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  • Writer's pictureEmma Gibran

The Poverty of The Heart

Emma Gibran

Children will want to remember the memories of them as a kid. But those who live in a dysfunctional family only want to forget and escape.

Children that come from broken families have a high chance of experiencing mental health issues – which range from depression to mental disorders. But the term ‘broken family’ currently only encompasses children whose parents are divorced or separated. The word broken essentially typifies distressing outcomes of which some, if not all, of the related parties, suffer. Sometimes parents stay together despite having a dysfunctional relationship, creating dysfunctional family dynamics, that made the children suffer.

A family is considered dysfunctional if its main agents – the parents, are unable to provide emotional care to their children. It also happens when parents remain together despite having troubles in the relationship and refuse to fix them. Other common characteristics of dysfunctional families are non-empathetic violence-oriented child-rearing styles, poor communication, recurring conflicts, child abuse, and neglect. Dealing with irresponsible parenthood is not in itself a matter of monetary deprivation. But, when you struggle to live in a happy state, isn’t that a kind of poverty on its own?

Anis Wani’s political cartoons on a dysfunctional family vividly depict the story of Gazia, who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to witnessing the unhealthy relationship and parenting style of her mother and father. Her parents have been married for 23 years but she thought they should have gotten divorced. In fact, she suggested it, but they always backed out eventually, which she inferred could be due to the social pressure of divorce.


The scarring caused by repeated trauma of living in a dysfunctional family influences the children’s outlook on life and it even can lead children into the wrong, destructive paths such as drug abuse, increased alcohol consumption, low self-esteem, the loss of trust in others, and constant denial. But dysfunctional family is an incredibly internal affair that could rarely be detected by the outside world. It is much easier to evaluate the impact of children of divorce on their social and economic lives. While there has been a rise in awareness of mental health issues of all kinds, the problems experienced by children in a dysfunctional family remain fairly difficult to tackle unless the root causes are addressed.

The solutions should be broken down into preventative and corrective measures. Preventative measures can start by raising awareness and providing good sources of information on parenting. Moreover, married couples who do want to have children must take marriage and parenting courses so that they are aware of their own limitations and know how to raise fellow human beings. In The Marriage Bookand The Parenting Book”, Nicky and Sila Lee talk about these issues in-depth: how ‘good marriage’ and “good parenting” are hard work.

Couple Relationship Education (CRE) programs have been suggested as a good strategy to enhance the quality of marital relationships. For instance, Preventative and Relationship Education Programme (PREP) is a program that aims to foster positive treatment among married couples. The program has been adopted by several governments, including the US and Singapore. CRE has also focused on another avenue, which is giving married couples with children therapy. It has been found that children whose parents participate in the program have reduced stress and other mental health issues that members of dysfunctional families usually experience, which can be considered a corrective measure to dealing with a dysfunctional family.

In spite of the good outcomes of the programs, there is still a problem: some of these programs are offered at a rate that is not affordable to low-income households. How will children that live in a low-income households, with dysfunctional parents, get out of this trap? The National Marriage Project – a research project based in the US designs an inclusive public policy intervention on protecting American marriages. It ensures that people of all colors and socioeconomic backgrounds, most importantly the low-income married couples, are taking part in the educational program. Over half of the participants live below the poverty line, which signifies the commitment to ensure equal access to CRE programs amongst those who cannot afford them.

It is evident that federally supported CRE, while not a perfect remedy for dysfunctional families, is actually a better, more inclusive strategy than that which intentionally excludes low-income married couples from getting the resources that they require to fix the relationship and parenting issues. But we still have millions of married couples in low- and middle-income regions that cannot function both as couples and as parents yet stay together and only harm their children.

This might be a difficult public policy decision to make in countries that do not have a large fiscal capacity to afford to help married couples work their things out. But Governments should realize that rising cases of mental health are not good for the country in the long term either.

Our best bet right now is to use the internet as the equalizer of information. But without a clear direction from the people in power, it’s hard to see how things can exponentially get better.


This article is featured in JUSTIN Development Review (JDR) Vol. 02 Issue 02 — June 2022


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