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Living apart, parenting together: The art of co-parenting

Readers Lounge By Shirley Genga

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In the last 20 or so years parenting as we once knew it has evolved and morphed into something new altogether. While in the past, it was more common to find that parenting involved a man and a woman married and living together under the same roof, bringing up their children, that is no longer always the case.

A parenting trend beginning to become common is parents raising their children together, but from separate homes. It is either they got divorced or separated, or they were not married to begin with.

The idea may not be new, but what it's called may be. Otherwise known as joint or shared parenting, this experience is now more commonly referred to as co-parenting. The term has begun to rear its head in social platforms about town, and is a trend not only spreading on the global stage, but is right here in our own backyard.

A fact being fuelled by a number of reasons that include unprecedented rise in divorce rates, as highlighted by a study done by Daystar University in 2018. Another reason is lifestyle changes where couples are choosing to "come-we-stay" to see if the relationship works before deciding to get married. As a result, when marriage or relationships end, children are caught up in the crossfire.

Parents today are finding themselves unprepared as they have to navigate unchartered waters.

Maureen Karanja is a businesswoman trying to co-parent three children with her husband whom she separated from five years ago.

"It has been a difficult process; coming up with a consistent schedule that will enable our kids spend adequate time with either of us. We originally had agreed that the kids would stay with me during the school term and then during the holidays with him, but he is often unavailable during the holidays and can only be reached on phone," she explains adding that it is frustrating that when the children are with their father, she is not able to control who they see or what they are allowed or not allowed to do.

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Maranga and his ex-wife started co-parenting five years ago (Photo: Courtesy)

Another is Amani Maranga, a communication expert who runs the podcast, Living Truthfully, where he talks about relationships but from a man's perspective. Maranga narrates that he started co-parenting with his ex-wife five years ago, but has found a rhythm that works for them both.

"I was married for seven years before my marriage ended, we have two children. We both wanted the best for our children and have a similar parenting philosophy. What really helped my ex and I come up with a shared philosophy was a church-based programme called Lea that we did earlier on in our marriage. This has helped us be on the same page when it comes to parenting, so the kids are not confused when they are with me or her,” says Amani.

Not a weapon

He then advises that successful co-parenting is all about being selfless, and putting your child’s needs before your own.

“People need to remember children are not a part of marriage but a product. Children should not be used as a weapon against either parents. When a parent is not able to put their personal feelings for their ex aside for the welfare of their child, that is selfishness. Plus, you end up hurting your child because they are a part of your ex whether you are together or not,” Amani says.

He adds that parents who are co-parenting should remember that no one size fits all. “They should come up with an arrangement that fits them both but should not copy how other people are doing it as it may not work for their unique situation.”

Joan and her ex co-parent their son with the help of a Parental Responsibility Agreement (Photo: Courtesy)

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Not always easy

When it comes to challenges of co-parenting, Joan says there are a number. “Every day is different; there is no real rule book and so we take it one day at a time. An example of a challenge is, it can be awkward sometimes relating with someone who you used to be very close and intimate with. There are many boundaries that need to be established to ensure that no one ever crosses any inappropriate lines,” she says.

Another challenge, Joan adds, can be the partners who come into a situation where co-parenting is taking place -- in her case, her husband or her ex’s wife. “They need to understand and be comfortable with the fact that my ex and I still need to continue relating for the sake of our son. With openness and honesty in the relationship, one can ensure that their partner is comfortable. My husband is very secure and understands why I am co-parenting and supports me through it,” she says.

Joan adds that another challenge can be ensuring that the child understands his/her unique situation and doesn’t ever feel confused. “This is especially so when my son’s friends ask him why he has two dads and he has to explain. My son is very sharp and we have done our best to be truthful with him about the whole thing, and so, thankfully, he is okay,” she says.

But things are not always so simple. “Some days, he has more questions and we have to answer. One last challenge can be if things are done differently in the two separate homes that the child stays in, it can confuse the child. For us, we try to standardise how we do certain things such as bed times, discipline, diet etc. so that there is not a huge difference when he is with us and is at his father’s home,” she says.

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