BY MPHO KUHLMANN
Almost every Motswana has a friend or a relative whose romantic relationship that involve children has ended and the estranged couple is grappling with how to raise the children.
Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at university of Botswana recommends co-parenting which she says “ at its best, is a wonderful opportunity for children of divorce to have close to equal access to both parents ÔÇô to feel it is okay to love both of their parents. Keep in mind that when you co-parent, communicating with your former spouse is going to be necessary for the length of your children’s childhood into young adulthood. This may include special events, graduations ÔÇô and perhaps even weddings. It’s important to keep clear boundaries so that your children wouldn’t harbor fantasies that you will reconcile. For the most part, this means less personal sharing and focusing on exchanging information and cooperation so you can make good decisions about your children. Let’s face it, communication with your ex is key to successful co-parenting. It’s a good idea to sit down with your ex and come up with a few strategies to encourage your children to cooperate with their “parenting time” schedule. Most importantly, it’s crucial that your children see that you and your former spouse are working together for their well-being.”
With Botswana rocked by the escalating divorce rate, the definition of family has changed in recent years, now co-parenting is rewriting it completely. Divorced couples have relationships based on legal agreements and counseling rather than dates, romance and sex. But they all have one thing in common: the desire to take care of their children.
A lot of single and divorced couples commit to each other as co-parents and romance is not part of the deal. Millennial parents are migrating from a traditional, nuclear family to platonic, non-romantic parental relationships. “Team-oriented” individuals, departing from conventional gender roles, drive this kind of parenting; many couples today continue to share the responsibility of raising children either without ever being married or after a divorce or separation.
Pontsho Leagilwe at Por Vida Counselling services says “Co-parenting, sometimes called joint parenting or shared parenting, is the experience of raising children as a single parent when separation or divorce occurs. Often a difficult process, co-parenting is greatly influenced by the reciprocal interactions of each parent. So, if you’re parenting in a healthy way but your ex isn’t, your children will be at risk for developmental problems. Same goes if you’re being too permissive and your ex is too stern. Co-parenting requires empathy, patience and open communication for success. Not an easy thing to achieve for couples who’ve encountered marital issues. However, placing the sole focus on your children can be a great way of helping to make co-parenting a positive experience.”
For a long time, sex outside of marriage was stigmatizedÔÇöespecially for women, now, not so much. Single parenting still carries some stigma but not nearly as much as it once did. When couples first began living together without getting married first, the practice was described as “living in sin.” Now cohabitation is utterly ordinary and elicits little moral condemnation, co-parenting isn’t having as much a shock value too. Co-parenting is also a new family form that begins with single people who very much want to have children, but do not want to be single parents. Some want to find a romantic partner, but get tired of waiting. Others aren’t interested in being part of a romantic couple. Either way, these single people take a bold new step: They look for someone to commit to parenting with them, for at least as long as it takes for their children to reach adulthood. A romantic relationship is not part of the package. In some ways, co-parenting has been around for a long time. For example, when a couple separates and start talking about legal custody, they become co-parents. They must raise their children together but they no longer share any other links aside from their children. Co-parenting is a new way to be mothers and fathers without having any other link besides the desire to raise a child and make that child happy.
Leruo Botsang who works at Botho University says when you have kids with someone and you break up with them, you’re never really done. “When you’re ready to be done with your ex, you’re not. You’ve got years of parenting together so you’re still in a relationship. You still have to communicate, manage your emotions and agree on many details in their future. So, just as with a family member you don’t necessarily get along with, you’ve got to figure it out. You will be dealing with each other. You’ll get to practice good communication, good boundaries and patience as you forge ahead. You’ll need to develop some good coping skills.”
Millineal parents are now seeing “providing” in much wider terms than just finances. New parents are much more likely to see themselves as a team if they can move away from labels such as “breadwinner” and “stay at home mum or dad” and can see themselves as providing together for the family – whether that is love, care, support, engagement, space or finances.
Tshepang Gaobuse from Global Printers in Gaborone says “I think it’s best to understand that co-parenting isn’t for everyone. Your children’s two parents are their everything. Both of you are their idols, the people they look up to and revere. It’s confusing and hurtful to children to have you each bad-mouthing the other one. Believe in your heart that, underneath the damage of the divorce, your ex wants what’s best for your children. And he/ she loves your children very much. Communicate that to your children with your words and actions. Bite your tongue before you say unkind, angry words about your ex. It’s just not a good habit and your kids suffer from it.”