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Family politics that dampen the Christmas mood

The festive season may traditionally be all about get-togethers, but it can be a moment of unease when arguments, competition and other woes reign amongst kins

Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi

Christmas is here with us again. And if the current trend of family themed Christmas promotions is anything to go by, you’d be forgiven for thinking every family is happy, bustling and full of cosy intergenerational connections.

As it turns out, the reality can be starkly different, whether it’s a gradual distancing or a single fierce argument that causes the rift.

Dennis Miriti knows this too well. His extended family meets every end of the year for a family reunion. However, what is supposed to be a happy time with his long lost cousins; aunties and uncles always turns out to be stressful and disappointing. “Growing up, we used to look forward to the fun-filled get-togethers, but something changed along the way,” he says.

Miriti’s dad and one of his younger brothers had a scuffle three years ago about who should build a house for their parents.

“My uncle’s career has just picked up and he was financially able, while my dad was struggling paying our school fees, among other financial obligations. My uncle could hear none of it. He insisted all the four brothers should share building costs equally,” he explains.

The issue caused conflict among the brothers, which trickled down to their children.

Other reasons for his extended family falling apart are the tendencies by his cousins to show off. “Some of my cousins who live in the city do not want to associate with those who stay upcountry. They sort of look down on the village dwellers,” he says. Other times, Miriti says it is the city cousins that have an issue with each other, mostly about social class.

Miriti is not alone; Abigael Njeri says she only travels home for Christmas because her grandparents insist all family members must meet. Njeri says financial obligations on her sucks the happiness right out of the occasion. “My grandparents have three children, they all live in the village and are not well off financially.

But about 12 of my cousins and I live and work in the city, although I have a better-paying job than the rest of them. I don’t mind helping out, but the problem is none of my cousins ever wants to do anything, even buy a bag of wheat flour,” she whines. The issue has caused a drift between her and other extended family members.

“I raised the issue two years ago and it seems, this did not go down well with most of them. They have now branded me names from ‘proud’ to ‘selfish’,” she cries.

While the festivities may appear to be a time to enjoy family company, eat and just relax, as evidenced by above experiences, it is a lot less amusing in real life.

Sociologist Gilbert Marango blames family conflicts to modernisation, urbanisation as well as increasing differences in social economic classes, which can fuel rivalry or competition among family members.

“Today, unlike a decade-and-a-half ago, people have become more geographically separated and thus affecting bonding between families,” he explains.

Less social

He says more women today are working compared to before, when they were the ones who stayed at home, nurtured the family and ensured that children in the extended families spend more time with each other.

“Parents have been forced to find something to do with the children; schools and school activities instead of the family and family activities. This has caused more and more fractures in the extended family situation,” offers Marango, who terms family estrangement as a silent epidemic.

Finally, he blames technology, which is used more by the youth, making them become less and less social and interactive. “Social media has also cultivated the culture of competition among young people in extended families, with each wanting to show the other that they are doing better than the others.

This adds to the breakdown of the integrated family unit,” he explains adding, “It is the culmination of all these things that contribute to conflict during family gatherings.”