Since 1901

Co-parenting with a toxic ex is nearly impossible


In the African traditional setup, a child always identified with the parent that raised them irrespective of whether they were their biological one. When a man married a single mother then, he automatically assumed the role of father to the children, trying as much as possible not to make it known to them that they were not his.  

With the exception of a few communities, this was usually the norm in most societies. There were instances where this strategy failed, but such cases were rare and far-spaced. Currently, we find ourselves at crossroads for wanting to emulate the Western culture whilst at the same time sticking to our traditions. We belong to a generation where children identify with their biological parents, irrespective of the parents that are raising them. The estranged parent, in most cases the father, has visitation rights and takes goodies to his own when he visits.

However, unlike in the West, where couples can sit with their exes and have a decent meal with all their children, such scenarios are unheard of in our setting.  Estranged couples act like sworn enemies, a seething volcano waiting to erupt, and the child who was once a symbol of love is tossed silently back and forth between the two parties.

The current partners, bereft of trust, enjoy this disunity for as long as these fences are left broken, they are assured of permanency in their budding relationships. The African culture further complicates any amicable solutions with subtle sayings about how two cockerels cannot be cooked in one pot or how two men who have shared a cookie cannot eat from the same plate of ugali.

And so we find ourselves in a maze as we try to find a balance between the old and the new. While we want our children to maintain relationships with their biological parents, we fail to iron out differences and give each other the much-needed closure.

The result of this is a discordant family where parents have no control over their children. The step-parent adopts a laissez-faire attitude with the stepchildren while the estranged biological parent makes up for their absence by lavishing the child with goodies. The child finds themselves at a vantage position where they can use this disharmony to gain from either parent.

Because they know mum and dad are not on talking terms, they can lie to both and get away with it. The older children use such opportunities to get money from both parties whilst the younger ones know what fables to tell to earn them extra ice cream.

Back home, the new partner focuses more on their biological children and not the step-child they are partly responsible for. They may pay the fee and feed them, but they will deny them emotional support.

They are wary of disciplining their stepchildren because they are avoiding any issues with their parents. Instead of a child thriving from having two sets of parents, they end up deprived of emotional support from either side, as each side fights their battle to remain relevant.

There is no middle ground when it comes to raising children in blended families. We are either going the Western way, where both sets of couples will agree to put their differences aside, sit together and agree on how best to bring up the children; or we stick to our ways where a child had no business knowing who sired them and fully embraced the mothers and fathers who fed them and under whose roofs they found protection.