First there was parenting - now co-parenting



Two home addresses, two bedrooms and even two sets of parents - this is the life that some children of divorce will have to get used to.

To some it may sound glamorous, but there many facets involved. For starters, there is often a lot of bitterness between parents after a separation, and it's all too easy to let the kids get caught in the middle. At times they are used as tools to spite the other parent.

In some Western countries divorced parents have practised shared parenting for decades, meaning that mother and father each spend equal time with their children, as opposed to one parent being granted sole custody.

However, in South Africa, co-parenting has been happening for just over a year with the backing of the judicial system.

But there are couples - with recommendation from professionals such as psychologists - who have been playing an active role in bringing up their children in this manner for about three years.

Coming from a stifling system which entrusted only the maternal parent with the sole responsibility of bringing up the children after a divorce, this is viewed as ground-breaking and even with suspicion by some.

But for family and paediatric psychologist Dr Pieter Kitshoff, who has been at the helm of introducing co-parenting in the country and is still heavily involved, this is the best thing that has ever happened to children after separation.

He is very passionate about the issues surrounding co-parenting and quotes many cases where it has worked effectively for parents as well as children.

"When we talk of joint custody, people get the wrong message and think it is about the father's rights.

"In the old days we had sole custody which gave preference to mothers and created a power struggle, as the mother would brandish her power, using the children.

"The notion that fathers suddenly have rights is also not correct. This is not about them, but about the children."

He demonstrates, using diagrams, how - when the marriage crumbles and ends the association of two people - their responsibilities towards their children still remain.

Johannesburg lawyer and divorced father of two children, David Lipshitz, shares Kitshoff's sentiments.

On his days with the children, he rushes home at about 5pm.

He swops his suit for comfortable clothes and plays with his kids, then tucks them in at night. He takes full responsibility and the children do not miss out on normal kiddie stuff just because they are staying with their daddy.

"This arrangement is about the changing of the mindset from the belief that the woman is the only person capable of nurturing and looking after a child.

"Kids need a mother and a father and if parents are prepared to co-operate and put the past behind, and make sure that their children's needs are met, co-parenting works."

He has been an active co-parent for more than two years and believes his children have benefited a lot from it, and that going from house to house has not had a negative impact on their growth.

"I've observed that single mums run themselves ragged instead of enjoying being parents by sharing parenthood.

"The report I get from school about is that they are well behaved, there is no anxiety and they cope well.

"Last year my son was a year young for grade 1 and was in the top three in his class."

Courts do not just reach a decision to grant both parents equal access to their children without doing prior checks, explains Kitshoff.

He also points out that every situation is different.

In cases where parents do not live in the same city, it is impossible to apply co-parenting. Also, in cases where the kids are younger than two years, sleepovers at their father's homes are not advisable.

"From the constitutional point of view, it is the best thing to have happened to children and their parents. According to the constitution, the same principle must apply to both mother and father and we cannot discriminate against any parent.

"At the end of the day they both have a role to play in their children's lives," says Kitshoff.

"Fathers get to be more involved in their children's lives and mothers get to do more to improve their own lives and take up hobbies because there is another person taking responsibility.

"You still get fathers who only want to see their children over week-ends and we tell them that is not enough, that they need to take more responsibility for their children.

"Some even complain about too much time, but generally the feedback has been amazing."

Kitzoff says that in cases where one of the parents is not fit to look after the children, the courts will grant the other, responsible one, sole custody.

However, educational psychologist, Thembisa Sibiya is reluctant to back co-parenting.

She says it is a myth that children who are brought up by both parents turn out to be better behaved than those parented by single mothers or dads.

It might not necessarily be in the interests of the child to be moved around from parent to parent and might create problems, especially in situations where each parent is trying to outdo the other.

"The moving of kids around from parent to parent affects the children's stability.

"One way or another the child will start comparing sides, especially in situations where one parent goes out of his or her way to prove to be the perfect parent," says Sibiya.

"They end up spoiling the child by buying them things. The child interprets that as love.

"I've had many cases where a child would say he hates his mother because she does not buy him as much stuff as his dad does."

Sibiya says she has come to the conclusion that in situations where parents put aside their agendas and communicate well, co-parenting can be managed.

"Both parents must sit down and discuss the decision to co-parent and genuinely have the interest of the kids at heart.

From IOL
By Aurelia Dyantyi

Posted by CoParenting

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"I don't think of all the misery but of the beauty that still remains." - Anne Frank