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September 23, 2018

We need a co-parenting paradigm

Does our culture make it hard for unmarried couples to co-parent?

In case you’ve been away for a while, I am about to become a mother. Like many of my Kenyan sisters in the motherhood, I am unwed. My child’s father is, however, present and excited to become one. As we navigate this set up and figure out things like naming, it is becoming clear to me that our culture does not support co-parenting.

In most of our traditional cultures, women did not procreate unless and until they were married. In the occasion that they did, then fines were paid by the man for ‘breaking the leg’ and from my understanding, marriage was then discussed. If the couple got married well and good, and if they didn’t then the father let go of all responsibility, and the woman and her family raised her child as their own.

It is now 2015 and I have yet to hear of a paradigm that recognises co-parenting of a child without marriage as a viable option. Women either raise their children as single mothers, and men can do the same. Is it asking too much that we establish a system where a couple who conceives a child but has no desire to marry each other, can raise a child who is acknowledged and loved by both sides of his family? A child who can visit both sets of grandparents, get to know aunties, uncles and very importantly play with cousins?

I get that there are inherent complications – but let us be clear, ‘complicated’ is the part of all human relationships at one point or another. In this scenario, the most obvious complication is the marriage of either parent to another person, or the conception of other children with other people. There is also the question of means. I have a friend who is educating not only his son from a previous relationship, but also the boy’s siblings from his mother’s subsequent marriage because this man wants his son to go to private school.

I mentioned this to my mother the other day and she said this cultural gap might exist because it serves many irresponsible men by allowing them to abandon their children. A system that recognises and even sets a protocol for co-parenting would set a code of conduct for both mothers and fathers in this scenario, and make it more difficult for them to avoid co-parenting.

There is also the quick assumption that the co-parenting set up is acrimonious – after all, most paths into this arrangement involve heartbreak – divorce, separation and so on – but there are also people who decide to have a child together because they want a child. I think regardless of how the adults got there, the child should not have to suffer neglect. And one way the extended family can avoid this is by encouraging these two people to relate to each other with the needs of the child in the foreground.

What would you like to see from your co-parent? Email me [email protected]

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