As you may know by now, my kid sister’s son, Cyril has been living with us since last December.
In my Luo tribe, it is common for a child to live with an aunt or uncle. Growing up, we always had cousins living under our roof. My parents, who were born and raised in the village, had an open-door policy. When cousins popped in announced from upcountry, my folks welcomed them to stay for as long as they wanted.
Our parents did not just make our cousins to feel right at home; they were made to feel as part of the family. It is from those childhood experiences that I gleaned the following six commandments of living with a relative’s child.
Thou shall love the child unconditionally
Love the child as if they are your own, though it may be difficult at first. Both parents - that is, you, the hosts - may not be on the same page. Unless you both love the child unconditionally, it will not work. It may even strain your marriage.
There may be times when one of you thinks: “Why are we taking in ‘your’ brother/sister’s child?”
These feelings are valid. Do not accuse your spouse of unkindness. Address your spouse’s concerns and turn “your” to “our”. Once you make it “our” business, you will have opened the pathway to unconditional love.
Thou shall treat all kids equally
Be as fair as you can; whether you are serving those last morsels of food and you are tempted to favour your child, or you are dispensing justice and you feel like letting your child to get away with murder.
Kids are perceptive. Be fair on both ends. Your child may feel that they are being made to unfairly bear the weight of carrying a new family member. Put your child on the know. Tell them that you can feel them. Teach them that sharing is caring.
Thou shall not make a child to pay for a parent’s sin
When a child is under your care, put aside all the wrongs that their parent may have committed. In families, there are rivalries, and these may at times spill onto the children, turning them into collateral damage.
If you have anything against a child’s parent, take it up with the grown up and leave the poor kid out of the drama.
Thou shall not badmouth thy sibling
If you do not have any good thing to say about the child’s parents, while the child is within earshot, zip it up. There’s a place and a time for keeping it real.
Always speak well of the child’s parents. If they are providing any support to their child, however minimal - moral or monetary - make sure the child knows.
Do unto another’s child as you’d like to be done unto yours
Life happens. Tables turn. What do you know; your child may be forced to live with a relative. And karma is a you-know-what.
Do not abuse a relative’s child, or any child for that matter. Do not turn a relative’s child into a house help ... or a drum.
Thou shan’t make promises you can’t keep
If, for whatever reason, you cannot live with a relative’s child, be upfront about it. If you have promised that you will educate a relative’s child, keep your word. Don’t promise things so you can look good.
Granted, circumstances do change. And you are allowed to change your mind. You may have started to live with a relative’s child, and then you were slapped with a pink slip. Honesty is still the best policy.