The first time I saw this happy-go-lucky young lady (let’s call her Norine) was at work. As we got talking, she told me she and her husband had one son, five years or so, and a baby girl on the way. ‘You had him pretty young’, I remarked, and she simply smiled. Little did I know that this was her step-son. I would never have known if her friends hadn’t told me likewise.
A few years on and the baby is now a bouncing toddler, I teasingly asked if she wouldn’t try for a baby boy. ‘’What for?” she asked, “We already have a son”. I was pleasantly surprised. It is not very common for a woman to take on a step child so willingly and whole heartedly. A few years later, her son graduated from primary school with distinction. I got to know about it on Facebook. The pride with which she praised him was touching, not to say provoking, to many of us out there that have to raise children that are not our own.
It reminded me of a conversation with a friend a few years back. She was discouraging me from taking under my care a young relative that needed support. ‘Look, she said, my own son is sometimes so annoying that I wonder how I’d feel if he weren’t my own. Best you provide support from where he is’, she added. She had a point. When any person enters and disrupts your comfort zone, you frown and grumble. It is a natural reaction. The important thing is if you are not comfortable looking after the ‘other child’, it is best you don’t altogether. This child could be a step son or daughter, a relative, a friend’s child, or an orphan. He or she just happens to be the other child.
But in some cases there is no option but to look after this child, and this is where most cases of abuse start, perpetrated especially by women. An article in Everyday Feminism, on 5 reasons why feminism needs to address child abuse, by Shannon Ridgway, points out that although so much is being done to eradicate domestic abuse for women, one area that does not have enough recognition in the movement is child abuse, especially that committed by women (54 per cent in the US according to the article). Abuse could be physical, emotional, neglect, or worst of all, psychological. A potentially brilliant child ends up with depression, low self-esteem, and often ends up as an abuser him or herself.
Child abuse is everywhere and in many forms in our African culture as well. The sad thing is that it happens right in front of our very eyes, and no one wants to interfere. The children’s voice is rarely heard and even when they dare speak out, they are immediately silenced.
What causes this? Women are often very good at weaving believable stories. In as much as the men are heads of households, women hold the reins and men may hardly have a say. It is called matriarchy and can be as bad as patriarchy. Quite often, men end up convinced or forced to take the woman’s side to keep peace in the home. It is also common that when this ‘other child’ has potentially more aptitude than the birth child, it becomes a threat. The animalistic tendency is to rid of or incapacitate the ‘other child’. Sometimes, this ‘other child may be simply acting its age but because it interferes with one’s comfort zone, every little thing it does, innocent or not, becomes a nuisance.
Child abuse stories are endless, including, yes, those committed by birth mothers themselves. It takes a great heart to love ‘the other child’ as much as your own. So while we get up in arms for women’s empowerment, let us remember the real battle for empowerment starts at the grassroots, meaning the heart and the household...men aren’t the only oppressors… the modern feminist movement needs to ensure that it is all inclusive – that it embraces the needs of everyone, that it doesn’t just focus on domestic abuse of children by fathers in relation to the domestic abuse of the mothers....Although feminism has obviously done a lot for survivors of domestic abuse, we need to work on including parental abuse of children as one of our priorities.
My story started with a true story of a young lady I chose to call Norine. You are such an inspiration Norine. Well done!