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Exclusive: Child-free people’s master plan for handling forced childcare responsibilities

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), an agency that was initially founded on the premise of providing emergency food and healthcare to children and mothers in countries devastated by World War II, approximates that there were 2,397,435,502 children worldwide under the age of 18 as of 2023. Of these, 656,640,181 were children under the age of five.

In the same 2023 data, it was found that there were 134,279,612 births registered, and among them, an estimated 1,503,360 births were recorded from Kenya.

Despite the remarkable birth rate in Kenya, a section of men and women chose to be child free- either as individuals or as married couples, and are actively on family planning methods to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

According to a 2020 report by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics on the Modern Contraceptive Prevalence, there was an increase among married women in using contraceptives from 56% to 61% in 2020. The rate of unwanted pregnancies reduced from 42% to 37% in the same year.

“Public stock outs for IUD increased from 7% in 2019 to 11% in 2020. Implants stock-outs remained almost constant, while the stock outs for the injectable, the most used method, reduced from 13% to 7% between 2019 and 2020,” read the report.

As these percentages also represent those who chose to be child free, there are millions more Kenyans who “go forth and multiply” without paying mind to family planning. Reasons such as financial capability, personal or career goals, health and longevity as well as social reasons such as spacing pregnancies to ensure the existing children receive enough attention and resources could possibly have never been at the forefront of their minds. It is for such reasons that social media popular phrases such as “Two under 2”- meaning two children under the age of two- were coined among others.

While some of these parents can and do manage their five to nine or more children despite not family planning, there are others like them who resort to gaslighting their child free relatives into helping them raise their children. They often rely on such besieged relatives to provide them with free labor in caring for the child and in some instances, financially provide for their kids because ‘they have easier, stress-free lives with tons of money and all the time in the world.’

These child free relatives, who may have more disposable income and time, then find themselves cornered- and manipulated with some form of black tax or simple gaslighting into taking up the childcare responsibilities. What, then, can they do to communicate with such parents who expect them to take on child care responsibilities?

According to Dr Venus Kyengo, a Counselling Psychologist at The Myndspa, a child-free person put in this position must authentically and honestly communicate about their incapacity to take up the childcare duties- preferably at extended family meetings.

“The key thing- your life is your life. And that is why any family therapist will tell you having extended family meetings is very important because that becomes a place of clear communication to the rest of the family members about your decisions on what you want for yourself. There is no other way. The most healthy way is to be very authentic and honest about you not being able (to handle their childcare responsibilities). However, we always say, even if you are not going to do it 100%, at least you give 10%. So, probably one of the things I would advise anyone out there is there is very important need to make (it known) that you have your own personal obligations to counter-fight that notion that even a shilling you cannot give. You just maybe commit something very small but don’t over commit. At the end of the day, you will end up pleasing people who will never be grateful for what you do,” began Dr Kyengo.

She went on, “In life, everyone must learn to take care of their responsibilities. You cannot just have children and drag them to your family members. That is not right. In order to kill that mindset, the people who are involved in this level of transaction must have a mentally healthy person to stand out and say that issues to do with child support must be pegged to the family member who is responsible for the children. The parents of the children must take the bigger chunk otherwise, it would be as good as them saying its okay to give birth and dump those children on someone else and they just relax. No one is under any obligation to take care of their family members’ children unless they are willing. Communication must be done and it must be landed in a manner to suggest that there are boundaries.”

While communication is key, it must be followed by actions to drive the point home. According to Dr Kyengo, it is at this point that the child-free person must set boundaries, otherwise, they would have to deal with the consequences.

“Anyone who doesn’t have boundaries is considered to be living a very dangerous life. Because, when you think about boundaries- I’ll give you a very good analogy. Its like building a very beautiful house but you have not put a fence around it. Now, as long as you don’t have boundaries and you don’t have that fence, it means any person- including thieves who want to invade your property- you have already given them leeway because there is no mode of communication that this is a private residential area.

Same thing happens. The reason why a lot of people are imposed upon with other people’s children when it comes to the family circle is because they themselves are known to not have boundaries. There are characteristics in them that have already communicated to family members that they have the ability to take care of these children, either by hook or crook,” explained Dr Kyengo.

She further added that such ‘manipulative’ parents could also zero in on the successful family members to take care of their children even though the sibling has their own kids.

“Anything that we do for our family and extended family members must be done within certain guidelines and of course, the boundaries. And mostly, having a vision of what the repercussions will look like in the future. What I would say is that communication is very important. If you are not ready, then don’t accept it. You owe no one any explanations. I hear people say ‘I took someone else’s children to school, now they are abusing me.’ If you are doing something for a family member, let it be out of heart. If you are digging deeper into your pocket because of a family member, let it be out of your heart. Otherwise, if people are intruding into your space and telling you what you need to do, then you need to take a step back and put the walls up. It is as simple as that.

And you can never earn respect unless you have learnt to say no where you feel you are not able to do something. Boundaries are a sign of emotional and psychological maturity. People who don’t have boundaries are people pleasers and they end up suffering,” continued Dr Kyengo.

However, there are some parents who end up feeling entitled to a child-free person’s time and money, and when they do not get this, they may end up poisoning the family pot against their ‘victim’. To deal with this and avoid ‘fracturing’ the family, Dr Kyengo advises the child-free people to make sure everyone clearly knows where you are coming from by shutting down forced childcare responsibilities from said parents and to grow their mental health capacity to fend off negative reactions and utterances from family members who side with the children’s’ parents.

“If people can be able to understand where you are coming from, the narrative behind you not being able to support the family tree in terms of the children that are there, then it means you don’t have any issues with anyone. And what you need to know is that people are entitled to how they feel but how they feel may not be the truth and reality of the right way they should be responding. For example, I can have prejudice where I judge people based on looks- that is a very immature way of judging people because looks can be deceiving. So once you have stated your point, you have landed that communication very well, whatever people decide to do in terms of how they see you, how they talk to you- that is their own problem.

We need to grow our mental health to the point where it does not really matter what people out there are saying about us. What matters is what we feel about ourselves and our purpose. I feel we need to stop getting caught up in this ‘he said, she said’ kind of mentality. Once you know you are aligned as a person and that whatever you are doing is out of genuineness, then you don’t have any problem addressing or reacting to what the family members might feel. Also, by not helping does not mean you are poisoning the family tree,” concluded Dr Kyengo.