Op-Ed: Breaking The Cycle of Dysfunction Culture in Nigerian Homes

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A generational cycle of heavy dysfunction is what I’ve found to be prominent in a lot of Nigerian homes. I find this to be the result of the twisted idea of love that is very popular in the minds of our parents. But they mean well, so let’s not be too harsh. The whole structure of parenting borders on some form of control. Mostly, a boss-employee type of relationship which I find to be really sad. I don’t want to completely project my personal experience, which hasn’t been so great, on everyone else but permit me to do so a little because I have talked to people, done a little research too and I found that there is an awfully scary amount of dysfunctional families/ familial relationships in Nigeria. This bothers me so much because the home/ family is the first contact a child makes with the world. The emotions or the lack thereof and various other experiences a child comes in contact with pretty much shape a very large part of that child’s personality and their entire outlook on life.

From what I have seen and observed from various relationships, including friendships, and even romantic relationships, love appears to be mostly conditional. This dare I say seems to be foundation of the dysfunction that exists in most of our homes. Our parents love us until we refuse to let them live vicariously through us. The minute we decide to be full autonomous beings of our own with choices and decisions that we want for ourselves, said love starts to diminish and everything starts to fall apart. Again, I’m not generalizing or in anyway saying this is the case in every single family, but it’s the case in many. It’s high time we address this and properly, as these issues influence us largely, they shape how we process, give and receive love, they shape our mental health and our moral compass. Dysfunctional parenting exists in way too many families in Nigeria. It’s an epidemic.

Whether it be a gay child, or a child that has chosen a different career path, or a child that has left the religion they were born into, or a child that doesn’t want to subscribe to popular traditional lifestyle, or a child that simply dares to have opinions of their own, parents are always quick to cast such children as the black sheep of the family. The disobedient child. As if it is so outrageous to want to be a person of your own. The nerve on a child to dare think they deserve happiness and a life of their own. And as I mentioned above, Nigerian parents [I’d say parents in general but I’m only familiar with Nigerian parents so pardon me] are huge subscribers of the boss-employee type of relationship, as it’s the only relationship structure they are equipped/able to navigate. “You dare not try to be anything but exactly what I want as long as you live under my roof and I pay your bills”. A vivid transactional relationship that takes a toll on both the parents and the children. Parents constantly getting disappointed because their children have “failed” them by daring to be anything other than what they envisioned, and children in a constant frantic of trying not to fail their parents. So who really benefits from such an awful system? Seems to me like it just stresses everyone out.

There is also the issue of parents using their children as representations of their achievements. “My son is a doctor!” “My daughter just got married to the finest architect in town!” It’s not such a bad thing to want to brag about the success of your children as long as you don’t see them as a tool for constantly stroking your ego. We all care what people think of us, sometimes our parents care too much, they are way too bothered about what everyone else thinks, that they block out the voices of their own children. And it all comes crashing when the child isn’t doing something considered brag worthy”. You’re not making them proud, but sometimes, maybe you just want to make you proud. We may be an extension of our parents, but we are not just that. We are full human beings and we want things, some of which our parents may not want and you know what, that’s okay.

No child wants to get kicked out or cut off financially. Which is a thing by the way, I know people that have been cut off by their parents because they chose a lifestyle the parents don’t approve of, and this happens to be the number one thing parents tend to hold over their children’s heads for a very long time. The ultimate weapon of control. Note that said lifestyle might not be so bad or bring actual harm to anyone, but the mere fact that it goes against what the parents “want” is enough to get the child casted out, so what happens? The child learns to pretend. They bend over backwards to fit into the picture their parents have perfectly painted. They shrink themselves, hiding every fibre of their being that makes them who they are. They keep secrets. They seek solace from outside the home, they seek acceptance and validation from wherever it is they can find it and sometimes, they look in the wrong places. Validation becomes a drug that they are in constant need of.

Dysfunction culture is your parents not knowing the first thing about you. It’s also having parents that never take accountability because in Nigerian ageism culture, the older you are, the “righter” you are and if you happen to be a parent, then you are free of all mistakes whatsoever. It is ridiculous. Because you can’t afford the cost of your parents finding out who you truly are, as they might not approve, you keep a shitload of secrets. Sometimes it’s because you love them and really don’t want to break their hearts, other times, it’s because you simply don’t have a choice. There is also the self loathing that comes with feeling like you’re the bad guy for simply wanting to be. You can’t seem to love yourself because the twisted idea of love that you have is just pure, toxic control. This is not what love should be. This is not healthy. Love should be kind, not selfish.

I saw a post on Instagram that asked if you think that the way your family loves has affected the way you love and I just completely broke down after going through the replies. One person said, “My father taught me that love is a raised voice, that love is a clenched fist. My mother taught me that love means staying no matter what, for family. This is why I had to leave”. Another person said, “We love like immigrants. We build homes we must escape from. Find passion in fleeting moments, and return to find ourselves forever in the middle. Neither here nor there, neither a native nor a foreigner, just strangers in familiar land.” There were many more heart breaking remarks and this just made me crumble. I thought of what my answer would be to that question and I got really scared. I didn’t want to think about it but I know it’s bad. Someone read these remarks and said, “I might not be strong enough to share my story but I cannot deny the truth in the words of others. It’s like reading a book I didn’t know I’d written.” I realized that I felt the exact same way.

What’s scary is how most of us have come to internalize these toxic ideas of love and control and project them onto our relationships and personal lives. And in so doing we recycle the problem. We hurt our lovers, our friends, our children and we can’t stop because we are broken on the inside. We hurt the people around us and sometimes we hurt ourselves even, because we don’t know how to love healthily, we don’t even know how to love ourselves. Because most of us have been taught that love is aggressive, we have been taught to use control or violence instead of compassion, communication and empathy. This problem has its hooks so deep in a lot of us that some may even think it’s normal, that that’s just how the world is meant to be. But normal is a construct. We are human beings with brains and survival instincts. We learn to evolve from methods that aren’t effective to our survival. This article is not in any way putting the blame on anyone because even our parents are a product of the lives they were exposed to as children, and their parents before them and so on. A generational cycle of dysfunction. But it’s time to break that cycle by simply understanding that it’s not working out. We need to start learning accountability. Being bad at parenting doesn’t necessarily mean the parent is an all round bad person. I mean there is no manual that comes with parenting. What makes a bad person is refusing to be held accountable and refusing to unlearn toxic behaviors that affect children they chose to have. Broken adults everywhere is not how to produce a sane and functional society.

I like to think we can do better and I hope I’m right. We can make it right or at least better. We can achieve this by starting to love healthily. We should learn to love in better ways, love by listening, by showing support, by correcting our loved ones and our children with kindness. Substitute control with empathy and communication. Children, no matter how young are human beings too and should be treated as such, because trust me when I say every single thing a child is exposed to reflects on how they turn out so we must take utmost care. A child is not a mere extension of you, and you are not perfect. A child is not a trophy to brag about or condemn when they don’t live out your fantasies. A child is a person. A full human being. I know it can’t be easy because it’s never easy breaking free from generations of conditioning. But I hope and pray that we can at least give it a try. We all should as this affects us all. Let us love, and let us love better than we were loved.

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