Divorce has become common in Mzansi and more often than not, it’s the children who suffer. Seeing their parents split up may be traumatic for youngsters, and this can lead to long-term mental health conditions. There are ways to soften the blow by co-parenting and supporting each other.
Harsha Jovuka is a teacher from Khayelitsha, Cape Town. After she gave birth to her son, Lulo, in 2015, her marriage ended on the rocks due to her newborn’s health complications. “It was really difficult for me to grasp since we never had an argument or any clues that could’ve led to that conclusion,” she says.
Her ex-husband, Vuyolwethu, withdrew, she explains, and she was left alone.
“When we returned from the hospital after spending two months in hospital, we separated. My ex-husband felt that our marriage was not what he desired, or maybe other factors influenced him to feel that way.”
New mom, newly divorced
She quickly had to adjust to her new marital status.
Her ex-husband is a present father, she says. “He has never given me a reason to deem him an absent father. Since his birth, my kid has never felt that we are not together at all.”
Jovuka adds that they schedule hikes, photoshoots, dinner dates, and educational events together, even though they are both in relationships with other people.
Others not so lucky
However, it is not the case for everyone. A Khayelitsha mother, who requested anonymity, tells Health For Mzansi that she and her child moved back home after her divorce. She explains that she wanted the father to be involved in the child’s life, but he resisted.
“I did everything in my ability to make him see how vital it is for him to be a part of the baby’s life, financially and morally, but nothing worked,” she says. When they broke up, she promised herself that she wouldn’t let her son know that his father didn’t want anything to do with him.
She says that she was diagnosed with severe depression as a result, adding that she did not want her son to endure what she did in her marriage.
There were times when she wished he had a father figure in his life, she admits, because she could see that it was hard on him when other children talked about how great their fathers were.
Children should always come first
Vuyolwethu Mkiva, Harsha’s ex-husband, says he never forgot the plans and parenting policy manual they had when they planned their baby, regardless of the factors that led to their divorce.
“Co-parenting is possible if you are open about it,” says Mkiva. This is especially true if one of the parents become involved in a relationship with someone else.
Mkiva is a firm believer in baby steps and mutual respect as the keys to successful co-parenting. He says that he prefers to go out with women who have children.
“I’m afraid of what may happen if I marry a woman who isn’t very understanding, and vice versa. I just wish we could marry people who would understand how we do things,” adds Mkiva.
Helping kids through the transition
Seeing parents who used to live together but are now separated, is a big loss for the children. The devastation is similar to when an adult loses a loved one, a job, or goes through a divorce, explains Nokwanda Nokwe-Msizi, a social worker at the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (Sanca).
“Children as young as seven years old might experience stress and anxiety.”
According to Nokwe-Msizi, transition is a significant factor for children. This is especially since having to change schools, move to a new location, meet new teachers, make new friends, and have just one parent when they were used to two, might result in mental health conditions.
“One of the indicators that may be used to determine whether or not children are contributing to family stress is their academic performance or behaviour at school or at home,” she says.
“Some become bullies, while others choose to abruptly alienate themselves. Therefore, children must be talked to in a manner that they can understand since the term ‘divorce’ is difficult for them to understand. By doing this, they’ll understand what’s going on between their parents, and it’s important to show them love and attention during this time.”
When behavioural instances occur, she suggests that you seek medical advice from a clinical psychologist and teachers to aid in making arrangements and providing counselling.
“Co-parenting is still foreign in Mzansi, despite its success in certain homes. Consequently, counselling should be the first step to developing a neutral interest between the families. I suggest Famsa because they provide free counselling. If parents want counselling, it should support them until they can deal with the transition and tension.”
- Famsa is a non-profit and public benefit company that has been in existence since 1953. The mission of Famsa is to empower people to build, reconstruct and maintain sound relationships in marriages, families and communities. You can contact Famsa on 011 975 7106 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for assistance