While the recent spread of the Coronavirus and its implications has been difficult for many families, it is particularly complicated for families of divorce and separation who are parenting children in two homes. Questions arise such as:
- Should children stay in one home during the crisis to reduce exposure?
- What types of precautions are being taken in the other parent’s home if children are transferring between homes?
- What do we do about childcare issues and how does that relate to the Parenting Time schedule? In other words, whose responsibility is it to find and pay for childcare if needed so we can still work?
- What if one or both parents are working from home and finding it challenging to keep up with job responsibilities with children around more than usual?
The list goes on and on and every situation is completely unique.
As always, and especially in this time of crisis, cooperative and effective Co-Parenting requires each parent to put aside their personal feelings and work toward what will work best for the entire family. I would use the statement to do “what is in the best interest of the children,” but that is often interpreted differently by people and can be slanted toward the lens of one parent over the other, even unknowingly. It is going to be more effective to look at the entire family unit and the various factors that exist in each home to make the best determinations to answer these questions. It is always best for children to retain consistency, structure and the opportunity to spend time with both parents, but for a brief time, it may be best to alter the Parenting Time schedule, or even have your children away from one parent for a week or two. Only the two of you know what can work for your family and what risks they are facing.
Here are my “best practices” for those who want to create the safest environment for their family:
- Recognize that while our children are feeling the impact of all the changes in their lives recently, we as adults are also feeling unsettled and scared. Be aware of these feelings and try to use healthy strategies to manage your stress rather than taking out your frustration on your Co-Parent. They are also scared and unsure right now and everyone handles these feelings differently.
- Do not use this crisis as a weapon to keep the children away from one parent. Make all decisions with a reasonable mind that supersedes any personal feelings you have about your former partner or your frustrations with them as a parent.
- Do not accuse the other parent of “not trying to keep our children safe” to get them to cooperate with your requests. If the two of you can work together to make decisions to alter the schedule, that is wonderful, but if conflict takes over and inappropriate accusations are hurled at one another, you are not working from a reasonable place to make the best decisions. At that point, I advise you to stick to your regular Parenting Time schedule.
- Look at the risk factors of each home and parent to determine if it makes sense to have your children in one home for at least a couple of weeks. Has one of you recently completed international travel? Does one of you have elderly parents that you take care of? Is one of you working remotely and one of you in a busy office daily? Make a list together of risk factors that can help you and your Co-Parent make decisions.
- If one parent is unable to be with the children, set up regular Face-Time calls daily for your Co-Parent to connect with them. Do not interfere in the calls and make sure the children are in a place where there are no distractions, such as the TV. Think from your perspective of how you would feel if you had to be away from your children for an extended period of time – the few precious moments are all you have each day with them.
- Your children are already emotional and feeling their world is turning upside-down. Do not make it worse for them by bringing them into any arguing between parents over how to handle the situation. Never share with them any information about frustrations you have with your Co-Parent. Do not put your children in the middle by asking them to be in touch with the other parent about staying longer in your home, etc.
- Childcare is complicated during this time with so many schools and daycares closed, and parents expected to work effectively from their homes. If your children are transferring between homes, then it makes sense to potentially alter the schedule to allow each of the adults uninterrupted time to get work done. If you cannot agree to changes to the schedule and alternating childcare duties during peak work hours, abide by the Parenting Time schedule and know that each of you is responsible for childcare during your Parenting Time. Handling it on your own may be a better alternative to entering into conflict with your Co-Parent.
- Remember we are all nervous about the economic impact of this crisis on our families. It really is best for your family if the adults who are employed continue in their role as much as possible to keep your family afloat financially. Keep this in mind when working together on issues related to childcare.
Hoping all of you and your families stay healthy, happy and safe. If you need support, I am offering HIPAA compliant video-conferencing sessions during this time which allows both parents from two different physical locations to participate in a session with me. Please be in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to schedule a session.