Opinion: The Tsunami of family breakdown in Nigeria

by Bamidele Ademola-Olateju

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We are seeing families headed by a divorced parent, same-sex couples, families with no spouse in the labor force, blended families, non-married couples raising children, two-earner families and empty-nest families.

From millennia, the central experience for majority of children has been the male breadwinner family. Unfortunately that no longer hold true most times. The vast majority of Nigerian children are raised under pressure in traditional homes where the father has abdicated his role or in different formations of non-traditional homes without a responsible male head of household. These children grow into adulthood as disoriented, underachieving, angry young men who are basically mad at everyone and society. Stories from the customary courts and divorce proceedings in regular courts continues to show a growing malicious trend within the society at large – absentee fathers. The recurring themes in these cases are usually about “lack of feeding money”, “general abandonment”, “abdication of parental responsibilities”, “loss of conjugal rights”, and accompanying “infidelity”.

In Nigeria as in other places, the limiting factors against family stability are economic instability and discomfiting social change. Economics goes a long way in creating this trend in the same way as the breakdown of the iron triangle of sex, marriage, and childbearing. With easy access to contraception, sex for pleasure has become separable from sex for making babies. As the link broke from the chain, the connections between sex and marriage​, and between marriage and childrearing​ got lost too. Added to the mix is the rise of women in the work place giving rise to unprecedented financial freedom unknown to our great grandmothers. Marriages are also getting increasingly rooted in fleeting definitions of romantic love accompanied by intense expression of sexuality.

In a world increasingly focused on hedonism and instant gratification, we continue to actively seek both wherever it may be found. On the economic front, the vicious cycle of corruption feeds the decline in the nation’s productive base. The decline has deprived too many men of the possibility of gainful employment and without any means of livelihood, many men are faced with intense ‘crisis of masculinity’. Nigeria is catching up with countries like Britain and the United States in the gradual erosion of male identity and the underachieving male phenomenon despite its strong patriarchal bearing. Our country now churns out too many isolated, disoriented and misdirected men and boys growing up without the space and support to talk about manhood, associated expectations of masculinity and its boundaries. The normal manhood is now a derivative of the “me” culture. It is about destructive individualism, hedonistic tendencies, hyper-masculinity and normalization of aberrant sexual behaviors. The normal manhood has become shrouded in a materialistic craze that has never before seen in these shores.

In several studies, absence of fathers in households has been linked to higher rates of teenage crime, teenage pregnancy, drug use and general social disadvantage. The human, social and economic costs of absentee fathers are humongous for the children and adults involved as well as the nation.

As a consequence, many children growing up in dysfunctional homes suffer severe form of emotional deprivation with damaging consequences and lasting impact on social well being and mental development. Single parenthood cannot be deemed a total disaster because it is better to be in a single parent family than have women and children trapped in violent and abusive relationships. There are a lot of female head of household families who are outstanding mothers raising wonderful children.

Besides, undesirable economic and social outcomes for single parent families often relate to their poverty rather than the absence of a father. Making a lot of money and having free time to spend with a child often makes a lot of difference. It us disheartening to see men thinking more like women and wanting to be pampered, fed and cared for instead of taking their rightful position as providers.

Instead they want super wives who will take care of the home, bring home the fat salary or proceeds from sale of goods and services and pay the children fees while they lounge hugging the remote control. Women too are feeling macho, flaunting their new found financial freedom and filling the space vacated by declining masculinity leading to a swap in gender roles. The results are not looking good. We are faced with a male drought.

As if the drought is not enough, we are faced a lot more and worse too. Several of the factors promoting the increase in non traditional family formations confronting sociologists and behavioral psychologist elsewhere and becoming common place in this country too.

We are seeing families headed by a divorced parent, same-sex couples, families with no spouse in the labor force, blended families, non-married couples raising children, two-earner families and empty-nest families. With Nigerians making families where they find them, my belief in all of these is very clear. Family breakdown must be tackled as an urgent public health issue because public health issues like sexual and mental health are better addressed within the context of a stable family structure. You can be Mr. Mom for a while and Mrs. Dad just for a very short while. There is no substitute for distinct gender roles in raising children. In any family and anywhere; there is a powerful role for fathers that cannot be compromised. Homes with loving, dedicated and responsible fathers are a benefit to children the same way loving families are a benefit to mankind. Let the men with detached testicles make their exit and let the real men stand up and be fathers and role models.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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