Imperfect childhood

A young man recounts how it feels to be raised by different relatives.
homeless teen A young man recounts how it feels to be raised by different relatives.
Image: 123RF/Ian Allenden

Not many people can proudly raise their hands and, without batting an eyelid, vouch for a perfect childhood.

Among some of the unfavourable conditions that a child faces when they grow up is the instability of not having a home they can call their own, and having to spend their childhood with relatives.

This could be for various reasons, ranging from an absent parent to the death of their parents.

Some families see fit to share the responsibilities of raising children left destitute through death or absent parenting. Although there may be good intentions for these decisions, going from one home to another can often have lasting effects on the pysche of these children, who may grow up to be affected adults.

Such is the case with *Ntwaagae, who turns 27 this year. He works in the security field in Randburg, Johannesburg.

In his childhood he was moved between six homes.

He says while he is grateful that some family members took him in when his mother, who was a single parent, died in the 1990s, he continues to struggle forming attachments to anyone to this day, including his wife of two years.

He says that when growing up he often overheard family members complaining when they thought he was not within hearing distance about how they could not cope financially because of him.

Within a few months, he would be shipped off to another family member.

“I just felt like a burden. I did not have a sense of belonging, and would sometimes be made to feel like I don’t belong,” he says.

“Certain things were just hard for me as a kid, like cousins being given preferential treatment or being bought certain things that I wasn’t. It was hard. Most of the times I just wished my mother was still around.”

Ntwaagae does not have a matric qualification. He attributes this to having to change schools. He lost interest in school.

When he was in Grade 11, his aunt asked him to find work to assist financially at home. He found a job as a security officer.

“This affected me so much, that when I met my wife, I did not believe that she truly loved me. I kept waiting for her to turn on me. It just wouldn’t sink in that someone could love you unconditionally without changing their mind or wanting anything in return.

“I don’t think that my family went out of their way to ill-treat me, but I am of the strong opinion that some people cannot treat a child who’s not biologically theirs as their own.

“Most of the times they think we cannot see these differences as children, but trust me, we can feel them.”