Black Tax: Are you responsible for your family after you have started your own family?

It might not be a welcome view, but when one starts a family the focus should essentially be on building this family unit and caring for the family without the pressures of extended family commitments

CJ Benjamin

Published Dec 22, 2023

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Where does the sense of duty to one’s family end and commitment to one’s own nuclear family begin? Or are they indeed intertwined with each other?

For many, myself included, caring for our parents is an automatic behaviour, not an obligation. Having said that, it does appear to be terribly challenging to balance financial and other duties to family members outside the home while still caring for the immediate family, which consists of your spouse and children.

Speak to anyone you know, and at least one person will share their frustration of having to share their spouse's income and time with extended family members, leaving most of the heavy lifting to the other spouse in the family.

The issue here is not about being selfish, which has long been the conversation within families where in-laws seem to have ongoing challenges when navigating their relationships, but more related to responsibility and where this should primarily lie.

It surely can't be wrong to expect that there are boundaries in relationships, and parental and sibling relations should not be exempt. In fact, it is of paramount importance to have such limits. It might not be a welcome view, but when one starts a family the focus should essentially be on building this family unit and caring for the family without the pressures of extended family commitments.

I say this with great respect for extended family members, but there seem to be these irrational expectations that pressure people into dividing their time and money among families, resulting in burdensome relations.

For a spouse who has to shoulder much or all of the burdens at home because of a spouse who has a sense of duty to family outside the home, this leads to bitterness and resentment as the situation is utterly unfair.

When the said spouse voices concerns about the lack of commitment to the immediate family, they are branded selfish and accused of driving a wedge within a spouse's extended family. What is selfish about wanting your spouse to honour his commitment to the marriage and to your children?

A family with two parents requires a sharing of the responsibilities and a commitment of time. When this is shared among extended family members, leaving one spouse to always bear the load, it is the makings of a volcano soon to erupt.

There is something so profoundly wrong with this picture. I absolutely advocate for caring for one's family, including parents and siblings, if help is needed, but only as a gesture of kindness if it is feasible and practical.

The extended family also plays a vital role in ensuring that boundaries, including financial expectations, are not overstepped. Another crucial point is guilting loved ones into spending time and money on families outside of their immediate familial commitments and responsibilities.

When our family members share their time and money with us, it should be out of their own volition and never because they feel guilty. We all want to care for our parents and siblings as much as possible, but when we start our own families this strains the pockets and the relations between partners. There must be ways to support our families to some extent without guilt and pressure.

There must be clear communication with extended family members indicating the extent to which you can help and also engaging others to help so that the responsibility does not fall solely on one individual. It is unreasonable to commit ourselves to our extended families and place most of the home commitments in our spouse's hands.

There must be clear lines of communication about what is acceptable and manageable for the family. The extended family, and this should go without saying, must respect a loved one's spouse and new family, which takes precedence above all else, and this in no way means they love you less.

While caring for the extended family is a noble endeavour, neglecting the nuclear family can lead to unintended consequences. Striking the right balance ensures that both immediate and extended family members receive the care and support they need which, in turn, fosters harmonious relations.

CJ Benjamin is a former national radio talk show host, who received numerous awards during her tenure in addition to being awarded for her public service. She continues to be passionate about youth and women empowerment, engaging with youth and women across Africa in public workshops focused on self-development and motivation. Benjamin has a growing social media presence and talks to thousands of people daily through her topical videos on relatable issues in society.

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