With widespread school closures and social distancing, parenting has taken on a new meaning. You may suddenly have added roles as in-home teacher, chef, sports coach, choreographer, and crafts curator. You may be expected to juggle these roles for multiple children or to continue your own job from home at the same time. The demands placed on you may feel entirely impossible to sustain, and your feelings of fatigue, frustration, and burnout are completely justified.
For parents who are divorced, separated or who are currently going through a divorce, the coronavirus pandemic adds another layer of unpredictability and logistical chaos. It may be that your child’s typical schedule of rotating between homes is difficult to execute in this new environment of limited travel and avoidance of public transportation. While families with shared custody are still encouraged to follow parenting plans as originally outlined, modifications may be needed for safety or convenience purposes during this unusual time. Consider the following tips when approaching co-parenting during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Limit Unnecessary Travel
It may be that your original time-sharing schedule with your co-parent does not minimize travel time or the frequency of transfers of your child. If, for example, your child typically goes to parent A’s house for two days during the week and one day during the weekend, consider splitting the week into two blocks of time such that only one transfer needs to occur. This will reduce transportation time and support your efforts to remain safe indoors and abide by social distancing protocols. If your transfer point for meeting your co-parent was previously a public area, this location may no longer be desirable, or even open to the public! Consider choosing a new safe location for such meetups. To support in keeping track of your family schedule, Google Calendar or similar platforms can be very helpful for mapping out time sharing and drop-off times in a visually digestible manner. Such digital calendars can be easily shared and printing out the calendar for your children can help to ground them in a consistent and reliable routine.
Finding the need to alter your custody agreement? Flexibility will be key during this evolving time and identifying a sustainable and livable routine may be more important than sticking with a previously agreed upon plan. If coming to a new temporary solution is causing increased conflict, it may be useful to integrate an outside professional (e.g. therapist, mediator) for family support.
Which Parent Takes the Lead?
If one parent is an essential worker during this time, consider allowing for the other parent to act as primary caregiver during this time to support with home-schooling efforts and to ease the physical and emotional burden for the essential worker parent. While this may cause an imbalance in time with the child, you may want to come up with a fair trade-off together—for example allowing the parent with less time with the child now to earn back that time in the summer or fall. In the meantime, virtual calling platforms such as Zoom, FaceTime, or Google Hangouts can support parents in having quality time with their kids from afar. If one co-parent has a strength in certain academic areas, plan time for in-person or virtual support with that class content and take advantage of those skillsets. In a world of uncertainty, it is also helpful to plan for possible alternative plans—for example in the case of illness, job loss, or school routine changes.
Differing Views on Social Distancing
With evolving recommendations from experts around which activities are safe or unsafe, you and your co-parent may not see eye to eye on your approach to the pandemic. Perhaps you feel comfortable going to an isolated area to play catch, but your partner is committed to staying indoors. Your child will benefit most from uniform messaging and continual support with limited conflict. If one co-parent is feeling significantly more anxious about the pandemic, it is advisable to heed their concerns and find a supportive compromise. Children feel the effects of parental anxiety and can notice subtleties of parents’ worried gestures and tone of voice. It is important to validate realistic concerns but also to model a sense of calm, and that may involve supporting your co-parent to better care for your kids. It may be helpful to discuss the permissibility of various activities during social distancing before they occur versus reacting to them after the fact. For example, consider whether you feel comfortable with your child playing in the backyard, walking around the neighborhood, going to local convenience stores, or going to local parks (if still open to the public). Do you feel comfortable with the kids seeing relatives? Which ones? It is helpful to iron out these concerns and compromise where possible.
An Open Mind and A Deep Breath
The pandemic and resulting shifts in schedule may force increased discussion and interaction with your co-parent. The anticipation of this alone may cause your blood pressure to rise or heartbeat to quicken. How can you as a parent manage stress and find moments of relaxation during this tense time? Think about the ways you have relieved stress prior to this time. Is it exercise, baking, crafting, or talking with a friend? Your favorite gym may be closed but new virtual offerings are arriving by the minute: Nike is offering free workout content, Orangetheory has free YouTube workout videos, and Headspace is offering free meditations. Below is a list of some virtual exercise options available to help manage your stress and support your physical and mental health during an extremely challenging time. Self-care is a prerequisite to caring for your family.
Nike Training Club: https://www.nike.com/ntc-app
Orangetheory Fitness: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC2mPx7FrMwWJ1utQEOX9z9w
YMCA 360: https://ymca360.org/
CorePower Yoga: https://www.corepoweryogaondemand.com/keep-up-your-practice
Co-Parenting during the Coronavirus Pandemic. (2020, March 19). Retrieved from https://advancedmediationsolutions.net/co-parenting-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/
Egan, M. (2020, April 4). Fact Finders: Co-parenting and COVID-19. Retrieved from https://www.kold.com/2020/04/04/fact-finders-co-parenting-covid-/
Greenberg, L. R. (2020, April 1). Retrieved from https://www.afccnet.org/Portals/0/Lyn Greenberg.pdf?ver=2020-04-01-145154-300
Sharing custody is hard enough without coronavirus. Here are some tips for co-parenting right now. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/coronavirus/sharing-custody-is-hard-enough-without-coronavirus-here-are-some-tips-for-co-parenting-right-now/ar-BB128ZYm
TodayShow. (2020, March 18). How divorced parents handle custody amid coronavirus spread. Retrieved from https://www.today.com/parents/how-divorced-parents-handle-custody-coronavirus-t176236