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.

  • Adjust Your Expectations – back in March, many of us believed we might be required to live differently for a matter of weeks – maybe a few months at most (like an extended hurricane or blizzard), then things would go back to “normal.” We have since recognized that we may never return to the pre-pandemic version of “normal” or if we do, that time may still be many months (or longer) away. Simply “holding your breath” and waiting to re-emerge is probably setting yourself up for failure. Assume we’re in this for the long haul, and plan accordingly. It’s a marathon not a sprint (as they say), so make sure you are managing your own expectations as well as those of your children.
  • Take Advantage of the Unique Benefits of COVID – While the pandemic presents many challenges, there are also opportunities: opportunities to spend more quality time together as a family, opportunities to work on time-consuming projects (building a tree house), opportunities for more down-time (reading books or doing puzzles with your child, cooking together) rather than racing from birthday parties to soccer practice. We may never again in life have such “forced togetherness” with our immediate family – make it special.
  • Break Up the Monotony by Thinking of Time in Units. In the coming months, we have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Winter Break (Christmas, Hanukkah), but “units” of time can be marked by other events: getting to see grandparents or cousins, a weekend camping trip, a day-trip to the pumpkin patch. Try to think and plan time in small units, so that your kids have something to focus on and look forward to. Even though we may not be able to celebrate holidays as we once did, make an alternative plan and get excited about it (we’re going to my parents’ house for a family-only “Halloween Party” with spooky-foods and candy, instead of trick-or-treating this year). Once the event is over, move onto the next theme/unit (in November, we’re trying to focus on “gratitude” in our house). This can help keep things fresh and exciting for everyone.
  • Encourage Kids to Find Creative Solutions (& Remember: they’re resilient). If your kids are focusing on what they can’t do (see friends, play flag-football, take that trip to Florida, Trick-or-Treat) encourage them to come up with their own ideas about what might make the day/event/month different, special, and memorable for them. Finding a way to accommodate their creative ideas (within reason) will foster a feeling of solidarity and enthusiasm. Remember that one of the most important lessons we can teach our children is resilience in the face of inevitable challenges: this time presents a great opportunity to practice those skills.
  • No Wrong Answers – often it feels like there are no “right” answers in this COVID world. Either I keep my children home (and they miss out on the benefits of in-person learning) or I send them to school and risk possible exposure/infection. The good news is, there are no “wrong” answers either. You need to make choices for your own family (in light of your unique circumstances) that make you feel comfortable – then own those choices and make the best of them.
  • Take a Break – when we are surrounded by overwhelming (and often depressing) news about the death-toll or the divisive political climate, it is tempting to bury our head beneath the pillow or burst into tears. When the news (or social media) gets overwhelming, turn it off and take a walk. Children’s worlds tend to be much “smaller” – less affected by news and politics – ask what your child is thinking about (in my case it’s often more about space or dinosaurs than COVID). Engaging with my son on this level often reminds me to put the news of the day into perspective
  • Keep Your Sense of Humor & Cut Yourself (and Your Kids) Some Slack – Despite difficult and concerning news (and a lot of heightened anxiety in both adults and children), it’s ok (and necessary) to laugh during this time too.
  • Seek Help When/if You Need It – The National Alliance on Mental Health has a 24-hour helpline (800)950-6264. The relapse and overdose rate has increased by 30% since March and there are increases in domestic violence and mental health challenges (depression, anxiety and other mental health issues) as well. National and Local resources are available and most providers are offering virtual or telephonic sessions. Please reach out if and when you (or your children) need assistance.

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!

Kellyanne Conway’s 15-year-old daughter says she is seeking emancipation. Here’s what that process might look like. (Morgan Foster Quoted)

• Mon Aug 24th, 2020 3:30pm
By Lauren Leazenby
Chicago Tribune

Kellyanne Conway’s daughter, Claudia Conway, 15, announced she is seeking emancipation from her parents. “I’m officially pushing for emancipation,” she tweeted Saturday.

Claudia’s tweet came just 24 hours before Kellyanne Conway announced, also via Twitter, that she will be leaving her post as senior counselor to President Donald Trump at the end of August to focus more on her children. Claudia’s father, George Conway, also said Sunday he is stepping away from his role as founder of the Lincoln Project to “devote more time to family matters.”

Claudia is citing “years of childhood trauma and abuse” as her reason for seeking emancipation, according to a follow-up tweet.
Megan Foster, a family law attorney in the Washington, D.C., metro area, said the courts know that many teens don’t get along with their parents.

“The court is aware of the nature of the dynamics between teenagers and parents,” said Foster, an attorney at the firm McAllister, DeTar, Showalter & Walker. “So, they’re looking for something beyond just normal teenager-parent butting heads in order to rise to the level of something that would make emancipation an option.”

Emancipation “severs the parents’ legal and financial responsibilities and obligations for the child,” Foster said, adding that the process is “like a child divorcing from their parent.” To be emancipated, first, a child —likely with the help of counsel —would file a petition with the court for emancipation. The court would then issue a summons, and the opposing parties (the parents) would be served.

“That would open the gate,” Foster said. “Then there would be a full case in court in the family law division — similar to a divorce or custody case — dealing with the issue of emancipation and evaluating whether the facts merit granting of emancipation.”

Foster said the child has the burden of proving to the court that emancipation is in her best interest and that she is able to financially support herself.

Typically, minors seek emancipation for one of three reasons, Foster said: Sometimes, the teenage child is already living independently of her parents and already has a sort of practical emancipation that the legal process would make official. Emancipation can also be financially driven, as seen in cases where child actors or influencers have their own income streams. Foster said emancipation sometimes occurs in a contentious divorce, where parents don’t agree about what should happen to a child, but the court has already come down with a custody order. In this case, an emancipated child can make the decision about which parent to live with.

If a child is at least 16 years old, generally speaking, the court is more likely to grant emancipation. “Just because you’re 16 and you file for emancipation, you’re not automatically going to get it,” Foster said. “But if you’re 16 or older, you’re more likely, you have a stronger case.” She also said that because court cases can sometimes take over a year from start to finish, children might be in an even stronger position for emancipation at the end because they have aged up throughout the process.

Foster said minors seeking emancipation should know that it’s a “somber and serious process.” Children who are successfully emancipated often can afford to be represented by effective counsel, she said. If they can afford a lawyer, they probably have enough income to be self-sufficient, Foster said. But emancipation is cost-prohibitive for many who can’t afford counsel.

“But it is a resource,” she said. “If any minor child … seems to find themselves in an unhealthy or untenable circumstance, it should certainly be something they consider.”

In Claudia’s case, Foster said the Trump aide’s daughter will likely have to show that hers is an unhealthy environment to grow up in. She said Claudia may have income from her work on social media, which would help the process. However, her parents would likely oppose the emancipation, which would turn it into a “full-blown court case,” Foster said.

For parents of teens who are seeking emancipation, Foster said: “It’s definitely not an automatic thing.” If a parent doesn’t want their child to be emancipated, a parent should sit down with their child, figure out the reasoning for the complaints and work together to fix the situation, she said.

“If the parents are making substantial efforts to make the situation better, to listen to the child, to make sure she has the attention she needs, to make sure she has the resources she needs … they’re going to improve the chances of getting what they want in the court case,” Foster said.

Think about where your phone is most of the time. Your pocket? Think about how frequently you use your phone to text your partner or your friends, or your childcare provider. Constantly? Think about the pictures you share on Facebook or Instagram of your children and your outings. All of them? Privacy rights advocates have been telling us for years that we should be more careful about the information we post about ourselves online, and at the same time technology companies tempt us with secure and encrypted devices and programs, suggesting that we can keep our digital lives private.

By: Susan M. Wyckoff, Esquire

Imagine being out with your girlfriends…an innocent night of girl talk while enjoying a few tapas and some wine.  One of your friends who has recently re-entered the single scene shows you the dating website she has been trying out.  You have been happily married for several years, so you have been out of the dating scene, but of course, are naturally curious.  What harm could possibly come from watching your single friend search for the new love of her life?

Your friend opens up her Tinder page, shows you her profile and explains how it works – various pictures of men will appear, most of which will have the man’s name and age in the lower left hand corner, some of which may have a brief profile, including his profession and workplace… swipe left if you are not interested or swipe right if you are interested.  If she “swipes right,” and the man in the photo “swipes right” on her photo, there will be a match, and potentially an online conversation that will hopefully lead to a meetup.  Riveting!  While swiping through the photos, you see various pictures of men, some attractive, some not.  You and your friends have an innocent laugh or two, until one photo suddenly makes your heart sink …the man in the photo IS YOUR HUSBAND!  It takes your girlfriends a minute longer to recognize him, but suddenly everyone is silent in disbelief.  What do you do?

  1. Ask your friend to take a screen shot of every picture and every word of the profile.
  2. Then ask your friend to text or e-mail the photos to another friend. Do not text or e-mail the photos to yourself yet, in the event that your spouse, or worse, your children, have access to your e-mail or text messages.
  3. If your husband has never met your friend, ask her to swipe right to see if there is a match.
  4. If there is a match let him initiate the conversation, and if, and when he does, have your girlfriend takes screen shots of all of the direct messaging.

At this point, you may be tempted to take matters into your own hands such as having your girlfriend set up a meeting with him where you appear with your other friends – very, very bad idea.  It is highly unlikely that you will have any productive conversation with your spouse about his or her on-line dating presence.  In addition, if you confront your spouse, you are not only putting yourself at a disadvantage as to discovering all of the facts, but you are also putting your spouse on notice to try to cover-up his or her behavior.

The next step is to contact an attorney who is experienced in the area of family law as it is now time for you understand what rights you have and do not have.  In addition, the attorney may refer you to a private investigator for further investigation of your spouse’s conduct.  Your attorney should also be familiar with companies that are able to legally and defensibly capture, preserve and analyze web content.  Consulting with a family law attorney, does not always lead to a separation or divorce, but it should lead you to being educated on the law and access to the appropriate professional resources.

There are a number of internet search sites, such as Spokeo, that will assist you in finding out if your spouse has an internet dating profile by running a search of your spouse’s e-mail address.  These sites costs money and may be a good start provided that your spouse is not very clever.  If your spouse is clever, he or she may have taken the precaution of buying with cash a disposable smart phone with prepaid minutes and creating a new e-mail account with that unknown, hard to trace number.  Once he or she has the new e-mail account, he or she will be able to open a Facebook page and use same to create a profile on Tinder, Bumble, Grinder, etc.

An initial consultation with a qualified family law attorney will more than likely cost you between $250 and $500 depending upon the attorney’s experience and the nature of the case; however, when you are considering that the well-being and financial future of you and your children, and that thousands to millions of dollars of marital assets are at issue, spending an initial consultation fee to get your ducks in a row is very wise.