Cohabiting is a small but growing way of life in many countries. Families have changed in the last several decades.
Instead of getting married, many people are living together or ‘cohabiting’.
In rare cases, some of these cohabitating couples eventually get married whilst in many cases most of them break up.
When growing up, I was surrounded by most adults who were married and staying with their spouses, never had I thought there was something like cohabitation.
However, it was there in my home village, just that I had always thought a couple living together was married. It occurred mostly to the less privileged who to my own analysis thought by living together with their boyfriends and girlfriends will reduce some of the household costs through cost sharing.
One of the reasons why I never thought it existed is that the cohabitants had children and stayed with them and to me as a child it looked like one big married family life like mine.
I take it they were also of the belief that if a cohabiting couple has children together, then they must be committed and stable. That is not always the case though.
It so happened that one day, one of the cohabitants realised the girlfriend was cheating on him. It was a Saturday morning at a shebeen not very far from home.
Insults were being hurled at one another; the man narrated how he found the girl and took her in with the hope of turning her into a wife one day. He asserted that had he not brought her in, she would have died of hunger and this is how she re-paid him. What was painful was the fact that these two had children together and all along the man stressed the point that she would see how to fend for her children. He ignored the fact that he was also talking about his own children and one wondered what was going to happen to the poor children.
A situation like this one happens all over the world, where there are thousands and thousands of children born to cohabiting couples and out of these only a few will remain with both parents throughout their childhood and possibly adulthood. These children will also in most cases experience a series of disruptions in their family life, which can either have negative consequences for their emotional and educational development. Most of these children’s education suffer, mostly boys who will leave school to find jobs so as to be able to fend for their families.
They also in most cases suffer from emotional problems than children of married couples.
If there are problems resulting from the instability of cohabitation, this may affect the mother’s capacity to give adequate attention to children, and contribute to general neglect.
In addition, the children suffer financially. When it comes to a break up, other than in married couples, children from cohabiting families are unlikely to receive support from their fathers. That is so because you will find that unmarried fathers, even those cohabiting with their children’s mother, do not automatically have the same parental rights as married or divorced fathers. If their parents break up, children born to cohabiting couples are less likely than children of divorced parents to maintain contact with their fathers. Moreover, any economic advantage from cohabitation is often short-term because of the fragility of these unions.
Furthermore, cohabiting for most children means a greater risk of living within an unstable family structure, especially when their mother cohabits with a man who is not their father. Some families even face a situation whereby there are a series of partners over the years.
Physical abuse is also more likely and young children in cohabiting relationships are more likely to be injured or killed by their mother’s live-in boyfriend than in biological families.
Whilst cohabitation may be built on positive grounds, parents should always be ready for any outcome that may arise. Mothers should not leave full responsibilities to their partners in case the living together ends abruptly; it should be a 50/50 responsibility take.