Keza (not real name) has struggled with the fact that she has always been the black sheep in her family for almost her entire life.
She was quiet and always had poor grades. She was constantly picked on by her siblings who made her feel out of place and this made her grow into an extremely introverted person.
“I was reprimanded for being too quiet, too short, moody and sullen and was constantly bullied by my siblings. The fact that I always brought home poor grades yet my sisters managed to excel made me a total leper in the family,” Keza narrates.
Keza might not be the only one who has the ‘black sheep’ tag on her. Black sheep is an idiom used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a group, especially within a family.
It’s a fact that most families in any society have a black sheep, that person who for one reason or another is different from the others in some way.
That person could be the rebel who never obeys household rules, it could be the dark toned one in a family of people who have a light skin complexion or one who possesses a reserved personality.
But how do parents deal with such and make sure that their child fits in well with the others?
Robinah Ziwa, a religious leader and a counselor, says that the best way to deal with the family’s black sheep is to simply be a family member to them and understand that family comes first regardless of certain circumstances.
She says that if such a child in the family is pushed to the wall because of their unique personality they might develop an inner fear and self-consciousness.
“Members of the family should always make an effort to make such a child fit in the family because it’s not always their fault that they are the way they are. Reach out to them and try to understand them as this will in some way make them feel cared for,” Ziwa says.
Bring the black sheep a little closer to the fold and keep strong connection with them, as this will make them feel part of the family.
“Love conquers all and regardless of the situation, it can always be an answer. While dealing with such a child, you should lead with love and reach out to them to show them a clear path on how they can change,” she adds.
Parents, on the other hand, should not have favouritism but, instead, love all their kids equally.
“Some parents ignore such a child and sometimes hurl insults at them. However, this is only destructive because you never know how your children will turn out, the outcast can turn out more of a blessing than the others in the future,” Ziwa says.
Jessica Kayitesi, a youth counsellor, says that dealing with a black sheep not only calls for eminent sacrifice but prayers too.
She counsels the children who turn out to be black sheep to try and stand up for themselves and show their families that, regardless of their odd character, they possess a great personality.
“One should try to accept who they are and, in the process, the family will do the same. It is hard to change what others think of you, especially when it’s family but what’s possible is changing how we view ourselves.
“Trying not to think too deeply about how you’re the odd man out in the family can help one focus on the quality time they actually have with their family. You can also, on the other hand, try sharing your life with the people who make you feel cherished; for example, friends who understand and accept you as you are,” Kayitesi counsels.
According to Lollie Barr, the author of ‘Dealing with the black sheep in the family’, being a black sheep is a scenario many humans can relate to.
In her article, Joanne Corrigan, a clinical psychologist, says that to really understand what makes a black sheep tick, you need to look closely at the living, breathing organism that is the family system.
“Rather than simply blame the black sheep for being “different”, “difficult”, “moody” or “lazy”, we should focus on possible factors at play, such as gender, birth order, the relationship between the parents, and the relationship the black sheep and their parents or siblings have,” she is quoted.
“Black sheep often act out in problematic ways, but it comes from the emotional processes within the family. We all come from a family system where there is generally underlying tension, anxiety and dysfunction that is played out across generations. That is why family therapy is so useful when understanding an individual’s problems. You have to look deeper than just the individual.”
“Therapy can help make you aware of your behaviour and understand what your emotional triggers are. You have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I emotionally reacting?’, and once you understand and process the emotional reaction, instead of immediately reacting to it, it gives you a chance to have a rational response.”
Kagisha (not real name) has always been different from her siblings. From her appearance to her behaviour, every inch is an image of only her, and this gives her a sense of insecurity because every one notices her “oddness”.
“Right from childhood, I have always been the different one, either with character or something else. Like right now all my siblings are employed and I am the only one without a job. It used to bother me a lot but I have outgrown it,” she says.
Kagisha says the fact that her family has always tried to help her blend in has done a lot to boost her self-esteem and it has helped her feel like part of the family, regardless of the obvious differences she has.
For Sara Mbabazi, the black sheep in her family is her brother who has always done the exact opposite of what their parents required of them.
“Our family has strict rules since we are staunch Christians and things like drinking or smoking are unheard of but this is exactly what he does,” Mbabazi says.
She, however, says that regardless of their brother’s rebellious behaviour, they make it a point to be there for him because if he is pushed too hard, he could end up losing it all together and become even worse.
Being the black sheep or ‘problem child’ in a family can really take a toll on one’s self-worth.
However, with the few guidelines from family experts and counselors, a guiding light can be finally attained.
How can family deal with the black sheep?
As many people put it, this is a member of a family who is considered odd or infamous; which to me is a bad label to put on someone. It’s obvious that sometimes we expect a lot from people and once they don’t meet our expectations, we end up giving them certain labels. In my opinion, the best way to deal with such family members is to change how we refer to them; that is changing our attitude towards them. This, eventually, empowers them to change their ways and work on their self-esteem.
Sylvia Nanyonga, fashion designer
Sometimes people mistake this ancient idiom to be entirely negative. Sometimes this particular member of the family is merely doing something different. For example, if all the family members are doctors, and he/she is a sales person, this makes one a black sheep of the family, but not in a negative way. Families should endeavour to appreciate and embrace the positive attributes of some of their family members, and give them credit where it’s due.
Justine K, student
Communication is key. It’s important to establish an effective way of communication with that particular family member. This, eventually, helps that person to interact freely without feeling out of place or ignored. It is through this kind of interaction that you get to know which problem that person is facing or how they can be helped to embrace the standards of others.
Alice Umulisa, student
What people have to know is that nobody enjoys being called the black sheep of the family; it’s frustrating, and makes a person feel less important around their loved ones. So it’s important to take time to understand how such people who are labelled different live their lives, and what exactly makes them feel or act the way that they do. The best way to deal with such family members is to give them attention, mentor them, and make them feel like they are part of the family, because they are, regardless of their behaviour.
Chantal Ingabire, assistant administrator