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'Challenge of an educated woman is finding an empowered man to marry'

EDUCATION
By Agnes Aineah | March 30th 2019
United States International University lecturers Marion Mutwiri (left) and Dr Michelle Karume.

The United States International University recently launched Marriage and Family Therapy, a programme that graduates experts in handling challenges facing the modern family. Dr Michelle Karume and Marion Mutwiri, who lecture at the university, explain what the program entails.

Why is training in marriage and family therapy relevant?

Marion: Marriage and family is a key institution in the society. It prepares members of the community or the nation to be productive and well-adjusted citizens.

Healthy marriages and families will ensure a healthy nation. Kenya is ailing from several social challenges that need be addressed and restructured from the family level. The family structural composition is changing and there is need for professionals in the field to help families to adjust to the needs and navigate challenges resulting from changing structures.

What does the programme entail?

Dr Michelle: Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) is a specialised form of psychotherapy that deals with family patterns of behaviour, couples relationships and individuals challenges using a systemic framework to nurture change. Students are taught how to work with diverse populations from marginalised communities.

MFT courses are based on relational philosophy as well as the theoretical, research and ethical standards of MFT that incorporate the cultural diversity of Kenya.

The program takes two years of theory and clinical courses taught by experts in marriage and family therapy. The program is accredited here in Kenya by the Commission for University Education and in the United States of America by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

Who can enroll for the programme?

Dr Michelle: We admit students with a social science background such as psychology, sociology and social work.

Those without the social science backgrounds take several classes before they start the program. These students are required to apply in January so they can be taking the pre-requisite courses in time for the start of the program in the fall of every year.

What challenges does the modern family face?

Dr Michelle: Families today are bleeding from substance abuse, domestic violence, disconnected relationships, unhealthy communication styles, and personality differences.

We turn a blind eye on rampant domestic violence due to backward cultural norms that men own women. This explains why media these days are filled with stories of fatal violence in families.

The threat is based on self-esteem and the victim is more likely to choose the devil they know as opposed finding a lasting solutions. Domestic abuse is a challenge in the family set up because it affects the children who will pick up on this vice and will more likely act it out. The uniqueness of this program deals with these threats and is able to address them in a structured manner.

Has digital technology changed how families operate?

Marion Mutwiri: Digital technology is a good tool for enhancing family relationships. However, it can be a destructive tool if it is used negatively.

Technology enhances communication and maintains healthy connections. But abuse of digital technology results in communication breakdown both intimate and personal and leads to superficial relationships.

It is addictive and can fuel infidelity. It can also be insensitive in providing private information about family members and lead to conflict.

In what ways have family relations evolved over time?

Dr Michelle: A lot has been happening over time in terms of how people communicate in families, how they parent and how they try to achieve work-life balance.

Parents are busier and are spending less time with their families and get little opportunity to discipline their children. In most cases, the caregiver is now more familiar to the children than the parent.

Thankfully, the latter are more informed and are adopting to new parenting styles while retaining positive cultural norms.

How have family roles evolved?

Marion: Family roles in marital relationships are moving from being gender-based to being egalitarian.

This is because because men and women are contributing emotional, financial and practical support to each other when it comes to raising children and in domestic duties.

Reasons for getting married have changed from simply fulfilling family and communal needs to fulfilling personal needs. Couples today find it had to hold on to a marital relationship that lacks love, commitment and personal happiness.

Is society ready to accommodate an empowered woman?

Marion: The goal of women empowerment was to bring equality between men and women. As we make strides to empower women, however, the man is seemingly not keeping up resulting in unhealthy marital and family relationships. This reality can no longer be ignored or wished away.

More women are being employed, earn more, develop their careers and taking risks in self-development. The negative results of this trend is strained family relationships that include domestic violence, divorce, absent fathers, women financing men and the family, mental health problems and drug addiction.

The society needs to accommodate these changes. We need to deal with the stereotypes about empowered women and assign new roles in marriage and family that are not gender-based.

What new challenges does the empowered woman face in the modern world?

Dr Michelle: More women are now shouldering double family roles where they are nurturing families and at the same time handling financial obligations. Many empowered women find it challenging to find an equally empowered partner for marriage.

As a result, women are seeking alternative methods of making the family like having children without a present biological parent.

Will the family, as we know it, hold in the new age?

Marion: People start families with wrong intentions, including just meeting cultural expectations.

But we seriously need to recapture the values of marriage. Couples also believe marriage is God-ordained thus the need to work with God to be a responsible spouse.

Hold realistic expectations and investment in creating a healthy marriage and family. Expect challenges in marriage and be prepared to learn skills to manage challenges.

What are some of the leading causes of violence in families?

Dr Michelle: Family dysfunction is a leading cause, lack of cohesion and family values. We also take a lot from trans-generation parents who grew up in a violent home.

In most cases, most people will seek out violent relationships because they were raised up in a violent home. Our value system has also changed over the years. We say that we have certain moral values but we don’t actively practice them.

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