Co-parenting may become a whole new ballgame during the Coronavirus (COVID-19) epidemic. For divorced couples who are already struggling with a range of financial, emotional, and logistical stresses, the disruption the coronavirus is bringing to our communities and families will likely present a huge challenge.
In this situation, each parent has a choice: to rise to the occasion, and model constructive, respectful problem-solving for their children to observe and hopefully emulate, or to give in to the inclination of falling into familiar patterns of unhealthy, non-productive communication.
Some of the challenges your family will face may include:
- Closed schools
- Altered work schedules
- One or more sick parents
- A changed financial situation of one or both parents
As you struggle to adapt to this crisis, here are suggestions for maintaining a healthy co-parenting relationship for the benefit of your children:
- Keep your children’s needs front and center. No matter how acrimonious or difficult your divorce may have been, this crisis presents an opportunity to rise to the occasion and bring your best self to the forefront. Your children are likely apprehensive and perhaps even fearful as a result of overhearing adult conversations. They need to see their parents working cooperatively together in a calm and focused fashion to figure out how their children can best be cared for during this time. Commit yourself to giving your children the gift of parental co-operation when so much of their schedules and routines are in flux and anxiety is the prevalent emotion in their environment.
- Be intentional on strengthening your long-term co-parenting relationship. Visualize yourself and your ex-spouse standing in the receiving line after your daughter or son’s wedding. Are you cordial and comfortable, basking in the glow of your children’s happiness, or are you tense and edgy because you dislike being in physical proximity to your ex-spouse? How you work with your ex-spouse now can lay a foundation for many special family moments in the future.
- Be creative. Although the schedule set forth in your Agreement or Court Order may have had bigger blocks of time with each parent and fewer transitions, it may be that, on some days, the children’s time must be divided between parents within an individual day. Transitions may need to happen in different or unusual locations. Last minute adjustments may be needed.
- Be concrete. If you haven’t used a written or online calendar before, now is the time to utilize one to spell out where the children will be and with whom during various blocks of time. Ideally you can post identical calendars in each parent’s home so the children can visualize how the schedule will go.
Coping with the realities of COVID-19 is likely to be challenging for every family, intact or otherwise. Co-parents who work together constructively rather than falling back on old patterns will not only be able to see this crisis through, but also may discover new and healthy patterns of interaction that will build for the future.