Parenting comes with its struggles seeing that we all have our own parenting styles. However, co-parenting presents a new difficulty since it is done in two different homes and yet the two parents ought to make it work for the sake of the children’s well-being. Despite the hurdles it presents, here is how to go about it.
Do not use children as a bargaining chip. Annette Kirabira, the executive director of Rahab Uganda, says it takes a lot of maturity to do this. “One may use the children against another to get what they need or make them feel guilty. However, it is advisable to leave children out of adult conflicts because at the end of the day, the children end up hurting for something they did not start,” she advises.
It will also help not to use children as messengers of your feelings. “If you have something to tell your partner, it is better to say it to them directly, rather than through a child. Apart from sometimes putting across the message wrongly, they will witness negative feelings from either the sender or recipient. That will cause them to pick sides, something that is damaging and passes on until adulthood,” Saphirah Nahabwe Twesigye, a counsellor, says.
There is a temptation to want the child to side with you, something that sometimes creeps on people. “The solution is to find a confidant with whom to share your emotions. This is because it takes a lot of emotional strength to look out for the best of the children without allowing your emotions to cloud your judgment, more so when going through a divorce. Therefore, managing your psychological and emotional wellbeing is important,” Kirabira, a counselling psychologist says.
Even though the emotions may still be raging, after the divorce, Rita Kimuli, a divorced mother, urges others to make it a point that positive talk reigns around the house. “Your children may use disrespectful talk about your partner to get something from you. However, make it clear to them that disrespecting your ex is not acceptable by say, a frown,” she advises.
Do not over appease, spoil or pamper the children as a way to ensure they do not feel blamed for the divorce. “A child thrives with stability. Therefore, a laid out set of rules is necessary and these should be the same in both homes to avoid confusion. To them, you are their mother or father, so do not confuse them by trying to lax a bit, say on time for meals, homework as a way to show them you are the best,” Kirabira shares.
That said, Edward Wamala, a divorced father, warns other parents about the need to be firm. “Despite the set rules and boundaries, children tend to test you, more so when they think they can get something from one of you they would not ordinarily get, say a trip to the cinema rather than wash dishes when you are also in need of a breather. That is why a united front is important in this parenting,” he advises.
Twesigye also advises parents to put their differences aside and keep communicating about the children as that is the only way they will protect them emotionally and psychologically. “That is because in Africa, when divorce happens, daggers are drawn,” she says.
A child cannot live in all homes during the week as anything erratic destabilises them. ”It will be better if a timetable is made of where they will be, say at the weekend and the week or during school days and holidays. Consistency is key here,” Kirabira mentions.
Twesigye urges these parents to support each other and agree rather than one dictating regarding decisions that affect the children. “For example, the school the children will go to as some tend to take the children to schools another cannot access. That is being a role model to them intimating to them that disagreeing does not mean hatred,” she says.
Seeing that the setting at home has changed, it is only right to tell the children about what is happening. “While the parents may want to shield them from pain, it is better to allow them to know so that they process the pain. Nonetheless, provide them with age appropriate information about the divorce. If they are young, it is wise to tell them as they grow older,” Kirabira advises. She adds that whenever the children get to know, parents should be ready to answer questions as well as prepare for the emotions.
If either parent has moved on into another relationship, transparency is important. “That is because they will not be able to fully care for the children if the new spouse is not in the know about all the standing arrangements,” Kirabira says.
Benefits of co-parenting for your children
Children whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship:
• Feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, children adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and new living situations, and have better self-esteem.
• Benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what is expected of them.
• Better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
• Have a healthy example to follow. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future to build and maintain stronger relationships.