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SINGLE MOTHERHOOD AND FAMILY DIVERSITIES IN NIGERIA: AN EXPLORATORY STUDY OF AKWA IBOM AND CROSS RIVER STATES
Background of the Study
The family has been acknowledged universally as the oldest institution in the history of human race. It is also universally recognized as the primary agency of socialization. According to Ibia (1999), this does not mean that families are identical the world over and consequently follow similar socialization process. The differences in family patterns have rendered many definitions of the term inadequate, because of the tendency of some writers to look at the problem only from the point of view of their own societies and allow the universally varied definition to suffer from such limitations.
Bredemeir and Stephenson (1966) defined the family as a group of related kinds linked by blood and marriage, who occupy a common household and are usually characterized by economic corporate and solidarity. According to the definition, a family is formed as a social phenomenon within the framework of the two ties; blood and marriage. The relationship between the members of the family is therefore both biological and social. While the relationship between the parents is purely social since their union is only possible through socially recognized patterns of marriage. Looking at family from this perspective, every adult individual belongs to two kinds of families: the one to which an individual belongs biologically being family of orientation and the one to which an individual belongs socially is referred to as the family of procreation. It may not be correct to say that all family members occupy a common household especially in African societies. It is a common practice in Africa for a child of one household to live among members of another. Although such a child, while staying in another household may be socially integrated the fact still remains that he may go back to his own family any time he wishes as there is no adoption system in most African cultures.
Another view about the family is expressed by Ogburn and Nimkoff (1940). They maintain that, a couple is expected to establish a household, and to live there cooperatively on terms largely prescribed by the customs and laws of the community. The children of the association are part and parcel of the parental household even if they live in another households for a time, but generally at an age which varies from society and depends on parental circumstances. Whether or not they live outside their parental household, the children remain bound to the family by sentiment and/or by property interest. According to them, the extended family system in Africa does not allow an individual to break away from his family of orientation for life. The family of procreation to which an individual belongs is considered in many African societies as a part of the larger family of orientation.
According to Ezewu (1983), in Africa the family includes the parents, brothers, and sisters of the couple and the children of their brothers and sisters. This concept of the family embraces the whole lineage. Sexual right and prohibitions are prescribed by the larger society for both husband and wife. While the husband may have sexual rights outside the wedlock, the woman does not. This is so because her services which include sexual responsibility, have been legally secured by her husband.
However, the family of today is not what it was a century ago, or even a generation ago. New roles, new gender distinctions, new child-rearing patterns have all combined to create new forms of family life. Today for example, more and more women are taking the bread-winners role, whether married or as a single parent. Blended families – the result of divorce and remarriage – are almost the norm. And many people are seeking intimate relationships outside marriage, whether it be in gay partnership or in cohabiting arrangements.
The family eventhough is universal, differ from one culture to another and even within the same culture. Globally, among Tibetans, a woman may be married simultaneously to more than one man, usually brothers. This system allows sons to share the limited amount of good land. Among the Betsileo of Madagasca, a man has multiple wives, each one living in a different village where he cultivates rice. Where ever he has the best rice field, that wife is considered his first senior wife. Among the Yanomamo of Brazil and Venezuela, it is considered proper to have sexual relationship with your opposite-sex cousins, if they are the children of your mother’s sister or your father’s brother, the same practice is considered to be incest (Haviland et al, 2005; Kottak, 2000). These illustrate variations in family from culture to culture. Yet the family as a social institution exist in all cultures. Moreover, certain general principles concerning its composition, kinship patterns and authority patterns are universal. Therefore deviation in its concept and application undermine the norms and values of the society.
However, the rising divorce rates, cohabitation before marriage, increasing numbers of single parents families and single person household and other trends, all suggested that individuals were basing their lives less and less around conventional families. Some have seen these changes as symptoms of greater individualism within modern societies. They welcomed what appears to be an increasing range of choice for individuals. People no longer have to base their lives around what may be outmoded and for many unsuitable conventional family structures. Others however, lamented the changes and worried about their effect on society. Such changes according to Haralambos and Holborn are seen as both a symptom and a cause of instability and insecurity in people’s lives and in society as a whole. The study therefore, examine single parent-hood and family household diversities with particular reference to single mother families.
This study focus on single motherhood and family or household diversity which occurs as a result of changes in the society resulting in ever more diverse family forms as argued by a famous American Feminist Barrie Thorne (1992). She challenged the ideology of the monolithic family which elevated the nuclear family with a breadwinner husband and a full-time wife and mother as the only legitimate family form. She believes the focus on the family unit neglects structures of society that lead to variations in families: ‘Structures of gender, generation, race and class result in widely varying experiences of family life, which are obscured by the glorification of the nuclear family, motherhood and the family as a loving refuge. She further stressed that the idea of the family involves falsifying the actual variety of household forms, which have always varied in composition, even in the 1950s and early 1960s when the ideology was more obviously inappropriate since changes in society had resulted in diverse family forms.
The view that such images equate with reality was attacked by Robert and RhonaRapoport (1982). They drew attention to the fact that in 1978, for example, just 20 percent of families in Britain consisted of married couples with children in which there was a single breadwinner. In 1989, RhonaRapoport argued that family diversity was a global trend: a view supported by a family life in Europe. At the end of the 1980s the European coordination centre for Research and Documentation in social sciences organized a cross cultural study of family life in 14 European nations. All European countries had experience rising devoice rates and many had made it easier to get divorced. Cohabitation appeared to have become more common in most countries, and the birth rate had decline everywhere. There was a consistent pattern of convergence in diversity. While family life retained considerable variations from country to country, throughout Europe a greater range of family types was being accepted as legitimate and normal (KatjaBoh, 1989).
Single parenthood therefore, refers to bringing up children in a variety of domestic settings other than the father-mother-child unit, and thus introduces a wide range of possible new household and family types (Beck-Gernsheim, 2002). United States Forum on child and family statistics defines single parent household as a household that consist of a parent with children under 18 years of age. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, single parent, sometimes called a solo parent is a parent not living with a spouse or partner, who has most of the day-to-day responsibilities in raising the child or children. A single parent is usually considered the primary caregiver, meaning the parent the children have residency with the majority of time. If the parents are separated or divorced, children live with their custodial parent and have visitation or secondary residence with their non-custodial parent. In Western Society in general, following separation a child will end up with the primary caregiver, usually the mother and a secondary caregiver usually the father.
Statement of the Problem
Single parenthood according to Haralambos and Holborn has increasingly becomes a serious contentious issue, with some arguing that it has become a serious problem for society.
Deborah Chambers (2001) discussed what she sees as a ‘moral panic’ (exaggerated and illogical concern about supposed social problems) in relation to lone parents. She pointed to the 1990s widespread discourse by the conservative who suggested that lone parenthood posed a major problem to the society, and cited a conservative politician Michael Howard who claimed that family values were under threat from the rising lone parenthood while serving as a home secretary.
Furthermore, an American Neoliberal Sociologist Charles Murray in his 1984 publication titled ‘losing ground’ claim that single parenthood has contributed to creating a whole new stratum of society, the ‘underclass’. He defines underclass in terms of behavioursuch as unkempt, drunkenness, ill-schooled and ill behaved that contributed a disproportionate share to local juvenile delinquency (Murray, 1989, p.20). Karl Marx also express views about the underclass and describes them as lumpenproletariat – the scum of the depraved elements of all class, decayed roués, vagabonds, tricksters, pickpockets, brothel keepers, the dangerous class (Marx and Engels, 1950, p.267).
Although there is no statistics of lone parent families in Nigeria, about 16% of children worldwide live in single-parent household. The 1980 United States Census reported that 19.5% were single parent households. From 1980 to 2008, the percentage of single parent households jumped to 29.5%. In 2006 12.9 million families in the US were headed by a single parent, 80% of which were headed by females. In 2003, 14% of all Australian households were single-parent families. At the 2013 census, 17.8% of New Zealand families were single-parent of which 5 to 6 were headed by females. In the United Kingdom, about 1 out of 4 families with dependent children are single-parent families. In Japan, lone-mother families account for 17% of all households. There is a huge growth in the number of never-married mothers with 25% of single parents in Britain. While France recorded 50% of single parent families, single parent households in Ireland increased from 5.7% in 1981 to 7.9% in 1991. In Germany all single parent families are headed by females. The 3 areas of the world that are likelyto have non marital childbearing are Latin America, South Africa and Sweden (Single Mothers in International Context, 1997).
Single-parent families have become a permanent and noticeable feature in many societies today, as the traditional structure of husband, wife and children gives way to other forms of family life. According to renounced sociologists Simon Duncan and Rosalin Edwards, culture is not helping, as it often focuses on tearing down institutions that provide a sense of stability, such as marriage and family. Today’s single mother does not necessarily fit the old stereotype of an unwed teen living on welfare. Unwed motherhood has lost much of its stigma and has even been glamorized by celebrity role models. Moreover, women are better educated and better able to support themselves, so marriage is no longer a financial prerequisite to motherhood