A happy family in which both the husband and wife are professionals who work to provide for their eight children, while leading a fulfilling life may sound like a passage from an old movie.
Do such families really exist anymore? Is there happiness in such families? Is it not back-breaking to provide for so many children during these difficult economic times? Even more importantly, are parents able to give individual attention to each of their children when there are so many to take care of?
These questions are answered in a thrilling story authored by Olga Marlin and titled Our Lives in His Hands: An Ordinary Couple’s Path to Holiness.
The book chronicles the life of a young couple, Tomas Alvira and Paquita Dominguez, who lived in the 20th century Spanish countryside of Saragossa. The couple had a large family of nine children.
The Alviras are portrayed as the epitome of happiness and fulfilment that can possibly come from a “bright and cheerful home” “where work and family were closely intertwined” while harmony, love and godliness took centre-stage. The couple raised its family during World War Two before the sun set on their union when Alvira died in 1992 and his wife two years later. According to the book, the two died of “painful illnesses”.
Because of their life and work, the approval process for the couple’s beatification by the Catholic Church is at an advanced stage.
The book telling their story was launched two weeks ago at Strathmore Business School during a workshop organised by the Strathmore University’s Family Institute.
The workshop brought together families, business people and academicians to discuss how the family institution in Kenya is contending with the socio-economic pressures of modern life.
Families drawn from different socio-economic spheres engaged in robust discussions while sharing their experiences on balancing careers with marriage and the accrued lessons.
Mr Polycarp Igathe, a family man who has served as CEO in different organisations for 18 years, argued that corruption and other social ills that bedevil the country have their genesis in broken families.
“The biggest hurdle I have encountered in my long career on the corporate scene and in politics stems from individuals who are deformed at the family level,” Mr Igathe said. “We are living at a time when there is such immense social upheaval where wealth creation and social prosperity are gravely undermined by eroded societal values”.
He observed that while it is important for the government to initiate large-scale infrastructure projects, little investment has been made towards salvaging the family institution.
“Parents are so preoccupied with their daily activities that there is hardly any time these days to engage and to play with children and to nurture family values. If we fail at the family level, we stand no chance in life,” he warned.
The success of business, Igathe said, is firmly anchored on strong and functional family foundations.
RAISING BIG FAMILIES
Rosemary Kamau and her husband Kamau Kuria, for instance, have expertly juggled their careers in the corporate world with raising their eight children, a journey they described as both exciting and satisfying. The Kamaus have been married for 26 years and have faced all manner of ridicule for bearing “so many children”.
“The bigger the family, the bigger the joy. There are challenges, but these do not outride the benefits. The joy of our family is founded on its size,” said Ms Kamau, a former senior lecturer at Tangaza University College.
She faulted educated women who dismiss having many children as unfashionable.
Ms Kamau has authored more than 10 books on family and has had a fulfilling career as the principal communications and outreach officer at the Independent Policing and Oversight Authority (IPOA) and as the corporate communications officer at the Kenya School of Government.
Predictably, technology has shifted the dynamics of family relations and today, no discussion about the disruption is complete without the mention of how this has impacted family structures and interactions.
Findings of a 2016 study titled “The effects of Phubbing on Social Interaction” published in the “Journal of Applied Social Psychology”, show that technological advancements, especially the advent of smartphones, have upset aspects of belongingness, self-esteem, meaningful existence and control that are fundamental to the well-being of a family.
According to psychologists, parents and their children prefer to engage their associates and peers online.
TECHNOLOGY AND FAMILY LIFE
Raymond and Evelyne Mutura have been married for 17 years and have four teenage children. Evelyne is an ICT expert while Raymond is the president of the Voice of the Family in Africa International. They recounted the challenges of raising children in the era of immense technological shifts and their attempts to limit usage of smartphones in their household.
“Getting the attention of our children has never been harder. They like to connect with their friends online at the expense of regular conversations. For this reason, we allow only two hours of smartphone use every day after which we take them for safekeeping,” said Mrs Mutura, adding that this allows them to do their homework without distractions.
“We strictly do not permit any smartphones at the dinner table,” said Mutura, who is studying music at the University of South Africa.
Young people below 35 years who spoke to the Saturday Nation expressed a lukewarm attitude towards families: They prefer to live in loose arrangements with less commitments and having fewer children.
For Peter Kabi and Milly wa Jesus, who live in Nairobi, it has been a different script though. The young couple has been together for five years, and emphasised that the turmoil that characterises marriage has not influenced their belief in a fruitful matrimony.
Kabi said: “We have endeavoured to personalise our marriage and to make our own rules to play by. Over time, we have learnt that running the affairs of our family like our peers cannot work. By putting God at the centre of our family, we have had fewer conflicts and we are happier.”
Their union, they said, has helped them to gain a deeper understanding of themselves.
“Marriage has granted us the opportunity to mirror our masculine and feminine qualities. We have sought to align our goals in life and sharing our experiences as partners. Marriage is certainly worth going after for those who are unmarried,” Kabi said.