“You can’t choose your family”
“You can’t shoot them, either!” Marlon chats about the extended family dilemma.
Immediate family are tricky to get along with at the best of times. Unless, of course, your family unit operates like The Waltons (70’s TV show): where everyone loves each other to bits and they’d all just die if anything happened of them. Extended family is even more trying, especially when you have to factor in those married into the family, weird cousins and random relatives you don’t see on a regular basis.

Taking a splash in the gene pool

It’s probably a good thing that “compulsory” family gatherings like birthdays and Easter only come around once a year. How the children of family members interact is also a fascinating thing to observe. Cousins seem to have a natural bond it and there’s usually no problem hanging out. The pecking order is usually established by age-difference or the status of the parents in respect of each other. It’s also a pretty decent bet that the kids will react to situations much in the same way that they have witnessed their parents reacting to similar situations. The old adage of “monkey see, monkey do” rings true every time!

So here’s a scenario, adult sisters and their adult brother are visiting, with their respective kids, age range 2-6ish. Adults are chilling. Kids, an 18-month-toddler, two-year-old girl, a 5-year-old-boy and a 4 year-old-girl, are playing somewhere in the rest of the house. Average age of the parents is around 35. It’s a lovely Highveld autumn day and everyone’s just peachy.

All of a sardine, a shrill, blood-curdling scream emanates from the children’s room. Parents leap out of their chairs and rush to the scene of the scream. A quick check reveals that the 2-year-old had found it necessary to sink her little milk-teeth into the soft flesh of the 18-month-old, in the interest of settling a dispute involving the vitally important decision as to what Barbie was going to wear. All very understandable and logical in the world of kid, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, mom of 18-month-old lets rip in equally shrill, blood-curdling voice- Yelling at 2-year-old, and less than eloquently letting the little mite know that she’s a wee beastie. Since this is a nice family website, I won’t go into the specifics of the message she was screaming, suffice it to say that the 2-year-old was rather traumatised by her sweet auntie’s lightning transformation to aunty-from-hell. Then in true Neanderthal fashion, screaming banshee’s husband feels honour-bound to “protect” his little 18-month-old angel by screaming at 2-year-old’s mother something along the lines that she should discipline her child better.

Golden rule of parenting: no one has the right to tell anyone how to raise their kids, unless of-course there’s imminent death afoot. Mom of 2-year-old, who is elder sister to mom of 18-month-old recovers from the shock of the incident and as politely as she can tells father of 18-month-old to go and engage in the beast with the double back, but only with himself.

Dad of 2-year-old announces that that’s it and “we’re leaving”! And they all left happily ever after. What to do?

Careful, the kids are watching!

You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that the parent’s reaction was way over the top and probably spoke volumes of their own emotional state at the time, if not in general. Later on when 2-year-old was leaving, 18-month-old cousin took the opportunity to whack her over the head with a plastic drum, smiling gleefully as she did it too. Clearly the 18-month-old beastie is following mom and dad’s example quite well and I’m sure she’ll develop into a suitably “well-adjusted” adult, just like screaming banshee mom and Neanderthal dad.

As parents we need to be acutely aware that every single thing we do or say is subconsciously absorbed like a sponge by our kids. The first 7 years are apparently critical in terms of the blueprint of their personalities and a lot of the good and bad hang-ups we have as adults we’ve inherited from our parents unknowingly.

Last I heard, Neanderthal brother-in-law and mom of 2-year-old were behaving like good adults and are engaged in attempts to reconcile the situation. Its really not in our nature as human beings to behave like pigs in front of our kids, and we need to be aware of this and avoid this kind of behaviour happening, because forget big brother, little kid’s watching, and learning!

Read more by Marlon Abrahams

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