Let’s face it, co-parenting already comes with challenges. And COVID-19 has brought unique challenges for dual household families that make cooperative parenting after divorce or separation even more difficult. The best co-parenting plans are crafted with healthy collaboration, effort and good will. And it takes time to replace old habits with new ones, work the plan and work out the snags. To quote an old TV show, it feels so good “when a plan comes together” though, doesn’t it? That is, until an external force like a global pandemic comes along and puts that plan to the test. That’s when it becomes apparent that successful co-parenting plans are agile ones.
Think about everything that changed during the pandemic. More people stayed home, so co-parents saw a lot more of their kids. Or sometimes less of their kids, depending upon which ex’s household they stayed at when lockdowns took effect. Many people experienced economic hardship, sometimes severe. Any conflict already in the home became amplified with no escape valve. And all of these practical constraints exerted pressure on people’s mental health too. Fear and worry increased. For many, the sense of being confined increased frustration. And feeling distanced from loved ones began to take an emotional toll for ex’s who became even more keenly aware of the need to care for both their children and their parents.
After all, creating and maintaining healthy boundaries with your ex-spouse and others means you are in control of your own personal and emotional space – who and when to let in – and keep out. Except when, all of a sudden, the element of choice gets removed and it feels like you’re not so in control anymore. Like during a pandemic.
So just when you and your ex thought you were gracefully falling into the perfect give-and-take rhythms of responsibly and respectfully looking after your kids’ well-being, you began to find best made plans for cooperative custody begin to teeter off balance again. Which home do the children stay at, and when? What if one co-partner lives in an area under lockdown while the other area experiences fewer pandemic restrictions. The need to care for children learning at home is another consideration. When a trusted neighbour or relied-upon grandparent is no longer available to provide that care. What if you or your ex-partner are working fewer hours or has lost their job altogether. That scenario can certainly shift co-parenting patterns. Not to mention the physical and mental health implications for all family members, whether living under your roof or your ex’s roof.
Here are a few positive things to think about, though.
- Recognize you are not alone. Many co-parents and their ex’s are going through similar struggles as yours – and they are meeting online to talk about it and support one another. Why not seek out where they meet online and join in a conversation? Certainly TFEC’s social media coordinator has observed increasing co-parenting discussion on our Facebook page. So share knowledge and find out how others are coping with co-parenting through COVID. Even After months of lockdown and social distancing, many people have yet to discover how technology can help – how reaching out with an old-school, simple phone call or online chat can bring so much joy. So why not make a point of remembering a friend and reaching out to them? You’ll both feel good about it.
- Take time to learn. 2020 became known as the year of DIY as people found themselves with fewer financial resources and more time on their hands. So they learned new things like never before – often with the help of YouTube. People learned to repair their own lawn mowers, bake bread, and speak new languages. Likewise, many people began to focus on improving their mental health. So why not focus on a co-parenting skill you would like to become better at and brush up. There is a lifetime of learning ahead, so if you focus on specific skills you gain the satisfaction of feeling almost instant improvement.
- Do more of what works (and less of what doesn’t!) If communicating well has worked in the past, do more of it now. If keeping a co-parenting journal has helped sort out your thoughts, go ahead and journal some more. Tip: open your journal, write “Co-parenting through COVID-19”. Add the numbers 1-5 and create your own customized COVID co-parenting strategy. Tip: How do you know what is working? Think of something that recently put a smile on your young one’s face. How were you able to move from an introspective mindset to being able to place your daughter or son’s well-being ahead of your own? Begin to plan for more interactions like that one.
- Engage in self care. On the other hand, we cannot look after our children’s emotional well-being if our own emotional health gets neglected. So it’s important to engage in self care (physical and mental health, mindfulness, journaling). Remember the flight attendant instructing passengers to place the oxygen mask on their own faces before beginning to help others? The same idea applies here! We often put some much emphasis on advocating for our kid’s happiness that we forget about our own!
- Negotiate or Re-Negotiate for your kids’ well-being. Nothing is written in stone. COVID has reminded everyone of the need for resilience and flexibility. If you have a plan, recognize it is a living document. Anything can be changed. Even under pressure, you and your ex-partner have an opportunity to put your best foot forward. Sometimes it helps to talk with a trusted other or a third party to revisit and potentially rework custody arrangements, schedules and boundaries. That’s where TFEC can come in.
- Seek support. TFEC offers various kinds of support: individual counselling for co-parents. Either or both parents can engage in a session, either online or in person. Counselling for co-parenting can help in any of the above areas – improving, self care, communication, working through issues. Co-parenting classes are also available on a regular basis. You get 8 weeks of group learning with a validated curriculum, a 200-page, interactive co-parenting handbook, a co-parenting journal and, at the end, a court approved certificate of completion. This course is even available to those who have taken these classes before, so this might be your time for a top up.