As gregarious creatures, human beings hold families as the most beautiful gifts on earth. Every individual's first point of encounter with the world is the family. Here we have our primary socialization. In some societies, emphasis is placed mainly on the man, wife and children when talking about the family. However, in most societies the family extends to uncles, aunts, nephews, nieces and grandparents - the extended family.

The extended family plays a monumental role in the development of a person as all family members try to support one another in whatever way they can. However, the family, just like many other social institutions, has its fair share of moments when things begin to go haywire. Issues that plague the family are varied and some can be extremely injurious. Here are some tried and true methods for handling common family problems.

Family Feuds

One issue which often bedevils the extended family is family feuds. Several issues may trigger a feud among extended family members. Notable among them is the sharing of the estate of a grandparent who dies, especially if the dead grandparent had many children. My grandmother died five years ago, and since then there has been a very intense and venomous feud in the family. As the feud became insoluble at the family level, the matter was taken to court by my grandmother's eldest daughter for a definitive answer.

Such extended family issues can best be solved by a neutral family head. In African families like mine, there are family heads and these people are expected to mediate impartially in any such family issue. If it turns out that the family head has aligned himself to one faction, it is advisable that the family calls upon a family friend or priest who is very well-respected by the family members to mediate between the feuding groups.

Conflict between demands of extended and nuclear families

Another problem that can gravely disturb the family is the disconcerting conflict between the demands of the extended family and those of the nuclear family which sometimes rears its ugly head. Extended family members try to help one another in times of need. However, it gets extremely unpleasant when family members are not allowed to elect to help, but rather pressured to do so. During times when you can help, it is only nice that you do so - especially when the family member demonstrates genuine need for the help. However, members must also come to terms with the fact that relatives with spouses and children have additional responsibilities and cannot always swoop in to save the day.

Anytime you find yourself entangled in a situation where you have very limited resources and a family member keeps hassling you for assistance while, at the same time, your nuclear family demands that help, you have to explain the issue to the extended family member with the greatest sense of honesty. You must also, lovingly, assure the family member of your readiness and willingness to help if things were better. You shouldn't help the relative at the expense of your nuclear family, unless failure to help the relative would result in extremely dire consequences.

Unexpected house guests

Some family members who travel from another city to the city where you live in might decide to stay in your home. Courtesy demands they let you know they intend to stay in your house before they even embark on the journey. A few friends of mine complain of how their aunts and uncles come to stay in their houses unannounced. Uninvited relatives may be very uncomfortable for your spouse, especially if you do not have adequate space in your house.

It is important that you explain the necessity of prior notification to family members who do that. Explain that having relatives stay without being told beforehand can be very uncomfortable to you, your spouse and your children. Gently insist that next time you get informed before any such visit.

Intrusion into your marriage

Another extended family issue which can pose a great discomfort is the problem associated with intrusion of relatives in one's marriage. For instance, in most African marriages, when a couple doesn't have children after a number of years, the family of the man usually tends to attack the woman for ''her inability to give them a child.'' Such an intrusion can be extremely disturbing.

Be gently firm in making it clear to the family members where the line is drawn. Certain delicate issues in the marriage must be kept only between the husband and the wife. Do not invite family members into the marriage indiscriminately. Be extremely careful and selective about who you invite to help solve problems in your marriage. You must make it clear to family members that you will not accept any intrusion into your marriage. Marriage is supposed to unite the families of the couple. Therefore, the doors and windows of the marriage should be opened to all family members. However, be careful not to allow this union of families to insidiously metamorphose into an intrusion.

Quite clearly, extended family issues are varied, and require level-headedness in finding a solution.

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