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March 2021 1st edition

Co-parenting is key for child growth

Written by Dale Hes

When parents are not in a relationship, they need to put their child’s interests above any negative feelings they may have for each other. 

For children to reach their full potential, it is vitally important that they are raised in a safe, caring environment. For this to be achieved, both the mother and the father need to play an active role in parenting, even if the couple is separated.

What is co-parenting?

Co-parenting means to share the duties of bringing up a child. The term especially refers to parents who are separated or not in a relationship.

Petunia Seabi-Mathope, the Chief Family Advocate for the Department of Justice, says to successfully co-parent, the parents need to put aside their past differences and focus on their children’s needs.

Co-parenting plans are often worked out during the divorce proceedings and a properly laid-out plan can have immense benefits for children.

“Co-parenting is important because children get a clear message that both parents love them and want them. It provides an environment for the continuation or development of high-quality parent-child relationships, allowing both parents to remain authoritative, responsible, involved, attached, emotionally available, supportive and focused on their children’s day-to-day lives,” says Adv Seabi-Mathope.

She says when parents are unable to co-parent, it can result in destructive ‘parallel parenting’.

“This means that each parent makes decisions about the children with little discussion with the other parent. If this continues, children often get put in the middle of their parents’ conflict.”

Support from the Office of the Family Advocate

The Department of Justice employs family advocates – family law specialists who provide free assistance to parents to help them reach an agreement on the care, guardianship and maintenance of a child. There are family advocates in all nine provinces.

Adv Seabi-Mathope says that family advocates can help parents reach an agreement on co-parenting, through the creation of a parenting plan.

“A parenting plan is an agreement between parents/parties who both hold parental responsibilities and rights. The plan regulates aspects such as where and with whom the child is to live, the maintenance of the child, contact between the child and any of the parents, and the schooling and religious upbringing of the child.”

By engaging the services of a family advocate, parties can reach an agreement without the need for a court trial, which can save significant legal costs and time.

Tips for proper co-parenting

In the case of a divorce or separation, parents need to work together to come up with arrangements that are best suited to a child’s needs.

“Parents should look to create a consistent parenting style, even if the child is moving between two homes. This includes consistent rules for the child and similar schedules for things like mealtimes, homework and bedtimes,” says Adv Seabi-Mathope.

There should also be a regular schedule set in place for visitation hours and transfer of the child between households, and parents should stick to these schedules as far as possible so that the child can adjust better to their new situation.

In terms of education, parents should ask teachers to send any letters or other correspondences to both parents, so that any issues can be discussed together.

Perspectives from a co-parent

Zibuse Kunene has a daughter from a previous relationship. He says that parents should first and foremost realise that co-parenting is not easy.

“We had challenges at first, with a lot of fights and disagreements, but now we have reached common ground,” says Kunene.

He advises that parents need to focus on what is most important, which is the wellbeing of their child.

“When you focus on what is important, you shift the focus from yourself to your child. You need to consult each other about important decisions regarding your child and have a communication line open with the other parent”.

For further information, visit the Department of Justice website or call the main office of the Family Advocate at 012 357 8022.