Parents who are separated and co-parenting during COVID may encounter both new and extra challenges. Shelter-in-place orders, lockdowns, social distancing practices, the fear of bringing the virus home… All of these worries can make agreed-upon custody arrangements more complicated than usual, and can amplify conflicts for families whose co-parenting is already strained or otherwise contentious.
Conflict – especially the kind that is out of our control – can be exacerbated by the pandemic. Sadly, this is where we are. And if you are here too, I’m sorry. It sucks, but know that you are not alone.
Of course, some divorced/separated families have found ways to operate more cooperatively while caring for all involved. I’ve heard heartwarming stories of exes sharing supplies (TP anyone?!), making masks for each other, and agreeing to (temporarily) split up custody more evenly to help with each other’s working schedule. I’ve even heard stories of markedly more peaceful custody exchanges and renewed financial solidarity in getting the kids what they need. Yay! #teamwork
But as lovely and amazing as all this sounds, we are here to bring some support to those of us whose situations are acrimonious (at best) and who must continue to engage in what is called “parallel parenting.”
You see, in normal life circumstances, you may sometimes have the feeling that “all the bad things happen at once.” But during the pandemic, Murphy’s Law takes on a life of its own. Maybe you got laid off or lost your housing. Perhaps a loved one is seriously ill and immunocompromised… maybe you are the one who is battling the health issues. All the while, you have to learn about viral epidemiology modeling, proper sterilization techniques, and homeschooling; and at the same time, you can’t be with the friends who love you best of all, let alone hug them.
Everything actually does happen at once, and it can yield next-level anxiety for which we cannot get the kind of relief we need, as the entire world — friends, family members and experts alike — is navigating the newness of this in real time right alongside you. And to add insult to injury, you then have to factor in custody exchanges that are fraught with stress and hatred? Let’s just say, the brain is not meant to deal with anything close to this wattage level.
As I, myself, wade through this mess, I’ve developed a framework to see through to the other side; for anyone else who is struggling with the stress that comes with co-parenting during COVID-19, I wanted to share it. This, as most parenting-related things, is a work in progress — ask me tomorrow, and I may have an entirely different list!
We’ve loved the community response to a recent QOTD on our Facebook page and present you this list knowing, as always, this village has the answers. You can also take a look at some of these in-depth resources available in places like One Mom’s Battle. Their Facebook page is also an excellent resource. Please add your thoughts in the comments below.
- It’s going to be ok. In case you needed to hear that today! Here I am to tell you — it’s really going to be ok. We are all born and we all die (hopefully later than sooner); and in between there is a whole bunch of challenging, beautiful, heartbreaking, remarkable, hilarious, wonderful stuff. That hasn’t changed one bit.
- Get real. Put pride aside and ask yourself some questions. How can you work together with your ex to keep the kids safe? Who has the ability to support homeschooling better? Is one parent an essential worker and therefore more exposed? Who – in each household – is high risk and how will you protect those people? Who has access to outdoor spaces for the kids to run around? It’s not about who the better parent is, it’s about getting through this present moment in the best, safest way we can.
- Take extra precautions for sending kids back and forth. Your family has developed a shared microbiome. If you can trust that your co-parent is keeping up the same standards as you are, it’s going to be less stressful. That said, sanitizing before and after jumping into the other parents car is a good practice. Having sets of facemasks for mom’s and dad’s house is a great idea.
- Get ready to compromise, especially if you’re dealing with a narcissistic, uncooperative ex. Somehow, my shared custody situation is going pretty well (seriously, I’m shocked, considering how contentious it usually is). But, I’ve heard horror stories about parents who’ve had to send their kids across state lines, which is especially complicated and daunting since many states currently have high positivity rates.
Unfortunately, if your ex isn’t willing to compromise or is uncooperative, there is very little we can do to change custody agreements without a court order, and courts that are open are likely prioritizing high-need/high-conflict custodial situations… so be ready to find alternatives to quell the heightened anxiety that tends to accompany these relationships.
For example, If you’re worried about your little one catching the virus as he or she crosses state borders, you can plan on having him/her get a COVID test prior to coming back into your home. If possible, the child(ren) should get one before they enter their other parent’s home too.
Whatever compromise you end up having to take, just know that you are not alone. We see you.
- Stay connected virtually. If your kids are at their other parent’s house, set up some mutually agreed-upon time to FaceTime/have a phone call when you’re the one away. Trust me, they miss you.
- Focus on being your best version of a good parent. This may change daily. “Always do your best” from the Four Agreements comes to mind here.
- Get ahead of the COVID story. Stay informed, as news is changing daily. Make sure the other parent is apprised of these changes as well.
- Let go of keeping score. This is hard. I feel you. Especially if there is a significant disparity in the division of labor. But holding onto resentment during COVID will do more harm than good. I promise you. Vent to your friends and trusted confidants, but don’t take this into your exchanges.
- Say thank you. Regardless of how much the current relationship has run afoul, a genuine “thank you” can go a long way. We’re all just doing the best we can.
- Be healthy. Because extra stress can wreak havoc on an already taxed immune system, we need to remember to put our self-care first. That can look like counting to 10 before a custody exchange or an at-home facemask on your first evening without your kiddos. And keep these immune system boosters (vitamin C & D) on hand, for everyone in the family.
The truth is – I have no idea what I’m doing. If this post is relevant to you, then I would assume you have run an internet search for “how to co-parent through COVID” as many times as I have… Long story short, there is no panacea I can offer you. I wish i could though!
A lot of the success of your co-parenting relationship really ends up depending on your partner – a variable we cannot control. We can only do our best to keep our kiddos safe and their schedules consistent while they’re on our watch. As this situation continues to evolve (aka worsen), we’ll all need to make some adjustments and judgement calls. May the odds be forever in your favor. Good luck, parents!!