Leo’s dad stands at the end of the path and I yell up the stairs for Leo to grab his shoes. I try to keep smiling, to relax my shoulders and act like it is any other weekend. I’ll cry when the car drives away so he doesn’t see.
How do we successfully co-parent under these new (frequently changing) circumstances?
Co-parenting is tough at the best of times, but just recovering from PND and COVID-19 has made things even more complicated in shared parenting households. With school cancellations, changes to work schedules, self-isolation, financial strain and attempting to remember how to do fractions, both parents and children are hugely impacted. How do coronavirus lockdown rules impact mothers and fathers who live separately? On March 23rd, the government published guidance on staying at home and away from others, which clarified that where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 CAN be moved between their parents’ homes. If we want them to go is a whole other kettle of fish.
Should you change your routine? What about travel? Forums are filled with parents desperately questioning what they should do.
My situation is different than yours. There is no guidebook for parenting. And there is certainly no guidebook for co-parenting during a pandemic as all our circumstances are individual. Some parent better apart than they did together, Others have battled for years. I separated with my son’s dad over seven years ago, and I’d say that the first three years were decidedly hideous. A ping pong of lengthy bitter emails. Now things are amicable, but we still have issues and frustrating conversations.
Fear can create arguments and conflict even in respectful friendships between parted parents. We are all exhausted and anxious.
What if my ex is a keyworker?
This is my reality. Before the world went haywire Leo spent alternative weekends with his dad and we usually split holidays evenly-ish. Dates are tediously booked months in advance in accordance with his dads work schedule. He is an ICU nurse and now caring daily for COVID-19 patients. The news is filled with cold headlines about lack of PPE, healthcare workers being high in the statistics of those testing positive, fuelling a cold fire of terror in the pit of my stomach. I don’t want Leo to be away from me, I don’t want him to get sick. I don’t want him to go.
I, I, I, I.
I called his dad and barely held in the words to demand that Leo stay with me. Safe. Explaining my worry about health concerns then asking his thoughts was a better start to a difficult conversation. Leo wants to keep seeing his dad, and vice versa, as it is an emotionally hard time for both. Respect your child’s opinions. We decided to stick to our present parenting arrangements and keep everyday life continuing as usual to avoid unnecessary change. Don’t take my stating these facts lightly, I still want to barricade the door shut and hyperventilate into a gin glass. But we both have feelings, and both have PR.
Self-isolation, illness and risk?
What if your child or someone in your house is showing symptoms but your child is meant to be at his other parents tomorrow? Guidelines recommend if a member of the household presents symptoms of coronavirus, the entire family must self-isolate for 14 days. This is necessary – regular video chats or phone calls will be very important. Acknowledge it is disappointing for the non-resident parent. Or the resident, if a child is symptomatic when having contact then they will need to stay there for the isolation period…and that can be a big change. We were ill for a week and Leo was with his dad out of scheduled times. I worried about stupid things like if he had enough food, did he feel like we had abandoned him. Would he prefer being there? All whilst feeling like death under a blanket. I think there’s a big element of accepting that times are crap, unprecedented and things happen that will make us unhappy, but it is not forever.
Have a plan in place in case of illness. If your child needs to see a doctor or go to hospital make sure you notify the other parent. If in the unlikely event you and co parent become ill at the same time and unable to have your child decide together beforehand where is a safe alternative. These considerations with have even more weight if a parent or child is considered high risk. A friend has a very poorly child and all the contact with the outside has been stopped for their safety. If one of you is working from home but the other is not, the children may be better placed with the non-working parent.
I sound a bit like a fact file of ‘should’s’ don’t I? A tad cold, informative? Trust me, I know the hurt and the bitterness, the utter frustration of trying to do the right thing for your children. Of seeking help and answers to find none. Over the years this is where I have got to. Knowing the best way forward is that with every hard question you face, consider that the welfare of your child is the most important factor here. Friends have told me they have lied about children being symptomatic to keep children with them. It would be a lie if I said I hadn’t considered it. But if I start down that path, where would I be. The high road is sometimes thankless but its the road that I hope my son will be thankful I stumbled along when he is an adult.
What happens if someone is not sticking to social distancing?
Six months ago, the biggest challenge for me was the difference in home routines, that I had no control how Leo’s dad ‘parents.
Today? When you have your children at home you can be sure how often they are hand washing, that you are not taking them to the shops, that when you have the one a day walk they are not petting dogs and keeping a distance from other people. Trusting someone that may not respect what you have asked, and when they have not historically respected your wishes, is hard. Really hard. Shared parenting without power struggles is a big ask, I am not saying it from a land of rainbows and unicorns. Adult issues are not a child’s, and they come first. That is something that is non-negotiable.
In an ideal world parents can have a civil, respectful discussion. Share your daily routine and lesson plans. I have not always lived in an ideal world. What happens if only one parent is prepared to put the work in, and the second is uncooperative/unreliable/controlling? Personally, messages are sometimes a better means of communicating than aggravated phone calls. If needed, use a third party to work out a sensible solution.
You can’t change your ex, sometimes they won’t be rational. Worst case scenario, if they are breaking distancing rules, try and get evidence if possible. Message and ask them to stop. Call 101 for advice. Don’t let the frustration consume you.
In the case of court orders.
Comply with Family Court Child Arrangement Orders. If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met e.g. quarantine, travel restrictions or because schools close, seek legal advice. If handovers are missed keep a note of this. Don’t just keep kids at home with you with no conversations or agreements.
In an ideal world, co-parenting involves no push and pull tug of war, is an equal partnership where both contribute fairly physically, financially and emotionally. No one swears at each other over the phone. No one manipulates, disagrees, disappoints. Parents communicate openly and civilly, and people wonder why they ever separated.
Generally, ineffective communication is one of the primary causes of the break-up in the first place, so it is a big ask to be zen in an unprecedented time of pressure. Avoid the he-said-she-said. What mum wants; what dad wants. One right, one wrong trap. Make compromises.
We are all feeling emotional strain at the moment, so our children feeling it too. They need our reassurance. Read about the night my son asked to live with his dad.
We all play a vital role to help reduce the spread and protect those who are most at risk from contracting COVID-19. Don’t use the opportunity to take advantage of the custody situation or your ex.
Important: If your relationship has been one with past DV and you feel threatened, unsafe or unable to safely sort contact with your ex-partner then contact 101, social services or support services such as Women’s Aid or ManKind.