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CONFLICTS IN PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIP SELECTED AFRICAN TEXT

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CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study

The structure and quality of relationships between family members are fundamental elements of family functioning and a major influence on the well-being of parents and children. The introduction of the world comes through a primary group: the family; it is the institution where in one has the most contact and the one from which one traditionally receive the most emotional support. We depend on family for our early nurturance and socialization, and one cannot survive without them. Societies depend on families to carry out certain vital functions, such as socialization of the young and regulation of sexual activity. Family relationships between wife and husbands, parents and children, brothers and sisters or more distant relatives can be warm and fulfilling but they equally can be full of the most extreme tension, driving its members to despair and imbuing them with a deep sense of anxiety and guilt. Conflict between family members seems to be a mystery, but it is not conflict itself that that is dangerous to relationships; it is the manner in which the conflict is handled. Individuals need relationships in which their identity can continue to develop. They need privacy, flexible roles, especially that which incorporate individual change.

Overtime, conflict poses a great threat to international security in many dimensions. The devastating effects on country’s national image, unity and economy are obvious. Often the quest for freedom and other social factors emanating from a country’s post-colonial experience act as cardinal cause of conflict. While conflict manifests itself in various dimensions, the position of researchers have been to depict conflict and its subsequent causes and effects from different perspective especially as a negative phenomenon .Conflict exists in virtually all spheres and works of life in organization, marriages, sports, politics, and even the family, living with others increases the opportunity for all types of interaction, both pleasant and unpleasant and in this case, the emphases is on the unpleasant as exemplified by conflict.  In the family, Parent and child conflicts can occur for many reasons. When conflict occurs, the entire family can be thrown into emotional turmoil. Resolving a parent and child conflict requires the participation of all stakeholders involved.

Communication is a very important tool in resolving conflict. “When parenting, we need to listen to our children and consider their input,” says psychologist Dr. Longhurst. Understanding why a parent child conflict occurs and how to resolve it can help bring harmony back to the entire family. Struggles between parents and their children are common manifestations of family life. In fact, families may have more conflict than other social groups. Prior theory and research regarding Western, individualist cultures suggests that as such contact and interdependence between people increases, conflict becomes more likely and more frequent (Braiker and Kelley:1979). However, in Eastern collectivist cultures, the increase in conflict may not result in such situations due to a preference for non-confrontation (Chua and Gudykunst :1987).

As with marital relationships, an average degree of conflict between parents and children in America is difficult to determine, although there are estimates (Montemayor: 1986). The frequency of conflict appears to be linked with child development. For example, the highest number of conflicts – mother-child interactions – occurred with two-year-olds versus children who were eighteen months or three years old (Dunn and Munn: 1987). Among adolescents, conflict interactions tend to increase until about the age of fifteen, and then subside in later adolescence. Developmental psychologists state that child development is in different stages and these stages are characterized by qualitative differences in behaviour. There are a number of different views about the way in which psychological and physical development proceed throughout life span. In addition to individual differences in development, psychologists generally agree that development occurs in an orderly way and in different areas. It is a branch of psychology that attempts to explain the development of humans over time both in the micro sense as they develop from babies to mature adults, and in the macro sense, as the culture itself evolves through the years and decades. Jean Piaget one of the foremost figures in developmental psychology and credited for being the first to elaborate a stage theory and to argue that all humans develop through a similar path, progressing through recognizable stages each with definable characteristics and psycho- social goals that must be met if one is to progress to the next. One of the most interesting facets of the stage theory is its proposition that children learn by constructing knowledge through experience, as opposed to it being directly imparted by environment, or being innate and instinctual.

Beyond conflict frequency, one of the most rudimentary features of conflict is whether an issue is engaged or avoided. Engagement involves overt, verbal confrontation. Avoidance can take many forms, including withholding complaints, evading discussion of sensitive issues, and defensively withdrawing from a conflict discussion.

Another important dimension of conflict concerns its positivity or negativity (Sillars and Wilmot: 1994). Some behaviours are relatively positive in sentiment and affective in tone, such as conciliatory statements, supportive comments that validate the other’s point of view, attempts to understand the other’s position, and so on. Negative behaviours are disagreeable, inflammatory, and sometimes hostile. Examples include demands, threats, insults, and defensiveness. Distressed families exhibit more negative conflict behaviours, greater reciprocation of negative emotions and behaviours, and a lower proportion of positive behaviours compared to non-distressed families (Montemayor: 1986).

An important feature of parent-child relationships that may affect the negativity of conflicts is that the relationships are not voluntary. In other words, children do not pick their parents. Like marriage partners, parents and their offspring develop considerable intimacy. More so than spouses, however, parents and their children are “bound” in a family relationship, which can serve to intensify serious conflicts between them, and family disputes often represent underlying relational struggles regarding power or intimacy (Emery: 1992).

Regardless of the “involuntary” nature of parent-child relationships, family conflict has the potential to positively impact children. Specifically, childhood conflict interactions can contribute positively to personal and social development. Moreover, parents can develop their negotiation skills in conflicts with their children. To save such positive rewards from conflict interactions, family members need two basic skills for conflict management: flexibility versus rigidity and the ability to manage conflict without escalating the severity of the problem.

Clearly, the study of these general features of parent-child conflict contributes to understanding the concept of conflict. Additionally, one important theme consistently emerges in discussions of these general features: development. Focusing on how parent-child conflict evolves as children (and parents) age provides a more thorough picture of the phenomenon.

Some research indicates that parent-child relationships tend to deteriorate in families marked by high levels of marital conflict (Hess et al: 1979). Since studies have found that good parent-child relationships are associated with high self-esteem (Coopersmith: 1967), it seems likely that a deteriorating parent-child relationship partly mediates the effects of inter parental conflict on children.

The family is a group consisting of one or two parents and children. According to Dudley Weeks in The Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution “a family is an area in which diversity is important” (28) One may ask how diversity is seen in a family. The point is that although a family provides an equal environment for all of its members be it father, mother or children, each of them perceive situations in unique ways. In this case as long as each member of the family does not try to impose his opinion or idea unnecessarily on another the relationship between them stands a better chance of growing and remaining healthy.

In a society for instance Africa, relationships are not taken for granted. A lot of relationships are found in a society no matter how small those involved are. In these relationships, two or more persons are involved. As human beings, we have individual differences and usually like it to be respected. In this respect, anyone involved in a particular relationship who tries to impose his ideas or opinions on the other may not be helping their relationship. These relationships that exist in a community amongst peer groups, colleagues, neighbours, etc. at one time or the other tend to need something from one another as humans. The ability of one to satisfy the other’s needs goes a long way in strengthening their relationship. But in a situation whereby these needs cannot be met, it is seen as maltreatment of the person directly involved. The neglect of needs in a relationship does a lot of harm to that relationship.

In all the relationships in a family, the parent-child relationship is the most outstanding. Although, it is either a good or a bad relationship, there are some perceived reasons that determine how good or bad the relationship will be. Needs are very important. It is in everyone’s dictionary. They are conditions we perceive and cannot do without. They are essential in the development of relationships. According to Dudley Weeks, “the most fulfilling and mutually beneficial relationships are those in which the needs of both parties are met” (30). In the family therefore, if the needs of the children or parents are not met as and when due, it could be seen as an act of cruelty towards the affected person, parent or child.

Again, maltreatment of a child can be seen in terms of neglect: physical, verbal or emotional neglect and it also applies to the maltreatment of the parent. Neglect typically involves a failure on either party to provide for the others basic needs, such as food, care, shelter, protection and supervision (Campbell: 1992).The neglect of these needs in a relationship causes conflict among the persons involved. According to Joseph Folger (1993) and Marshal Scott Poole (1993), in Small Group Communication Theory and Application,Conflict is the interaction of interdependent people who perceive incompatible goals and interference from each other in achieving those goals”(41).To Dudley Weeks, conflict can be resolved in so many ways one of which is to build a shared positive power. Every relationship involves power, because individuals, groups often limit the way they use and perceive power, they tend to use it as means of controlling or manipulating others. To resolve or avoid conflict that already exist or might exist sometimes, the parties involved in the relationship in question must share and build a positive power to exercise it reasonably for it not to be a means of intimidating, controlling or manipulating others.

Gary and Lundbeng (1995) in I Don’t Have to Make Everything All Better wrote extensively on “parent-teen conflict”, managing it constructively. According to them, “teens and their parents have conflict” (3). How these conflicts are managed is critical; if these conflicts are not managed constructively, families are likely to divide. Behaviour and conflict degrade and criminal conduct may follow. Parents always see their children as children when the child wants to be treated as a teenager. In this case, the child is struggling for his independence, yet most times he is unwilling to assume the responsibility that comes with being an adult. The child wants to make his own rules as he now finds it difficult to follow the family rules. Most times, parents find it difficult to allow the child the freedom he wants. This is all part of the parent-child growing up together, conflict system. In the parent-child relationship, handling the conflicts that arise either destroy that connection between the persons involved or build it depending on how the conflict is handled. According to Gary and Joy Lundberg (1995:6), Parents and teens care about each other, openly acknowledging and managing parent teen conflicts constructively. In the relationship between them parents and their children share a lot of things in common apart from their biological resemblance, they share things like frustration, stress, pressure times, disappointment, financial stress and fear of failure.

Communication has been discovered as an essential tool in relationships. According to Gary and Joy Lundberg (1995:25), “when communication starts treading down, emotional tension increases, communication becomes more difficult and constructive conflict resolution more difficult” (13). Therefore in a relationship the level of communication between the persons involved helps them to understand themselves better. The understanding between them keeps their relationship healthy in the sense that each one knows what will make the other annoyed and avoid it. As defined in the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary Sixth Edition, communication is the “activity or process of expressing ideas and feelings” (230); going by this definition, any relationship without effective communication which helps those involved understand themselves the relationship is built on a shaky foundation. Parent-child relationship is not an exception; their relationship must be built on a solid foundation that is communication.

Furthermore, a relationship without discipline does not do those involved any good. Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary Special Price Edition, defines discipline as “training or control”, often using a system of punishment, aimed at producing obedience to rules, self-control. Relationship may not have any definite system of punishment as means of training or control aimed at producing obedience to rules but one that obviously has is the parent-child relationship. Parent should not confuse discipline with punishment, punishment most times do not result to what a parent expect. Beating, blaming, belittling, threatening, slapping, scolding, name dropping are methods of punishment, which are generally ineffective. These methods of discipline will only subdue the child. As a system of discipline, it is better the child is allowed to learn from his own mistakes and take corrections himself. This method of discipline causes a child to be scared of his parents and this reduces effective communication between them thereby hampering or hindering their relationship. Curiously, one may ask what makes either a child or parent brutal or to neglect the other person’s need? How does the attitude of either party affect the other and the relationship that exist between them? These questions can only be answered by examining the society where these relationships exist.

This study therefore goes beyond the causes, and negative effect of conflict which seem to be the specialization of scholars in examining conflict in various spheres of life. The aim of this research is to examine conflict in parent child relationship, the positive effect of these conflict and the measures to be taken to improve relationship in the home. To achieve this objective, this study engages some selected novels from African writers of both the 19th and 21st centuries in order to ex-ray the fact that conflict in the family especially among parents and their children is a recurrent phenomenon.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

A generally accepted understanding of conflict with regards to its causes and manifestations continues to be the concern of humanists, including literary artists. Literary writers of the 19th and 21st centuries depict conflict according to their personal and geographical background. This tendency arises from the multi-dimensional manifestations of conflict. The problem of this study stems from the fact that most scholars have rested continuously on the negative effect of conflict, more so there is generally a paucity of research on the texts for the study, especially in relation to conflict in family relationship without recourse to the positive effects of conflict. This therefore leaves a stigma on domestic conflict.

1.3 Objective of the Study

The main objective is to investigate the emerging conflict in parent-child relationship in selected literary works. The specific objectives are to:

1.identify and examine the forms of conflict in parent-child relationship;

  1. examine the bases for conflict as identified by characters in the chosen texts for the study;

3.analyze the positive effects of conflict in parent-child relationship in the selected texts and

4.investigate internal mechanisms of improving relationship in the home as portrayed in the selected texts.

  • Research Questions

The following are the research questions that drive the study:

  1. In what forms is conflict portrayed in the selected texts?
  2. What are the bases for conflict as identified by characters in the selected texts?
  3. What are the positive effects of conflicts in parent-child relationship in the selected texts?
  4. What are the internal mechanisms for improving relationship in the home as portrayed in the chosen texts?

1.5 Significance of the Study

This study is important in that it helps the general reader in understanding the forms, bases and positive effects of conflict in the family structure especially as highlighted by these African writers; Chukwuemeka Ike, Ifeoma May Nwoye, Joe de Graft and Helon Habila. It therefore serves as a potential resource material for those who wish to embark on further research in this study.

1.6 Scope of the Study

The purpose of this study is to appraise conflict and the search for freedom amongst children as reflected in selected African texts of; Chukwuemeka Ike’s Our Children Are Coming, Ifeoma May Nwoye’ Fetters and Choices, Joe Graft’s Sons and Daughters and Helon Habila’s Measuring Times.

1.7 Justification for the Study

The four texts were purposively selected as a result of the relevance of their thematic thrust to this study. The selected texts for this study are analysed according to thematic affinity. The choice of the novelists is deliberate considering the various periods they represent. They are all African authored texts which x ray the kind of relationship that exists in the family especially as a result of the economic situation of the society. One cannot rule out the fact that conflict exist in the family and it will be a misnomer to think that these conflicts all have negative effects.

1.8 Methodology

The research method employed for this study is qualitative. The study involved detailed literary analysis of selected African texts with the aim of explicating the forms, bases, positive effects of conflict on identified characters and the socio cultural context in which they are situated. Four African texts were selected and supported by other secondary materials. The texts were selected carefully because of the relevance of their thematic concerns to the study. In addition, the study made use of secondary materials relevant to the research objectives to form the background, literature review and the theoretical foundation for the study.

1.8.1 Justification for the Choice of Selected Texts

The study undertook a critical analysis of conflict in the selected works of  both Nigerian and Ghanaian novelists and playwright respectively. The four texts chosen for this study were purposively selected because of their contribution to family relationship in literature. Very fundamental to this study is the choice of three males and one female: Chukwuemeka Ike, Joe de Graft and Helon Habila as males and May Nwoye as female. A text each

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