How the absence of parents affects the child (Ibali lika Sihle)
The day I decided to step out of my shell and put myself out there as a writer, I sat down and thought long and hard about what to write about. I didn’t want to write for the sake of writing- I wanted to educate. I wanted to share my thoughts and views on societal issues that are always overlooked. The issue of the absence of parents came to mind. I, myself don’t have any memories of my relationship with my father in my early years. I came to realize that there are so many children out there who are growing up without fathers. It has gotten worse, to a point of overly appreciating hands-on daddies, as if they are doing something that they shouldn’t be doing. It is really sad.
I decided to take one true story and use it as the main storyline. It is an issue that affects so many people, so I knew that many people will relate to the main storyline. Being a child, born in a village and not knowing who your father is, is the most painful life sentence. It captures the heart and strangles it until it starts pumping pain and misery. Seeing other children playing with their fathers, and you just sit and wonder what your father looks like. You just sit there, substituting that child with images of yourself. I know that feeling too well, and the person I’ve based the story on, had a horrible childhood because of that.
Sihle, as I named him, is a true reflection of a surviving victim of circumstances. His early years were hell. His memory serves him from back to when he was seven years old, and he remembers discovering who his mother was, in the midst of so many aunts, and grandmothers. Upon discovering who his mother was, he yearned for a connection. He longed for her love. At the age of seven years, he was already feeling empty inside, with an absent father and an emotionally absent mother. The idea here was to reveal how broken a child who grows up without a father is. What breaks that child the most is the emotional absence from his mother’s side. We as adults always use our children when we fight our battles, especially us, women. We deny fathers access to their children, because we claim they broke our hearts. We never stop to think what that does to our children. For us to deny them the opportunity to live complete lives, its sad. In Sihle’s case though, it was never his mother’s decision to deny SIhle’s father access to him, but she was forced by the family. She had no voice on the matter. Maybe that was normal at the time, but was it normal that she doesn’t even try to connect with her son? Was that also in the book of rules?
Often enough, we, as parents, never get to know our children. We act superior and never allow our children to be themselves around us. We set certain expectations that they should live by, according to us, and always compare them with other children. As a mother, it is your responsibility to sit your child down, and explain to him/her where his/her father is, and why he is not in his child’s life. You need to open up to your child, and tell him/her who his/her father is. Talk to your child about his/her father, whether he is there or not. The process of wondering is what kills the child the most. Save your child from all that misery and talk to your child about it. In the process, be there for him/her as the news sink into his/her system. He/she will obviously be shocked at first, and almost disappointed. We all know that every child has an ideal father in his/ her mind. I am not saying you should tell the child all the details of your breakup, but I am saying that you should put the child at ease by offering him explanations as to why his/ her father is not around. I know and understand that some of us don’t stay with our kids, because of career commitments, but we sure as hell also need to have heart-to-heart conversations with our children when we get time to spend time with them. We need to keep reminding them that we love them, and make sure that we show it to them, without being overboard about it as if we’re driven by guilt. We shouldn’t be feeling guilty for working hard for them, but we should try by all means, to let them stay with us when we have means, so that they can grow up understanding that we love them. So that they would understand that we sent them to stay with the extended family because we wanted to make sure that they were raised with love, and were well taken care of, by people we trust. Let’s be open to our kids about things that affect them and their mental health.
As Sihle got to his uncle’s house, his main excitement revolved around the fact that there would be a father figure in the house, with the hope that the void in his heart would be filled. When he got there, he realized that the reality of the situation was far from what he had in mind. Even then, his mother was never there to comfort him when he needed her the most. He was dealing with a truckload of feelings and thoughts. His desperation to know who his father is, was getting stronger as his cousin became his source of misery. Countless times, he tried reaching out to his mother, but she rejected him every time. Maybe in her mind, she thought she was protecting him from pain. She didn’t think that he had already picked up what was going on and was already processing it in his mind. She thought he was still too young to notice. That was her main error- thinking that a child is too young to understand. When a child starts asking questions about his identity, it simply means that he deserved to have been told before he even asked. He felt that someone owed him an explanation. Being dismissed by his mother was the punch that hurt most at the time.
Running away from home was his cry for help. He needed people to take notice of the pool of depression he was drowning in. Because he was a child, he didn’t have any better form of communication, especially because his mother never gave him the platform to express his feelings. Instead of them taking notice of the depression he was suffering from, they just thought he was being naughty. Children don’t always know how to communicate when they are in need of help, but rather start seeking attention by their actions, hoping that someone would take notice and hear the silent cry for help. Some children become rebellious, just to see if people would notice and actually focus on them. Others become too reserved and antisocial. They lock themselves up in a shell of pity and host a life-long pity party. We need to pay attention to their actions as they grow older and come to better realization of the situation that he/she is born into. We need to be observant when we are dealing with our children.
The issue of an absent father is never resolved until the father walks back into the child’s life (even though we encourage mothers to always be there to comfort their children through it all), therefore, children who were raised without their fathers often become broken adults. The pain hurts more in cases where the father walked out of the child’s life when the child has already gotten used to his presence. The child is left confused, and at some point even starts blaming him/herself. They grow up and develop hatred towards their fathers, blaming them for everything that went wrong in their lives. They convince themselves that life would have been better if their fathers were around. No child deserves to grow up with that emotional load and carrying it right into adulthood. If it happens that a child grows and develops into an adult, he/she will work extra hard to be the exact opposite of what his/her father was. They would become these clingy parents who never give their children space to just be kids and play with other kids. They end up teaching their children adult games, just so they can be able to hang out together, if I should put it that way. Those children (with absent father issues) develop into parents who overcompensate and exaggerate everything until the child becomes uncomfortable or unhappy.
See? This is a pattern. You just have to do one simple thing to avoid it all from happening; and become observant and attentive parents. Ibali ika Sihle gets into detail on how the issue of absent parents affect the child.
Thank you for your time, see you on Monday the 30th of October 2017.