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Experts on coping with demands of large families

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The global economic situation is forcing many to rethink the size of families. But it is not only the financial aspect that is making married couples do something about family planning. Parenting today requires quite a lot, as things are not the way they used to be. The issue is quite sensitive, as many factors, ranging from culture and tradition to societal expectations, play definite roles. But is it still wise to have large families in view of today’s harsh realities?

Noting that things have changed drastically from the olden time, when African culture tied a man’s strength and wealth to the size of family, Dr. Otu Ekpenyong of the Sociology Department, University of Port Harcourt, said having more children than the individual can adequately cater for presently, is a recipe for disaster.

“Ideally, families in the upper and middle classes can have four children, as they can conveniently cater for them,” he said. “But lower class families should have just one child, and in rare cases, two can be okay.”Agreeing somewhat with Ekpenyong, Dr. Caroline Okumdi Muoghalu, a lecturer in the Sociology Department of Obafemi Awolowo University, said though it is difficult to dictate to couples how many children they should have, the fewer children couples have, the better for all concerned.

“The importance of children may not be in their number, but in their quality,” she said. “However, in the sociology of the Nigerian people, having many children continues to be seen as blessing and wealth. It is very difficult to change that. Indeed, in some Nigerian cultures, a woman that has three children is still regarded as barren.”

Buttressing Muoghalu’s stance, Esther Gbaden of the Sociology Department of Federal University, Lafia, explained that the plurality of Nigerian society makes it a little difficult to talk about the ideal number of children to have. She said: “You know people will argue that children are a gift from God and all of that. Before now, large families were encouraged, as children not only served as old age security, but also as sources of farm labour force. But that has completely changed, with the advent of wage labour, as heralded by industrialisation and then urbanisation. Children no longer engage in the same occupations as their parents. And even where they do, such things as farming are not necessarily rudimentary in that sense of needing large numbers. At most, four children are ideal, but for some, this will be too many.”

Just like every other thing in life that requires a solid foundation to succeed, Ekpenyong said couples should address social and economic issues before they start having children. He said: “Firstly, they should consider their finances. How much income is coming into the family purse? Would both parents continue working, after children start arriving? How much savings do they have to take care of hospital bills, if there are complications during or after delivery?

“Secondly, they have to consider their environment, where they are living. Are there security risks in the area? Are there affordable good schools in the area? The proximity of such schools and other amenities that would make life easier and pleasurable for the children should also be considered. When these issues are not addressed and you just go ahead and have children, it certainly won’t be easy for the family.”

In his view, couples with many children can cope financially by having multiple streams of income. “They can set up a small poultry, fish pond, or even a vegetable farm, depending on availability of space in their abode,” he said. “Families that have space constraints can engage in petty trading. I know a family that started with selling ice blocks and soft drinks in a small shack in front of their home. Today, they own one of the largest supermarkets in town.”

Muoghalu said couples with many children might have to do extra work to fetch them more money. She said: “They have to explain the family’s financial situation, so that the children can show some level of understanding. Such couples have to teach their children how to manage things. They should teach their children how to happily share food that is supposed to be for two people to be enough for four people.”

On her part, Gbaden insisted that every Nigerian should have the number of children he/she can cater for financially and otherwise. “A man that cannot cater for his family is an infidel,” she said. “It is pretty difficult to cope with even one child in Nigeria today. To do that effectively goes beyond a family’s finances to how prudent it is in resource management, and the discipline with which resources are applied.

“But ultimately, moderation is of essence in trying to cope effectively, whether financially or otherwise. Couples can look for good schools that are inexpensive, make more meals at home, cut down on social activities without undermining the social-psychological balance of their children and engage in small farming to augment whatever existing source of income. Tenacious saving must be a lifestyle for such couples, and where they can, having a little business on the side will go a long way.”

Ekpenyong said: “Every parent owes children a moral duty to instill good values in them, which will roundly build their character. The most important of these are truth, respect, justice, honesty, responsibility, service/charity and love for family and community. “Many parents have failed in this aspect, which is why social vices are growing at an alarming rate. The family is the most basic unit of society, and when parents fail in their duty to children, irresponsible people are released to society, and everyone bears the brunt.”

Similarly, Gbaden said many families are currently losing it, when it comes to doing what it takes to properly nurture their children.She said: “We have neglected so many aspects of child upbringing. The Word of God is to be a child’s spiritual essence, what food is to the physical body. The Bible says, “Train up a child in a way that he will go, and when he grows up, he will never depart from it.” To do this, parents must be good examples to their children. When we neglect this, society pays dearly.

“Discuss God freely with your children and teach them how to pray. Knowing who one is and letting your children also know that, helps a lot in parenting. Every society has norms and values, and I believe every household should, as a matter of necessity, have its own values and norms that will be in consonance with the larger society. Once that is done, everybody’s task in the home becomes easier, and living gets meaningful.”

“I would say couples with many children have to put in extra work, as each child is unique,” said Muoghalu. “Each child is a project and may pose different challenges to the parents. As such, they will have to spend more money, time and energy and must always be around to oversee the children’s activities.

“The current globalisation trend has created the phenomenon of individualism around the world, and our young people are quick to imbibe those traits. This poses a problem for parents in Nigeria, as it is becoming more difficult to control children. It now looks as if we are raising children that are so different from us. Therefore, raising sound children in this kind of atmosphere is an uphill task.
Gbaden said for children to grow up to become well-rounded individuals, all the aspects— physical, mental, emotional, social, psychological and spiritual— have to be addressed. She said: “Couples with many children really have to work hard. For children to grow up physically sound, they do not only need adequate and balanced diet, but they also need appropriate physical exercises and activities. Mentally, parents are encouraged to help children engage in and solve mental problems. They should let critical thinking become a part of them, as this makes them willing to face challenges and work hard. Parents who ‘show’ love by not letting children engage in any physical or mental task may be doing more harm than good.

“Psychologically, children should be raised with love, patience, happiness and a great sense of encouragement. Parents have the task of helping their children have a sense of purpose, zeal, while feeling competent and confident.” And for Ekpenyong, though this is the cyber age, parents should not restrict their access to the Internet.

“Rather, parents should closely monitor or supervise what their children/wards do on cyberspace to ensure proper guidance. Unsupervised Internet usage can drag children into the abyss of moral decadence. We owe them that duty to guide them on the right path,” he said.


In this article:
Caroline Okumdi Muoghalu
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