Thursday, March 4, 2021

The woes of co-parenting

In African communities, there’s a saying that it takes a village to raise a child. For a long time, the duty of caring for and moulding a child has been a collective effort, with disciplinary, love and support roles rendered by parents, grandparents, siblings, relatives and members of the community.

In the modern era, things are a bit different. The advent of independence and vulgar materialism has birthed competition, envy, suspicion and a reserved nature among people in communities. Raising a child is now a solely nuclear family duty.

Different situations also abound and with break-ups and divorces more common, the demanding task of raising a child can become complex. In the past two decades, there has been a rise in the number of co-parenting situations.

Co-parenting is often defined as a parenting situation where the parents are not in a marriage. They are either in cohabitation or in a purely romantic relationship. In such a case, both parents still seek to maintain equal responsibility for the child’s upbringing.

Take the case of single father Pheto Pheto*,38, a single father of two daughters aged ten and eight. These two “apples of his eyes” are the product of a long-term romantic relationship with his university sweetheart.

They got married a few months after their first child was born. Things spiraled out of control when the mother of his children went into a hell hole of depression and alcoholism.

“At first I thought it was post-natal depression but when she started leaving the children alone to go to bars, I knew that we were headed for a big problem,” he explains.

“Sometimes I would come home to find her as drunk as a skunk with the children crying with hunger. I eventually dragged her to a psychiatric hospital rehabilitation facility for her to get help. I was left holding a small baby without the faintest idea of how to even change a nappy. I employed an elderly live-in maid who became my saviour. It wasn’t easy. I became a hands-on father and my dating and social lives took a back seat. Luckily, a year later my widowed mother volunteered to move in with us to assist. I have a good support network from her, my helper, friends, colleagues, siblings and girlfriend,” he says.

Six years ago he filed for divorce which was granted a few months later. It was easy to gain custody of the two children as they had been living with him.

“My ex-wife wasn’t the kind of mother I envisioned for my children. She was troubled and it probably was beyond her control but it was likely to affect the children.”

The mother visits the girls every other weekend. “I love her as the mother of my children but she doesn’t come and go as she pleases in my yard. We have ground rules and keep communication channels open.”

Contrary to common perception, Botswana law says paying maintenance is not a fatherly expectation but the duty of both parents.

In that sense does the mother of Pheto’s children chip in financially?

“I wouldn’t say she pays maintenance. She does buy the girls stuff and takes them on outings. The greater bulk of the financial responsibility is on me; I cover their fees and basic necessities. I can afford it so I’m not complaining,” he says.

Another co-parenting arrangement, which is perhaps more common is between former lovers.
Tshidi had a child at age 17 with a man who luckily, unlike with the case of many of her contemporaries, didn’t deny paternity or “get hit by a train”.

“Although our relations soured ages ago, he is involved in his child’s life. Women shouldn’t deny children relationships with their fathers just because things didn’t pan out as desired,” says the now 28-year-old human resource assistant.

The source of arguments between the two has only been money. “He thought I wanted to sponge off him. I dragged him to court and he was ordered to pay a certain amount monthly, which he does,” she says.
Unmarried Tshidi still lives at her parents’ home. “Family is my rock. My son loves his grandparents and uncles. Blood is thicker than water.”

So was it easy it to form a civil relationship with her baby-daddy (father of her child)?
“At first I resented him. I however realized it isn’t about me but the child. I’m definitely not the crazy baby-mama harping after him,” she says with a laugh.

On his help website, psychologist and well-known television personality Dr Phil points out that co-parenting with an ex can be difficult, especially when negative emotions are involved or you never want to see your former flame again.
He advices parents to make sacrifices as it’s destructive to thrust children in the middle of an emotional crossfire.

“You wanted children and now you have them. The fact that the relationship didn’t work out is unfortunate, but it’s not their fault.”

Dr Phil asserts that parents should never sabotage the child’s relationship with the other parent, never use the child as pawns to get back at an ex, use a child to gain information or manipulate an ex, never transfer feelings of hurt and frustration towards an ex on the child, never force the child to take sides or depend on the child for companionship.

“It’s important never to burden the child with situations they can’t control or make children with adult issues,” he states.

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