Ronald Chepkwony was only 16 years old when his dad died. He narrates the story of being a privileged child, being bankrupted by disease and leading a non-privileged, grief-stricken adulthood.
He starts by telling us about his childhood, a distant father, who did not show any emotion and did not teach any life-skills. Still, the pain of losing his father and the material and social losses that followed was a major struggle.
Be a man
In typical Kenyan tradition, people came to comfort the grieving family, and the grieving boy. He says they told him to “Be a man, to Be strong, to BE the head of the family…” but nobody ever illustrated how to be these things. What does it mean? To be strong, a man, head of the family?? would having money be enough? was it enough to marry? when you become a father, are you a man then?
He wondered. And kept wondering until he married. He found no answers there either, so he continued to wonder, until he got a baby. He panicked. He speaks honestly about his internal thoughts and self-doubts – will I be:
strong as a man should be?
a good father?
able to provide?
Friendly people advised him again. “Just work hard, and provide.”
When he realized that he was struggling financially, emotionally, socially etc; he did what ‘typical strong men do’. He told no one.
What is a man?
effort. A man is defined by his effort.
kujikaza. A man should be strong.
After a while, he realized he needed to ask other men how they handled the struggles he was going through. Friends, older wiser men, clergymen, agemates etc had no clue.
He shares that he thinks men live in bravado. Like their fathers. They talk big, they silence their fears, they wear masks in front of their loved ones – even their wives.
The best advice was when his mates advised him to go speak to his wife. And he found out that she understood him. That she had been waiting for him to speak up.
“There is a solace in breaking our silence. A strength of spirit when sharing our truth. It all starts with the choice to live on the other side of victim.” Christine Macdonald
In honor of living on the other side of victim, this weekend, the ladies at Growth Catalysts were discussing and sharing the things that happened to us or around us – that caused us or others around us trauma.
The reason we were doing this instead of say discussing our husbands and boyfriends?
Well, several of us have become mothers in the last years and the rest of us are looking forward to motherhood. We want to be better parents to our children by challenging each other, and all others. The challenge is to remember that as soon as your child is born, you enter the process of manufacturing an adult. Whatever you do, if the child survives childhood, they will become adults with a baggage of all the things you’ve taught them. Knowingly (consciously) or unknowingly (unconsciously).
8 THINGS THAT HAPPENED TO US IN CHILDHOOD THAT WE THINK CAUSED US OR OTHERS CLOSE TO US TRAUMA.
1. Long term sickness of a parent or guardian
It was devastating because it hogge time, sympathy, energy, resources and attention from the children. Additionally, the children too were expected to participate in the ‘taking care’ of the sick adult. We who had a sickly parent or guardian feel that we did NOT have a childhood. Childhood was consumed by another’s ailment. Someone we love, and do not regret caring for; but we lost our childhood nevertheless.
2. Death of a parent, both parents or a guardian.
For some of us, the long term sickness above led to death. For others, death came fast and unexpectedly. The turmoil and confusion that ensued when parents or guardians died was undescribable because it was so many levels of pain.
It was a disruption of what had been, what we knew. Life for us would never be the same again.
The uncertainty of the future was probably the most troubling. We knew life would change, but how, when or how big the change would be. No one knew. SO, we tried to hang in there for the funeral – but, what would happen after the funeral? We remember not being able to cry before or at the funeral. Delayed grief, terror, delayed weakness.
For those of us who were children when parents or guardians died, it often ended up in a mismatching of souls. A child who is orphaned cannot choose its future guardians. You take what is available, or what is offered. Usually, this new guardian was not ready for the responsibility of an traumatized child or two. We also agreed that given the opportunity, we would have chosen someone else as guardian after our parents died.
3. Substance abuse
Amost all of us had alcoholic adults. They drunk too much alcohol and did not seem to understand what a problem it was. One of us had a parent who abused other drugs. We know that substance abusers are more likely to abuse their children and spouse. We lived it.
Parents and guardians that lashed out and hit us, the children. Adults that screamt and shouted abuse or obscenities at us, the children. They neglected us too – physically, because they were preoccupied with their addictions or codependencies. Emotionally because they were unavailable to comfort or celebrate with their children. Psychologically because they were abusing substances in order to avoid dealing with difficult thoughts, feelings or realities.
We, the children, of course being part of the difficult realities to be avoided.
Remember, Adults do not have to be alcoholists or drug addicts to be abusive. Some people are sober and extremely abusive – so even for some of us.
4. Sexual abuse or incest
None of us admitted to ever being sexually abused. We did wonder and laugh about the behaviours of some uncles and cousins. Their behaviour felt predatory. We all knew or knew of someone who had gotten pregnant by a close older relative though. So, we shared those stories of our friends, neighbours, schoolmates and relatives that may have been raped.
In many cases, the girl that had gotten pregnant by a relative, was accused of being a slut. Somehoe, it was her fault that it had happened. It is difficult to recover from sexual exploitation and incest, and even harder when it is blamed on you. We also knew of boys who were sexually exploited by adults and relatives around them. Because boys don’t get pregnant, it was all speculation and counter-accusations. For boys, it is devastating to be accused of being homosexual, so they wouldn’t even share their stories.
Anyway, we were in agreement that no one “dealt” with it, legally or socially. We spoke for example of a girl whose father was known to rape all his daughters before they turned 10. Adults spoke about it in hushed tones, shook their heads, but nobody did anything. Well, except warn us to not go near him of course! But how does that help the child who is already raped?
5. Abusive parents or guardians
pAbuse can be physical, emotional or psychological and all of us had experienced abusive behaviour in our childhoods. Even though we did not know were being abused at the time it was happening.
Abuse for us was being beaten up for small or big mistakes. Or no mistakes at all.
Or being verbally dressed down with insults and put-downs for small or big mistakes. Or no mistakes at all.
Sometimes, we were silenced, so we were not allowed to speak up. Or to question. And definitely not to express ourselves freely – even when we could do it respectfully.
Some adults, especially the adults closest to us stopped speaking to a us as punishment. Ignoring us as if we didn’t exist. This could be exercised for longer periods – like days at a time – or for shorter periods – like a couple of hours at a time.
Other adults spoke negatively about us, describing us or narrating the our mistakes to other adults as we listened.
Volatile adults who were not constant or consistent in their behaviour and who did not explain to us that it was not the our fault. This made us uncertain of which “mood or temperament” a parent or guardian was going to be in from day to day. Which in turn created an insecure, scared and worried adult.
6. Violence in the family
Most of us had adults around us who fought physically, even if they did not abuse the children.
Fighting in front of us or in front of our neighbours and friends created fear and shame. The humiliation. Physical violence is a demonstration of domination and power. If you know someone can beat another adult up at any time, you also know that they can beat you up at any time.
Verbally fights in our presence or our neighbours and friends created deep shame and guilt. this is because those who abuse you verbally usually say the things you would rather keep secret. They intentionally say these things publicly, so others may hear your shame. It is the only way to win. No-one abuses you verbally by telling you how fantastic you are – no one. Imagine what that does to a child?!
Parents and guardians neglected us physically emotionally and psychologically.
Have you met a parent who forgot that they have a child?
they are willing to spend time and energy on other people, but not on the child.
most of them forget to clean, feed and create some security and routine for the child.
they do not listen to the child, comfort the child when they need it or show interest in the child in the day to day.
Imagine a child reports something negative or positive that happened to them. e.g. a child comes home and reports that another child beat them up, or called them names at school. Or reports that they were the best at mathematics that day.
The adult shouts at the child to stop being a nuisance, or lying, or exaggerating. One of our bitter mothers once asked their son what they planned to do with mathematics in real life.
“In our house, all the mathematics you need to know is the number of slaps I am going to give you if you don’t stop bothering me! I am tired!”
A neglectful father once asked his son, “if he beat you, where is the wound or blood?”
Because according to him, you are not really beaten if you are not bleeding.
Could this be the same child? The parents sound like a match made in heaven!
Remember those children who were raped and no one believed them? Studies show that the children whose parents believe them, and stand up for them, survive childhood trauma better that the children whose parents refuse to listen, believe or act.
For those of us who lacked in basic needs, the worry associated with it was so distressing, we have forgotten chunks of childhood because we were so busy with adult problems.
Will we have food for the next meal?
where will the next meal come from?
Will I have a fitting school uniform for school in January?
Books and pens etc, where will they come from?
Our house has a broken door, window, wall etc can someone come in at night and hurt us?
Did we miss anything on this list that you have experienced? Please add it in comments below!