear families; mother, father and children was considered the norm in society. These days, different family types are not only common, but also much more accepted than they were in the past. It’s not uncommon to be raised by a single mother or be part of a mixed family.

He tells parents to expect questions from their children about the whereabouts of their other parent. “You need to be patient as a child’s questions will never entirely go away. Expect to endure many nights of tears, your own and those of your children trying to cope with the feelings of abandonment that result from a father who is absent and uninvolved,” he notes.

But be strong enough in the face of your children by giving them assurance that theirs is also a complete family because there are different types of families, and ask them to be proud of it as it is.

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