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Atoke’s Monday Morning Banter: The Father Dowling System

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So…I finally saw Kunle Afolayan’s feature film, October 1 last night. Yes, yes, I know I am late to the party but that was quite a good film! Prior to the screening, we had been informed that the director and producer was around and would be available for a Q&A after the screening. Of course, I was giddy with excitement…what is a film festival if you don’t get a chance to brown nose with the filmmakers and actors?

Anyway, so during the Q&A, someone behind us asked Mr. Afolayan if the swapping of the photo of the Queen in the last scene had to do with censorship in Nigeria. I hadn’t analysed the movie in such depth, so I didn’t see that scene and think… censorship; all I saw was a depiction of the change in government. Someone else wanted to find out if Mr. Afolayan had aired the film in Nigeria and if the audience understood the ramification of the things that happened around the time of independence. I turned around to see who was asking this question. How was the director supposed to know what was in the collective minds of the audience? Thankfully, the cinema people came to usher us out of the hall so poor jet-lagged Kunle Afolayan didn’t have to answer any more questions.

October 1 struck a chord in me particularly because of the idea that Nigeria might have been prematurely been given independence. In light of the postponement of the elections, the film made me wonder about it. But, something that particularly piqued my interest was the fostering of two indigent boys to someone who could provide them with a chance at a better future.

There’s a part of Nigerian culture (and I use this term very loosely) which makes allowance for the giving out of your children to wealthier/more comfortable relatives. Usually, if there’s one member of an extended family, who is wealthy, there is an unwritten obligation to foster some children.

Fostering could be for the purposes of formal education or for the purpose learning a vocation. Either way, the basic family structure as we know it is broken up, for the purpose of advancement. Depending on the side you’re looking at the story from, this arrangement has its good and its bad sides. The indigent parents are happy their child has a chance at a ‘better’ life; the host family is increasing the stars in their Heavenly roster. And many times, because the consent of the child is not sought, the child is left feeling adrift. The ward is disconnected from his/her own family, but never really being absorbed/accepted by the new family. However, the fostered child is supposed to have this eternal sense of gratitude to both his/her parents, (for having the good sense of thinking of a better future) and to the foster parents (for being so magnanimous.)

Atoke CheeriosI remember on a trip to Ogbomosho many years ago, a relative who had 14 children brought a case to the family elders complaining that he was unable to feed his children and they were all going hungry. He wanted some people to take some of the children, in order to give them a chance at a life he didn’t have. He looked really sad and desperately in need. As his eyes brightened with expectation, I wondered why he had more children than he could cater for, and mentioned this to an older cousin. She then told me that in the villages, having those many children was a sign of virility and strength. This in itself sounds noble and cool, but begging for help to care for your children didn’t give much of an aura of strength.

Also, it appeared that the poverty didn’t really give room for the consideration of what might be happening to the child… while he is away with people who don’t owe him any real duty of care. If you give your child out to be trained, because you can’t afford it, how do you ensure that the child isn’t being molested and abused?

Some people have argued that the Nigerian style of fostering is not all bad. First of all, the foster family is making a huge sacrifice – no matter how badly the child feels he/she is being treated, the family is creating a space to accommodate the child in their lives. In cases where they didn’t ask for the child to be given to them to train, they’re having to share resources that are meant for them and theirs, with someone. Also, the fostered child has a chance at having two sets of families – how cool is that? I have this family friend who was sent away to live with an English family when she was 11, coming home only on holiday. She loves them as much as her own family. Interestingly cool.

However, on a personal note, I’m extremely wary of the idea of sending my child out. They say nobody can love your child as much as you do, so it will be very hard for me to give up my own… willingly. Some people might even argue that they would rather suffer with that child, than give the child up to a stranger for a more comfortable existence.

Today, not a lot of cosmopolitan Nigerians are willing to even take in the children of indigent relatives. Horror stories abound of how wards take your kindness and repay you with evil. Some would rather dine with the devil with a long stick – so if I’m helping you out with your child, let the child stay WITH YOU, and I’ll send you the school fees and feeding money of that child.

In closing, I really believe that there’s a lot of good that has come out of our style of foster care, especially as we don’t have a well grounded social system which provides for families in need. However, we need to place a higher value on stability in a child’s psychological framework. Family planning and structure should also be given premium consideration.  Fragmented family structures might have deeper consequences than we actually think.

Have a great week ahead and please share some of your experiences with us.

Peace, love & sugar cane!

Toodles!

Photo Credit: Dreamstime |Belinda Pretorius

You probably wanna read a fancy bio? But first things first! Atoke published a book titled, +234 - An Awkward Guide to Being Nigerian. It's available on Amazon. ;)  Also available at Roving Heights bookstore. Okay, let's go on to the bio: With a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Swansea University, Atoke hopes to be known as more than just a retired foodie and a FitFam adherent. She can be reached for speechwriting, copywriting, letter writing, script writing, ghost writing  and book reviews by email – [email protected]. She tweets with the handle @atoke_ | Check out her Instagram page @atoke_ and visit her website atoke.com for more information.

22 Comments

  1. Rukamina

    February 9, 2015 at 12:28 pm

    It’s really easy tbh don’t have many children if you cannot take care of them. Stop bringing them to the world world to suffer. Really heartbreaking seeing a woman with a menial job having 6kids and still pregnant with the 7th. These people should be educated about the very essence of family planning.

    • D Main Man

      February 9, 2015 at 1:03 pm

      But now having too many children has turned to be a sign of illiteracy and stupidity , sometimes i remember my lecture note on k and R- Strategies, peculiar to animals to have many offspring and cater for none, if low income earners have now adopted that strategy of having too many children with the hope that out of 9 children about 2 might survive financially and become useful to the others….Wealthy people with their financial muscle, only have 3children maximum unlike low income earners. it still beats me.

  2. Scared Homosapien

    February 9, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    You see, it’s very important that we learn to pray for everyone in our families. Because, once things are okay with everyone, all these question of ‘i want to give you my child’ won’t arise. Sometimes, i get angry with our Nigerian style of life. I hustle to make my money and then you dump your kids or problems on me because i have the means. Why can’t you hustle too?
    Anyway, i can’t deny that some children who have been raised through fostering has been very instrumental in the life of their foster parents.

  3. TA

    February 9, 2015 at 2:36 pm

    Am a big advocate of Family planning so I strongly believe that parents should only have children that they can care for. However, in the event that a child loses one or both parents then the Nigerian style of fostering (living with extended relatives) becomes inevitable. The sad thing is, living with relatives does not guarantee love and care by default as some persons these days maltreat those who are not their biological children including their relatives.
    I really wish there would be serious punishment meted out to persons who abuse children whether sexually,physically or emotionally. That way children are a bit safer, whether in the care of their parents or relatives.
    @ Atoke, I have not seen the movie Oct 1, so you are not late at all. 🙂

  4. Ammee

    February 9, 2015 at 2:42 pm

    Ermmmm, I’m just wondering if people realize that you can have one child and that child can end up in foster care for reasons that nobody planned. So it is not always an issue of having too many kids. I know of a case like this.

    And even in the oyinbo style of fostering, which has been given a formal structure due to their welfare system some foster children have had horrible experiences too.

    Anything can happen in any system of welfare both good and bad. Nigerian tradition of fostering is one method, oyinbo style is another method but still anything can happen.

    That’s the way I see it.

  5. D

    February 9, 2015 at 2:44 pm

    My story, my dad is from a polygamous home and his dad (who is considered better than his brothers) decided to send the 1st son of each wife to school and then it was the responsibility of that first son to cater for the rest of his siblings in whatever way he chooses. My dad happened to be the first son of his mum, and had 2 sisters and 1 brother that were his full siblings. The younger sister decided to go to college for teaching, his brother decided he wanted to go to vocation school (learn sewing) and his elder sister just wanted my dad to set her up in her own business, all of these he did. Now fast forwarded to years later, My dad had to “foster” his elder sister’s children’s and the younger brother’s children as well. The never stayed with us but he had to pay their tuition and provide for what I consider their basic need. Now let’s fast forward to last year one of the his nieces, that is my cousin, who is working, building her own house, has her own car, who my dad fostered walks up to him and says she wants my parents to take one of her kids so that this child can have a “better life” ok…. to say I was flabbergasted would be an understatement. Now her argument was that my parents were paying the tuition of 2 of the kids of another niece of his (This particular niece dropped out of school and just keeps popping kids even to her own detriment, she has almost died 2ce having kids but has refused to stop). Point being, sometimes it is not about wanting a better life for ones kids, for some it is about not wanting the financial responsibility attached to taken care of those kids.
    On another note, we recently lost my sister who had a daughter, now my niece is with her dad but we all know she will have a better life with us (He does not get home until late at night most days and even on weekends he has to work late too, we are more financially stable and have more stable lives to be able to provide for a child). In addition to that, my late sister had requested that should anything happen to her that my lil sister take her daughter. Here we are the ones wanting to have my niece with us. Although I would not consider taking in my niece as fostering, I know I will love her as my own and the same goes for my little sister. But my point is it can definitely be a two way street.

    • Funkyw

      February 9, 2015 at 3:50 pm

      @D Sorry about your loss

      Fostering children in the name of “better life” is same as assuming the grass is greener on the other side. Sometimes, its all the experiences and struggles a child overcomes in their financially deprived home that drives them towards having a more successful future.

  6. deb

    February 9, 2015 at 3:09 pm

    Yes!!!!!&some that has been raised through fostering have damaged the lives of their foster parents&their children. I say no to extended families living with me. I don’t av that luck.

  7. Menoword

    February 9, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    For me, the biggest issue with our “foster child” system is the fact that there is no obligation on the foster parents to be kind to the child, much less treat the child like a family member. People who are kind to foster children are sometimes seen as the exception to the norm. I know several people who have said that the best thing that happened to them was leaving the village to live with family in urban areas, so I won’t knock it. It would be great though if foster families treat these children like an opportunity to be a blessing, rather than nuisances or a drain on resources.

  8. oj

    February 9, 2015 at 4:54 pm

    my opinion: if u cannot treat a child like your own, don’t take the child.

    But seriously, this mental attitude of expecting a richer relative to cater for his poorer family members has to stop. u see situations where a couple wisely decide to have just one child or two children that they can cater for, then some poor relative giving birth to children every year would expect the couple to cater for his children’s welfare just because he feels the couple are rich.

    Do they realize that their ‘richer’ relatives seem richer because they choose to bear one or two kids? a lot or envy and jealousy comes into play, they feel entitled to their richer relative’s wealth and many of them can be so ungrateful.

  9. Mz Socially Awkward...

    February 9, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Atoke, my love, I’m going to have to wield my contrary opinion on this topic as I’ve seen the “relative fostering” system work to very good advantage in the lives of the affected parties (and by the way, who is Father Dowling? Was there a show with this title character on TV once upon a time? The name strikes a faint chord…).

    There are many examples around my own life of little children being given away by their parents to others within the family to raise and perhaps this happens mainly for the economic reasons you cited but I’ve also seen it happen in this situation – young belle (not related to us) was engaged to marry a fella and the fella “defaulted” on the promise of marriage after the belle don enter. So the heartbroken and unwed young mother handed her child to her sister, who happened to be married with her own family, to raise and as it turns out, my own family were good friends to the family where this child was ensconced. I can tell you here and now that it was well over a decade before we (the children who were friendly with the children in that family) became informed that the child was only a blood relative and not a sibling of the other children in that family. My own parents knew these facts though, because the fella earlier in my story was my dad’s friend and went on to settle down later into his own family as did the child’s mum. That child grew into a well-adjusted adult who has three families now (the one with the adopted parents/siblings and two others from each natural parent) and is also married with a family of its own. Argghh, all this coding is making me type awkwardly but you get my point – it was better to have the child live with a relative than for that young woman to have tried to embark on single-parenthood in Nigeria of the ‘70s.

    Another ready example is that of a really good girlfriend of mine who grew up with her mum’s brother. I’ve only known her as an adult but she was quite frank in telling me that she was adopted and lived away from her natural mum from a very early age. Her adopted family are amazing and she’s always shared in their holidays, been treated like one of their own, squabbled with adopted siblings and sassed adopted parents in the same way you would with natural ones… she just slipped into the fold and became one of them. Conversely, her natural mum just literally gave up on being a parent once the responsibility of raising her daughter was shouldered by someone else and this is something my friend resents. Even if someone else is picking up the financial tab, at least, still be an emotional investor in your child’s life. Today, they only have a very strained relationship which is defined by “responsibilities” (i.e. sending money home and that sort of thing) and I think it’s quite unfortunate for the natural mum as she’s missing out on a great relationship with an amazing daughter.

    Maybe this is a collateral effect of our kind of fostering but then again, I think the woman may very well have still been this kind of mother if her daughter had stayed at home and grown up with her, because some people just give birth without any thought to parenting. Of course, this comes back to the age-old argument of not giving birth if you don’t intend to fend (in every sense of the word) for your child but this is Nigeria. Child bearing is what we do, regardless…

    I agreed the family structure ends up being fragmented for the little one but it can work out very well to his or her advantage, depending on the circumstance. Oh, and don’t feel too bad about only just seeing the movie “October 1st” because me, na IrokoTV I dey wait for am to premier. If at all (considering that “Phone Swap” and “The Meeting” still haven’t found their way unto that medium).

    [Disclaimer to BN’ers – nothing in the epistle that I’ve typed out above is intended to justify child slavery by way of “fostering”, which is a sin that is clearly not condoned by my comment]

    • Mz Socially Awkward...

      February 9, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      P.S: the first use of “belle” in my second paragraph denotes the French word for “lass” and the second use denotes the Naija slang for “pregnancy”. All these words with their multiple cultural connotations, ehn? 😉

  10. NaijaPikin

    February 9, 2015 at 6:12 pm

    The problems I have with naija poeple in regards to this topic are
    1. Accountability ; Noone wants to own up to the mistakes that got them in a situation where they have to give up their child. If you can own your errors, you cannot learn. If you cannot learn, the mistake will be repeated.
    2. Entitlement: Folks be very quick to help you count your coins and then tell you how you have to spend it on them. There is no law that says I HAVE to help my relatives. If I choose not to (for whatever reason) i become the devil, the evil one. They will begin jazz or send armed robbers or kindappers to collect their share of your hard earned money.

    Yes naija is a communal society, but i think this hurts us. People don’t plan based on their abilities anymore. They plan their lives by factoring in what others will do for them.

    – Please plan according to your means
    – If you can afford to take care of 2 children, have only 2 children
    – Included in your plan should be allowance for a raining day.
    – Protect the ones you love so they don’t have to suffer

  11. Fifi

    February 9, 2015 at 6:22 pm

    My mum is currently fostering 2 children her church brought to lagos because of boko haram issues in their villages, both of their(not related) fathers were killed in front of them by boko haram, the 6 year old boy has been a nightmare(yesterday he peed behing the deep freezer in the store room and when my mum told him to get a mop to clean it up, he packed his things and said he was going back to taraba) anyway despite all hes very smart and i see potential in him and so we just ignore his tantrums but im afraid one day he would do worse maybe push my 70 plus mother down the stairs,fostering people who are not blood related is not easy i must conclude

    • NaijaPikin

      February 9, 2015 at 10:02 pm

      Wow Fifi please your mother’s safety is important oh. If it’s an option, perhaps he should be put in counselling. Don’t just say “he will get better without help”. Trauma can really have a crazy effect on people. By God’s grace no evil will befall your mom because she decided to help. But abeg get the boy some help if you folks are able to

  12. Lady Cate of Nigeria

    February 9, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Fostering is good and I ve seen it work but I ve decided not to bring any child into my home. I m ready to pay your fees, buy your clothes, textbooks,toiletries, foodstuff and every other thing you need but biko stay with your parents/aunty or whoever you have for you.

  13. Tunmi

    February 10, 2015 at 3:45 am

    I was fostered, as were two of my cousins. My maternal aunt (mom’s sister) was not much of a nurturing mom. She had the kids and left for London and the US for better opportunities. She had 4 kids that way, 2 for separate men, and the last one she has I helped care for, and she lives with her father (my cousins’ father). If we truly wanted to be honest, she does not know how to be a mother. The maternal instinct is just not there. Fortunately, family has been there to help but if not for that…who knows what would have happened to them. I was sent to the US to live with her. I am not upset that my consent was not sought but I would never put my child through that. Fortunately, I’m a pretty independent person even as a kid (my parents could trust me to stay home by myself and not cause trouble) so this living condition suited me fine. She did the best she could, she did and this is not a slight on her. The truth remains that family planning is so important. There are other cousins in my family who were fostered who did not turn out so well. One cousin has several kids for several men, another is slowly learning to support herself after her nonsense of a husband abandoned her, and so much more.

    Future parents, Plan well for your children. And another thing, no one in this life owes you anything. This helped me see things from my aunt’s perspective. I helped with babysitting and house care while I got a free elementary, middle, and high school education. Now after that, it was up to me to forge my path

  14. cletus

    February 10, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Fostering is one very strong tool for integrating children properly into the society, that is if the foster parents are willing and able to. In cases of orphaned children, single parenthood, teenage pregnancy and recently displaced children from the Boko haram crisis. It is the best option. And to people who give birth beyond their means, well, you cant blame it on the innocent children.
    That said, i am a fostered child not because my parents couldn’t afford to take care of me but both parents jointly discussed that it would help me a great deal if i stay with my foster parents to have access to good schools and opportunities in life. My parents are even wealthier than my foster parents and are financially responsible for my upkeep.
    My foster parents are wonderful people and i could wish not for anything better in parents.
    However a child and a son are different. They are humans too, no matter how they try you cannot be treated like a son. Many things happen and you discern it is because you are not a son. I quickly caught on and built a survival mechanism around me.
    That said, i wont let anyone foster my children and i wont foster other peoples children. I pay your fees and buy you things but remain with your birth parents.
    The foster children are actually materially well off. But i tell you, foster parents hardly account for the emotional and psychological well-being of the child.

  15. Anon

    February 11, 2015 at 1:43 am

    For starters, I’ll say this – try everything within your power to raise your children by yourself… Translate this to having only the number of children you can cater for. The whole Nigerian foster care system can be a two-way street depending on how lucky/unlucky one is. And trust me when I say that I am enough authority on the issue.

    From the time I was born (over 25 years ago) to this day, my family has been known to foster many others (mostly relatives though) so much that I thought it was the normal thing. My siblings and I learnt early to have so many uncles, aunties, cousins, family friends and many others share our home and even moments with our parents with us so much that we had no choice but to adjust. I can’t exactly say that we were/are very rich, although it’s hard to tell considering the circumstances. All in all, we were/are comfortable by all standards. It’s not hard to imagine that we would have been better off by far without the additional 12 people that lived with us at a time. To be honest with the relatives that lived with us especially for the uncles and aunties, I can say that it was pretty much a smooth ride for us all, apart from the little bits if disagreements here and there, it was fun! We all got along perfectly well, even when for one reason or the other they had issues with my mum, it never in any way affected out relationship with them. Most of them are married now, have good jobs (my dad ensured they all went to universities) and are well settled all over the country and beyond and till today we all still share a wonderful relationship with them. I remember when we went for one of my uncles wedding and the touching moment of the day was when his mum after being dressed in her most expensive mother-of-the-groom attire came to where my dad was seated and lost all care in the world, threw herself on the bare ground before my dad, she was rolling and crying. Even the toughest of hearts could not dodge a tear, it was really emotional for everyone and it got me thinking, maybe this thing is not such a bad idea after all… Let me add that this uncle is doing so well for himself now and I mean VERY well, he used to send me money when I was in Uni and I didn’t even have to ask him. How thoughtful.

    Fast forward from the generation of uncles, aunties and older cousins to the young generation; we had pushed our luck too far, it became one crazy story after the other. Unhealthy competition, scheming, etc… It was so bad there was a time our parents were completely turned against us their children. So much happened that this comment cannot take, African magic became our reality! It was @ this point that we just concluded that it wasn’t worth it, “nobody will live with me when I have my own house”! Till today we haven’t recovered from the strain all these put on our relationship with our parents. Now, we have more of non relatives than actual relatives and the story is even worse. Maybe + the fact that my parents are old and tired too, so many evil stories from someone tampering with the lock in your room, or your stuff to actual taking stuff from you that may or may not just reappear a few days later, to the whole drama they put everyone through that I should not have to put readers here through. Plus I think that this set is even the luckiest considering that they came at a time when my parents kind of have more money as per they have no children in school and all that responsibility is off their neck, these people are in the best schools, after all that’s why they came in the first place – better education. But they just throw all that money down the drain each time they come home with poor results again and say, “the teacher did ojoro”. They have all their textbooks even the ones that were considered unnecessary in our days, they have them, yet they don’t read them. They have the opportunities that even we or the ones before them didn’t have, yet they have chosen to make a mess of it. Everyday my old mother is put through one stress after the other but she insists it’s her ‘calling’, who are we to argue with her?

    The long and short of my story that has gone really long for obvious reasons is that it’s a two-way thing. Just as the child being fostered could be the victim of abuse and suffering, it could swing the other way to work against the foster family as well. Also both of them could be beneficiaries of love, family, etc. I will not completely rule out the possibility of fostering anyone in the future, considering the environment I grew up in, I am a people person sort of. I have grown to manage plenty family around me at the same time. Somehow, if I’m presented with the opportunity, I just may take it but I’m sure from my experience I will be a lot more careful unlike my parents and if you misbehave, i will have to stylishly return you to your parents and be sending money for feeding and all that. However, if everyone did the right thing, we would have reduced all these stories here to the barest minimum. Born according to your means – financial, emotional, etc!

  16. cleo

    February 17, 2015 at 1:51 pm

    Being fostered is just like being a black British. We all know British are originally Caucasians. So however you obtain the British citizenship/; residency, marriage or birth hello you are still from outside.

  17. like

    March 1, 2015 at 8:21 am

    A close family friend relative had many children and begged my family friend to take one of her son’s to Lagos so he won’t die of hunger. All she needed was somebody to feed him. Can’t remember how my mom found out but she decided to take in the boy since it was just my eldest bro and herself “remaining”at home, my sister is married, my other siblings were schooling abroad and i was in boarding. My mom decided to enrol him in the public school in our neighbourhood. One day, the boy ran away with a school mate with money and phones they stolen. Momsie was accused of using the boy for money ritual, the boy’s mom ran curses on her, almost 2 years down the boy was found by OPC and momsie returned him and vowed to still with househelp who she won’t sendto school

    • ybbil

      March 12, 2015 at 10:41 am

      One thing is if your mom knew she couldnt send him to a private school, and have time to monitor him, she shld have left him with his parent. I am sure she wouldnt enrol her children in public school, why do it to sm1 else. Thats evil. The boy ran away, because no one had his time to correct him and be there for him. Don’t carry when u know ur heart isnt there.
      My cousin staying with us is like my big sisyer, infact her school fees for a year was more than all i payed throughout my stay in ife. She is closer to my mum than I am, she has two families now. So dont be giving shit abt how the children are evil when u did nothn to nring them closer to u or treat them like they were humans.

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