By: Dr Justin Coulson
Parenting is an exercise in organisation, communication, and flexibility at the best of times. Co-parenting, particularly in blended families, is even more complicated. And in the midst of a pandemic, it’s exponentially harder.
How are we supposed to co-parent with the current rules and regulations? How do we support our children? Can we move from one house to the other without being in trouble for “unnecessary travel”, and what about if one home is more strict on isolation decisions than another? How do we wrangle our way through these challenges?
Unfortunately, I don’t have all the answers to those questions. What works for you in your specific situation is going to be different than what works for another family. But I can give you a roadmap to help you navigate these challenging times.
Put Your Children First
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting your children. No matter how much you’ve tried to shield them, there’s no way to hide the disruption in their lives. From schools closing, sports and events being cancelled and even friends being unavailable as we physically isolate, your children understand that something big is going on.
For many of us, particularly our children, it’s a taxing time. Grief is real. Anger and frustration, isolation and loneliness, they’re all happening. A recent report from The Lancet highlights studies which have shown being in quarantine can result in psychological distress – and that it sometimes lasts beyond the period of isolation. So acknowledge your child’s big feelings. Be there for cuddles or chats, and play games or go on walks as much as you can.
And when your children are with their other parent, be sure to stay in contact. Support your co-parent to do the same. The more you can do this, the safer your children will feel.
In uncertain times your children are looking to you for guidance on how to feel and behave (yes, even your teens). Be calm.
Things will go awry. The custody schedule may need to change due to new working from home arrangements. Your children may come home telling stories of playing in the park when you’d prefer they stayed indoors. Whatever it is, take a breath before reacting. They’re watching you.
You might feel worried and out of control, but the more calm and considered you can be, the better your children will react to their own worries and fears.
Keep Your Commitments
At time of writing, co-parents are being advised to stick with their custody commitments. But this is more than just legal advice. It’s sound advice for your children’s wellbeing as well. With the world being turned upside down in many ways, the more your children can keep to their regular routines within their families, the safer they’ll feel. In fact, family routines have been linked to improved resiliency, an extremely important skill when life is in disarray.
Be Open and Flexible
If arrangements can’t be met because of quarantine requirements, travel restrictions or some other reason, be flexible. Use common sense to find solutions to challenges (such as make up nights for nights you miss out with your children). And be sure to give the other parent plenty of notice and options to communicate.
Be open to these conversations, especially if you’re the parent being asked to adjust. Next time it could be your turn to make those requests.
I can’t emphasise this enough: regardless of your history or your big feelings right now, it’s a time to come together. It’s a time to support one another. It’s a time to put the past behind you and work on helping, not hurting.
Focus on Solutions
More than ever, co-parenting parents need to focus on solutions. Courts and mediation may be harder to access, and it’s more difficult to meet face to face. Common sense decision making between two parents who put the needs of their children first is the surest path to success.
When Your Co-Parent Won’t Be Flexible
As with all relationships, sometimes things go well… and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the other parent doesn’t want to work together. They won’t engage or be flexible. What do you do in this situation?
Follow Government Guidelines
Follow the rules. This is especially true if someone in the family gets sick. Children should stay with the other parent regardless of child custody arrangements.
Follow Court Orders
Family courts have said that parents should follow all court orders unless the child’s safety might be compromised. If you can’t follow court orders because of the current situation then try to engage with your co-parent to come to another agreement.
Seek a Court Order
If your co-parent refuses to engage or be flexible when it’s necessary, consider going to the courts. Your children’s health and safety is the most important thing.
Do Your Best
Whether you’re working with an engaged co-parent or not, just do your best. We’re all anxious, we’re all concerned and life has been turned upside down, and it’s our job as parents to protect our children as much as possible. Be compassionate. Give others the benefit of the doubt. And remember, we’re all in this together.
Article supplied with thanks to Happy Families.
About the Author: A sought after public speaker and author, and former radio broadcaster, Justin has a psychology degree from the University of Queensland and a PhD in psychology from the University of Wollongong.