Together apart: Mastering the art of co-parenting

The world has changed, with couples choosing come-we-stay arrangements before marriage that often do not lead to marriage.

And the alarming increase of divorce cases in Kenya according to research conducted by based on the data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), the family structure is slowly changing and shifting into something very novel.

Parents today are finding themselves having to co-parent with exes, an endeavour, which is riddled with many challenges, but that must be done for the sake of the innocent child or children born when the now-ended relationship was once working and filled with love.

We have seen personalities struggling with co-parenting before finding a healthy rhythm.

Then, on the other hand, we have fathers who have tried to co-parent, but their exes will not have any of it. 

So, what is co-parenting? According to therapist Rosa Sanau, Programme Director at Marama, co-parenting occurs when: “... there are children out of a romantic relationship that has ended, however long the relationship lasted. The end of the romantic relationship does not mark the end of parenting responsibility and the ex-couple are now faced with figuring out how to be parents even if they are no longer together,” says Sanau.

“Co-parenting is extremely hard, especially if you want nothing to do with your partner and would wish to never set eyes on them again. However, it is important to realise a parent has a significant influence on their child’s life and that children who build a healthy relationship with both parents get to adjust fairly well even if they have to face the crisis of separation or divorce.”

The best interest doctrine provides that either parent can have custody if they are best placed to give the child the best life. [iStockphoto]

Best interest of child

Sanau reiterates the core of the co-parenting relationship is in the best interest of the child. “Your children come first above your emotions, feelings, and desires with regard to the co-parenting relationship. Take the emotional high road and do what is best for your child.”

Farzana Sadik Sumra, co-founder and MD Naveah Capital Insurance agrees co-parenting is not easy.

“I have been divorced for the last three years, and for the first two years, I was raising my two sons who are currently seven alone. After my divorce, my ex and I were not in a good place, co-parenting was not possible,” she says.

“It took me going for therapy, which I advise any man or woman out there who has gone through a divorce or separation to do. Therapy helped me to forgive and let go.”

According to Farzana, anyone going through a divorce should note that first, they are not alone, and secondly, they should not be too hard on themselves as sometimes one just needs more time to heal and that is okay.

“With forgiveness, I received a peace I cannot explain because after I was able to call my ex and we met up and we had a very good and productive talk.

“I let him know there was no pressure whether financial or even emotional to be involved in our sons lives; I simply asked him to do what he could at the moment,” she says.

“Now my children have a lovely relationship with their father.

He calls them every morning before they go to school and in the evening to find out how their day is going. They also hang out.

“My big brother and younger brother have been and continue to be present and wonderful male figures in my sons’ lives, which I am grateful for. Every child should be able to have a relationship with their father if possible.”

Farzana says she and her ex are now in a good place and can easily talk.

“I had to put the needs of my children first. Children are always innocent and should not have to suffer because their parents are no longer together.”

She advises that: “Parents should remember their moods affect and reflect onto their children, so one should find a healthy avenue to vent and heal.

“Also, men should know the vital role they play in their child(ren’s) lives. Even if they are no longer with the mother of their child, they still have the responsibility to be a father. Even if you are unable to be there financially, a man should at least be present in their child’s life.”

Another example is Robert Burale, a pastor and life coach who has been successfully co-parenting his daughter, now 17, for over 10 years with his ex, says that co-parenting is not always easy, but if both parties can have mutual respect for one another they are headed in the right direction.

“Mutual respect means not emotionally dumping and speaking ill of one’s ex in front of the child you share. Co-parenting is not a competition, it is compatibility. Also, if as a parent you refuse your ex to see the child you share then the child will likely grow up bitter and will miss out on having both parents in his/her life.”

Robert Burale, further, advises co-parenting is not always easy, especially if one feels their ex hurt them.

“If you are hurt it is easy to be bitter towards your ex, but parents should remember that, firstly, a child was born as a result of intimacy and love and should not suffer when the love ends. Secondly, if you find that you are struggling with co-parenting because of bitterness and hurt then get help from the church, mentor or counsellor.”

Lastly, he advises that after a separation or divorce, counselling is good for a child or children involved, especially if as a parent you observe that your child is struggling with the change, and is withdrawn or acting out as a result.

Jackie Keya, a blended family coach, family mediator, psychologist, and counsellor advises that parents who are separated or divorced should remember that even if their love is shipwrecked, their parent ship has not wrecked.

“Just because the love ship sunk does not mean the parent ship should sink. It is unfair for parents to prevent their ex to see their child or for exes to disown their children after a relationship ends. It is important for the development of a child to still have both parents present in their life even after a break-up.”

One can opt-out of co-parenting with an ex if they have proof and realise that the other parent is a danger to the child. [iStockphoto]

Bitter parents wound children

Keya also adds that a bitter and wounded parent ends up wounding their children, and that is why she suggests that parents who are separating should find an outlet where they can talk and heal any bitterness that exists as a result of the end of a relationship.

“It is important to seek healing after a relationship, and this is achieved through finding someone emotionally mature to talk and vent to; it could be the church, a mentor, friends, a counsellor or a therapist.

“Venting is very important - it helps with healing, but never ever vent in front of an innocent child - it is cruel to the child because the parent you are smearing is half their DNA, and so what are you saying about your child or children? Once there is healing and forgiveness, it goes a long way in helping with co-parenting,” she says.

Jackie, however, warns that although co-parenting is the ideal, it may not always be possible.

“One can opt-out of co-parenting with an ex if they have proof and realise that the other parent is a danger to the child. Also, it is not possible to co-parent with an ex who has chosen not to be a present parent to their child.”

In line with this, Rosa Sanau, Programme Director at Marama Therapy, says where an ex is not interested in co-parenting, the present parent should help their child or children deal with the feeling of rejection and abandonment.

“Help them see that the indifference has to do with what is happening inside the parent and not a reflection of the child’s shortcoming or worth,” she says.

“Do not bad mouth your ex even if they are absent from the child’s life. Hearing this will make the child feel worse. Work on fostering a good relationship with them and reassure them of your love and commitment.

“A healthy relationship with you can help buffer them from the trauma of rejection. Build other secure social support networks around the child. The more the better. Work on building your child’s self-esteem.”