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Parenting and Co-Parenting in the time of COVID-19

Parenting and Co-Parenting in the time of COVID-19

From cancelled extra-curricular activities for kids to managing at-home learning (often while working from home), parents are facing new and unprecedented challenges during the time of COVID-19. Inspired by my recent appearances on BMORE Lifestyle (Fox 45 Baltimore), here are some tips for parenting during these challenging times. Part 2 of this article deals specifically with the additional challenges for parents of children who move between two households (where parents share custody).

Part One: How to make the most of parenting during COVID – this time has presented seemingly insurmountable challenges to many families including financial hardship, heightened anxiety and depression, hunger, illness and loss. Nothing I say here will diminish the seriousness of many of these realities and if you are experiencing challenges with mental illness, hunger, domestic violence or any other safety issue, you should seek assistance from police or other community resources right away. For those of us who are safe, but still struggling with new challenges posed by this time, here are some thoughts about how to thrive during this time of crisis.

Part Two: Challenges and Solutions for Co-parenting during the time of COVID – as challenging as this year has been for ALL parents, it has been especially hard for those parents who are co-parenting a child between two households (namely divorced or separated parents who share custody of their children). Separation is often predated by deep philosophical disagreements and sometimes an already contentious relationship. Now is the time to set those animosities aside to reach certain agreements on behalf of your child. Because of Court Delays and the quickly-evolving nature of the science and medicine related to COVID (as well as local and state policies) it will be difficult to have any Court timely resolve disagreements between co-parents on these issues, so it is important to try to work with the other co-parent to determine a unified approach. If you are unable to resolve issues between the two of you, you may want to consider mediation or seeking advice of a family law attorney to consider your options. Here are a few suggestions for reaching agreement:

Be Open to Compromise – You and your child’s other parent may have fundamental disagreements on parenting issues or with respect to COVID, but it is important to reach a compromise so you can adopt a consistent approach on behalf of your children. Each household will have its own risk factors. Generally, you will need to adopt guidelines or agreements that address the risk factors of the more sensitive household, in order to keep both households safe. Remember that your behavior both when you have your child and when you do not will affect the health and safety of your child and the other household, so it is important to be respectful and empathetic. Lives may depend on it.
Reach Agreement – You do not need to “reinvent the wheel” in order to reach important agreements with your co-parent. Often I have recommended clients adopt language stating that both parents will follow CDC and Maryland Department of Health guidelines as well as orders by the MD Governor’s office (and any orders specific to the County where they reside) regarding COVID safety, travel, testing, etc. Make sure you address travelling with the child, testing when parents return from travel (even without the child), participation in extra-curricular activities (worship services, sports, dance, etc.) and schooling (virtual, hybrid, etc.) and work-related childcare.
Provide Consistency – it is widely accepted among child psychologists as well as Courts that a consistent approach between households is best for children. It provides them with some level of comfort and security, and lessens confusion and anxiety. If you recognize an inconsistency, speak to the other co-parent about it and try to reach a compromise.
Be Transparent – If and when problems or complications arise (exposure to COVID in one household, etc.) it is important to be transparent with the other parent, and for the other parent to be flexible in making the necessary changes – for example, keeping the child for extra time while someone in the other household is sick, perhaps offering “make up” time once the illness passes, etc. This time will require honesty, openness and working together. If/when the other co-parent tells you he/she has exposure or illness in their household – RESIST THE URGE to express frustration or judgment (“well, if you hadn’t been so careless…”). Even if you are right, it won’t help. You will be serving your child better by showing empathy, flexibility and support.
Remain Flexible and Adapt When Necessary – No choice during this time is static. Circumstances change in schools and in communities on a daily basis and therefore, your COVID plan may need to change as well. Adopting the general language (to follow CDC, Maryland Department of Health, State and County guidelines) will help both households to adapt when appropriate – as these are updated regularly, but also make sure to keep the conversation going. Once there has been any significant change that requires discussion, consider forwarding the alert/e-mail to the other co-parent and asking them to set aside a time to talk (away from the children) during the upcoming days (once everyone has had some time to digest the information).
Make sure Health Insurance is Covered – as many families are experiencing layoffs or furloughs from employment and other economic changes, it is important to discuss whether your child’s health insurance remains covered during this time. This was likely part of your initial custody or child support agreement, but make updates and changes as necessary in light of any employment changes. If you’re not sure how changes may impact health insurance (if it’s covered by the other co-parent for example) – make sure to ask!

These are incredibly difficult times where many families face very real and serious challenges. Nothing here is meant to undermine or ignore this reality or paint an overly-rosy view of our ability to change some negative external forces (that are likely to be with us for quite some time). Many find it helpful to focus on the things we can control such as some of the suggestions here. When and if you feel like you are in over your head, seek professional help (mental health professional, social worker, attorney) as needed. Hang in there!

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