The discovery that her father only lived with her mother to save face dealt a huge blow to her moral values. Eunice Mukami grew up conservatively; in an environment that bore all the hallmarks of sanity, morality and a straight life.
â€œAll of us, even my three siblings, enjoyed tranquility at home,â€ she says. â€œWe got everything and attended good schools. We knew that our parents were the best examples of how families should exist.â€
She would, however, lose her belief system after discovering that her father had been cheating on her mother for more than 12 years. It is when she turned 23 that she made the damning discoveries against â€œthe man I thought cared for my mother and our family.â€
Finding out that her father cheated on her mother â€“ even siring two sons with the other woman â€“ threw Eunice off her kilter. â€œI had been dating at campus and almost immediately the relationship fell apart. I lost trust for men. Even today, I donâ€™t think I can trust a man,â€ says Mukami, now 27, and with a child.
The plot farther thickens: Eunice does not know who the father of her son is. She never confessed the truth to her mother since she figured out that she knew but was not strong enough to confront reality. With her relationship crushed, she loosely found herself lured into commitment-free carnal affairs. â€œI didnâ€™t care who I slept with. It was for the pleasure. Plus, I felt good every time I got intimate with a man I had no commitment with,â€ she says, without even a flake of emotion.
Being a single mother does not worry her much. However, explaining to her son â€“ in future â€“ that she knows not who his biological father is, induces her with a generous dose of fear. â€œThat is the only mystery I am fighting with,â€ she says. â€œFour of the men I thought were his father have done DNA tests and all the results are negative.â€
Cases such as Euniceâ€™s only came to fore through Hollywood flicks. Today, however, it is a reality that many parents, albeit with heads buried under the sand, dread. â€œThe bulk of childrenâ€™s characters come as a direct result of their upbringing. They learn and believe what their parents do. A child raised by warring parents is likely to experience the same in marriage themselves; because they canâ€™t separate â€˜warâ€™ and â€˜having a spouseâ€™. Consequently, there is great likelihood that a child from a stable marriage will value and treasure the institution,â€ explains Catherine Mbau, a psychologist at Arise Counselling Centre in Nairobi.
Catherine takes notice that the modern society does not value marriage as much as our forefathers. The obvious reasons being changing times and the advent of Western ideas, which insist on laissez faire modes in social relations.
â€œToday, women are single parents and live â€˜normallyâ€™. Previously, women dreaded being single. Divorce or promiscuity was criticised. Everyone advocated for family as the basic unit of the society,â€ says Catherine.
For Fredrick and Miriam Oginga, maintaining the family unit is critical. This, they say, is because children born out of stable unions live to emulate that which their parents practice.
According to Fredrick, â€œChildren need the input of both parents to grow in personality and develop character. A boy needs to understand who a girl is just as much as he needs to know who he is. In the absence of one parent (or a case involving divorce) a child may not be capable of handling the challenges that life presents. There is a reason nature has made it that a man and a woman bring forth children.â€
Just like her husband, Miriam opines that family values are critical to survival of the family unit and, therefore, the prosperity of the children out of that household.
â€œTake a son, for instance, who believes that his parents are morally upright people. If he discovers that one of them is cheating, he will be affected emotionally. He may lose belief in himself. That is why some good performers in school fall to the tail of the class when they are not able to get hold of their thoughts,â€ says Miriam.
Having been married for more than 25 years, the Ogingas know too well the upheavals of marriage.
â€œTo imagine that marriage is a bed of roses is being naÃ¯ve; it has its fair share of ups and downs. However, any prosperous system needs order. It is highly imperative that families set certain limits that canâ€™t be breached. Children need grounding. This canâ€™t happen with flailing family values,â€ he says.
While fleeing an abusive marriage today is a no-brainer, family advocacy groups maintain that there is no better environment to bring up a child than in a stable marriage.
â€œThere is no doubt that divorce has pervasive weakening effects on children and on all of the five major institutions of society â€“ the family, the church, the school, the marketplace and government itself,â€ Patrick Fagan, a sociologist in the USA, remarked at The World Congress of Families II, some years back.
She was presenting results of a study that showed that children from stable families stood a better chance living morally upright lives and moulded better character.
In her presentation, she records: â€œThe family is the building block of societies, marriage is the centre beam. Children of divorced parents acquire the same incapacity through the modeling of their parents. The divorce of parents makes dating and romance more difficult and tenuous for the children as they reach adulthood.â€
The study farther found that divorce causes decline of the relationship between parent and child. At the same time, the study found that when parents fall apart, their childrenâ€™s attitudes about sexual behaviour changes. â€œChildrenâ€™s approval of premarital sex and cohabitation and divorce rises dramatically, while their endorsement of marriage and childbearing is reduced,â€ the final draft of the research reads.
Anne Muiruri, a successful business lady and a single mother of two boys living in Nairobi, disagrees with the idea that broken families dictate the compass of childrenâ€™s lives.
â€œI believe that my sons will grow to be good and accomplished individuals. Situations and circumstances may not be the best, but there is good chance that they will be fine. This, however, depends on the kind of parent who will be guiding them. If I am single and I have values, they will learn the right values from me,â€ she states.
Juliet Wambui, a separated mother who has custody of all her three children, believes that broken families do face challenges. She was at pains when she discovered that her daughter (the eldest among her children) was planning to secretly run away from home.
â€œHer father and I had been fighting for so long. She witnessed it all and it took a toll on her. It took the childrenâ€™s court to separate us. Before then, however, she had been affected a lot. I learnt from her diary that she was secretly planning to vanish and never be found. Our wars drove her to the edge,â€ she says.
Being a staunch believer, Juliet talked to a friend who sat her daughter down, debriefing and counselling her back to proper thoughts. â€œHer father and I couldnâ€™t be,â€ she says. â€œThat, however, should not be a seal into her oblivion. There are proper ways that the situation can be redeemed. This, however, depends on the values of the parents.â€ The two women agree, however, that the family unit is the best place to raise children, â€œprovided values of true love and peace are upheld by all parties.â€
Tom and Lynette Lichuma are marriage counsellors and authors of the subject.