By Hermoine Macura-Noble
Special to The Times Kuwait
Co-parenting is a concept that has gained recognition around the globe as divorce rates continue to increase. Traditionally, the Gulf region has adhered to a patriarchal system, where divorce often resulted with the father as the primary caretaker however, societal shifts, changing family dynamics, and the recognition of children’s rights, have led to the emergence of co-parenting arrangements, where both parents ideally share responsibility.
“I separated from my husband when my children were very young and it was very distressing for all of us at the time. It’s very difficult to understand your children’s feelings, especially when you’re going through a separation. Family support counselors helped me navigate and understand their behavior and how to deal with their distress through play, and listening to their needs more than assuming they were just behaving badly… It was at this point I began to understand childhood trauma,” shares Gulf resident, Afiya Benjamin.
Psychologist and Relationship Coach, Sadia Khan explains why co-parenting is the best option when a marriage breaks down. “Co-parenting is a collaborative parenting approach where both parents work together to raise their children after separation or divorce. It involves sharing responsibilities such as decision-making, financial support, and time spent with the children. Co-parenting seeks to maintain a healthy and positive relationship between both parents for the well-being and best interest of their children. Communication, mutual respect, and flexibility are key factors in successful co-parenting.”
The Middle East has experienced significant changes in family structures and dynamics due to societal shifts, economic development, and increased female empowerment. As a result, more women have entered the workforce, pursued higher education, and become more independent, resulting in a rise in divorce rates. Consequently, co-parenting has emerged as a viable solution for parents aiming to prioritize the well-being and upbringing of their children.
Many countries have also recognized the importance of shared parental responsibility. Laws in some Arab countries require divorced parents to jointly make decisions regarding their children’s upbringing, education, healthcare, and religious practices. However, with many people choosing to marry expats from other countries there is also an emergence of cross-cultural challenges when it comes to co-parenting.
“Healthy co-parenting involves communication, cooperation, and putting the best interests of the children first. Some characteristics include effective communication where both parents prioritize open and respectful communication to keep each other informed and make joint decisions about their children and respect each other’s role… Both parents should also work together to provide consistent routines and boundaries for their children across both households,” explains Khan.
On the other hand, unhealthy co-parenting involves high conflict, lack of communication and cooperation, and putting the needs of the parents first. Khan says high levels of conflict where parents who engage in yelling, arguments, and disagreements are not child-centered. “A lack of cooperation where parents fail to work together to make joint decisions about their children or show a willingness to work together, and a lack of consistency where parents provide different rules and expectations in each household, can create tension and confusion for the children,” shares Khan.
Experts say that both parents should provide their children with a home base that is stable, secure, and loving. It’s also important for both parents to create a home environment that promotes the physical and emotional well-being of the child as kids benefit from having a close relationship with both parents, as long as the relationship is healthy and positive. Children thrive when they feel supported and loved by both parents, and both parents need to be involved in their lives as much as possible.
“If your child expresses a desire to live with one parent more than the other, be sensitive to their feelings. Explain that the parenting plan was agreed upon to ensure they are loved and cared for equally by both parents. When addressing these questions, be sure to remain calm and remember to put the child’s needs first,” advises Khan.
When it comes to disagreements, Khan advises taking these steps when you and your co-parent are unable to agree:
Communication: The first step is open and honest communication. Call and talk to the other parent about the specific issue and both share your points of view.
Mediation: If you and your co-parent still cannot agree, it might be helpful to consider seeking professional mediation. A neutral third party can facilitate a discussion and help both parents to arrive at a mutually satisfying agreement. The mediator may be a licensed family therapist, social worker, or even a judge in the court process.
Parenting Plan: In the event, you have a parenting plan or custody order, consult it for guidance as to how to resolve disputes. The plan might provide methods on how to resolve disputes such as the use of a mediator, a parenting coordinator, or even an arbitrator.
Khan reiterates that regardless of whether the situation involves major or minor decisions, the most important thing is to be calm and respectful in communication, put the children’s best interests first, and pursue legal action or mediation when necessary.
If your child is showing signs of distress and nervousness, it is also essential to take action to address the situation. Experts say it is important to be available for your child and listen to their concerns and feelings. It is also important to be empathetic and show your child that you understand how they are feeling and that you are there for them. Reassure them that they are loved and cared for and that you will work with them to help them feel better. Additionally, it is good to seek professional help if your child’s distress and nervousness persist. You may want to consider seeking the help of a mental health professional, such as a therapist, counselor, or child psychologist.
Statistics also show that sometimes co-parenting does not work out and some parents end up having to navigate raising their children alone due to one parent being mentally unwell or absent, which can also be extremely difficult. “I think the stigma of being a single parent is not as bad as it used to be. At first, I felt embarrassed to be a single parent and then I learned to accept my situation and be very open that there is no other parent involved in my children’s upbringing,” shares Benjamin.
Unfortunately, the dangers of this situation is when the parent ultimately starts projecting their negative and bitter emotions on their children. “In my personal experience, most of my clients who suffer the most are those who had mothers that brainwashed them. What I mean by this is they are loyal to their mother at the expense of their relationship with their father. They go into the dating scene with a bias and naivety about relationships. So if you are a mother reading this try your best to avoid this,” concludes Khan.
By Hermoine Macura-Noble
The first Australian English speaking News Anchor in the Middle East. She is also the Author of Faces of the Middle East and Founder of US-based 501c3 charity – The House of Rest which helps to ease the suffering of victims of war. For more from our Contributing Editor, you can follow her on Instagram, here.