Co-parenting: How will a divorce impact children?

For children, divorce can be an especially sad, stressful, and confusing time. / Net photo

In one of his sermons, Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church referred to divorce as the ‘ripping away of souls’ and that this is why it is so detrimental.

He said that when people are married, they are connected emotionally, physically and mentally.

“That’s why divorce is the worst death to ever have, its worse than actual death, it’s a perpetual death. Because every time you see that other person, it’s a resurrection of your emotions, you have to talk about finances, alimony and kids,” he said.

These effects ripple through families for when parents separate (or were not together in the first place), concerns definitely arise, especially with raising kids together as a broken family.

The fights and emotional drainage that come with child custody arrangements take a toll on both parents and children.

Pastor Charles Niyongere of the Anglican Church says parenting children as a separated couple has many effects both on children and the family at large.

A child is to be raised by both parents because they need affection and someone they can talk to when they have a problem. When parents separate and children stay with either the father or mother, and when in lack of something, children might think it’s because they are not with either of their parents, Niyongere says.

The other significant aspect the pastor notes is that when parents separate in most cases, you find that the grievances that made them separate continue pressing on how they parent their children after separation.

“The one who has kids continues to show that it’s the other who made mistakes and sometimes they give the kids an impression that the other parent abandoned them,” he says.

This, he explains, gets to the children and affects them psychologically. You find that when they grow up and are ready to build families of their own, these effects manifest in their own relationships.

Counsellor Jessica Kayitesi says children learn how to be in relationships by their own relationship with their parents and that child custody takes a toll on this.

The quality of relationships children have with their parents in this form of arrangement is affected.

Parents who raise their kids this way find it hard to balance the ability to focus on the needs of children in equal measure, she says.

Kayitesi believes that such arrangements at times drive the couple even farther apart because of the differences that tend to rise on how both parties want to bring up their children, and this, she says, affects the family even more.

“This is why children in this state tend to suffer from depression and at times turn violent.”

The counsellor notes that child custody at times puts children in hard positions because they are in most cases torn between choosing a parent.

Whatever choices made and suggestions brought up among the family, at times children tend to face a divided loyalty because of the need to want to please both parents, she notes.

Mediation over the courtroom

Mediator and author Kate Figes notes that it’s a sad fact that when couples separate or divorce, they are usually very angry and unhappy and, therefore, not quite in their right mind. Evidence suggests that if a divorce is handled calmly it’s better for the children and for the health of the next relationship. But all too often, people are so full of blame and the need for retribution that they rush to a lawyer in the hope that they will ‘win’.

Nobody wins in divorce. Handing decisions over your finances and childcare arrangements to a judge who doesn’t know you, is not necessarily in your best interests, she highlights.

But what mediation can do is help everybody lose less, and, importantly, minimise distress for the children. Instead of going to separate lawyers who have a tendency to crank up the acrimony and the cost, couples in mediation settle and sort out their future co-parenting relationship together, in the same room with a mediator. It’s quicker and cheaper, Figes notes.

How parents can make this work

Niyongere is of the view that couples should endeavour to respect each other above all else, noting that when one looks closely at most marriages that end in divorce, you find that all issues stem from lack of respect.

Kayitesi is of the view that when parents separate, both should make it a point to have a continued involvement in their children’s lives.

She calls onto husbands to continue playing their roles of fathering, blaming those who tend to disappear from their family’s lives after divorce.

“The same goes for mothers, though this is not common, but at times, when women remarry they tend to focus more on their new family. Both parents need to understand that children are affected by the absence of their parents in life,” she advises.

The counsellor recommends shared custody over full custody. Full custody is where one parent receives a majority of the custody time and legal rights regarding the child, whereas joint custody is where the parents split physical custody of the child. They may alternate time periods in which the child is spending with one parent.

She endorses the latter arguing that it enables both parties to share responsibilities equally, including parenting rights and time spent with the kids.

This form of parenting, however, requires parents to maintain a healthy relationship with each other. And also be in position to cooperate with one another, maintain clear communications and most importantly, set clear rules on how best they should go about parenting their children even when they have decided to both move on with their lives, the counsellor says.

Figes counsels parents dealing with child custody to take into account that their relationship may be over but their relationship as co-parents will go on for the rest of their lives. And that they have the opportunity to make that experience as good as it can possibly be for their children.

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HOW CAN PARENTS RAISE KIDS AFTER SEPARATION?

There is need to be strategic. Have a schedule that both parents agree to follow and also decide on things like ways of disciplining and rewarding their children.

Laban Bizimungu, Teller

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Parents should make it a point not to talk negatively about the other to their children or even in their presence. This can make children lose respect for them or even end up hating a parent.

Yves Ujeneza, Entrepreneur

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Parents need to first adjust to this change, they need to accept that their marriage is over and not keep grudges. This way, they will help their children adjust smoothly into this new arrangement.

Yvonne Nirere, Shop attendant

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Look out for the best interests of the children first. At times, the pain parents experience during the divorce makes them self-centred and act based on feelings but this is not right. Parents need to have the right perspective and know that what is best for the kids should come first.

Aisha Kobusingye, Mother

editorial@newtimesrwanda.com

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