For many parents, co-parenting when married is challenging and post-divorce it is darn near impossible. Different rules, different values, and different boundaries across two households can lead to significant conflict and difficulty in co-parenting. Add to this already bubbling cauldron of challenges a nationwide pandemic and shelter-in-place orders and the very real risk of boil-over readily rises to the surface, even for couples that previously had worked well together. Please read below for 5 “C’s” for co-parenting during COVID19 to help you avoid the sixth “C” of conflict.
Even if communication has not previously been your strong suit, this is the time to use all methods of communication available to you: email, text, phone and video. This is the time to over-communicate with each other about all things impacting your children. Set up a schedule of contact to “just check in”. How are you answering your children’s questions about what is happening in our world? Make sure the other parent knows how your children are emotionally handling the current stress and limitations in their lives. How are you managing the demands of home schooling? What tips have you found to be effective in working with each child around their learning needs and how are you juggling the multiple and competing demands on your time and energy? This is not the time to keep score or to hoard information. SHARE what you’ve discovered that works and what does not with each of your children—you are indeed in this together regardless of your pre-existing co-parenting relationship. By over-communicating with your co-parent you are not only helping each other but most importantly you are helping your children.
So what if you disagree? What if one of you is making sure the children are hand-washing and social distancing and the other is arranging play dates and not wearing masks when out in public? What if one of you is making sure your children are doing their work and the other is taking a more laissez-faire attitude? Even when communicating with respect and dignity there are going to be things that you and your co-parent disagree about, this crisis notwithstanding. So, be prepared to ask questions, listen to counter-arguments and recognize that there are limits to what you can control. Understand that the experts don’t have all the right answers and neither do you. Be open to your co-parent’s input and ideas and consequently, approach your difficult conversations with a problem-solving attitude. This is the time to be flexible, generate possible options, and offer alternative solutions to problems, even if it’s not 100 percent what you want to do. Ask “what can we do to address this issue that meets all of our needs?’ versus demanding that it be all your way. Work toward meeting needs not wants and perhaps your co-parent will respond in kind.
Have you ever noticed that “yes tends to create yes” and “no tends to create no”? Not always but a good deal of the time. So, this is the time to be a “yes co-parent”. If your co-parent asks for help, say, “Yes, what can I do to assist?” Although the courts have made it clear that all prior orders around parenting time remain in force in accordance with the school year schedule, as parents you can reach agreements that work best for your family. Perhaps one of you needs to move the transitions to evening from morning to better allow you to WFH—if that can work in your schedule, why not do it? Or maybe one of you is better at home-schooling than the other, while the other can give you more free time on the weekend by taking the children—why not help each other out and play to your strengths so that your children get the best of both of you? Maybe one of you is potentially compromised, but is afraid to give up time? Make it easy for that parent to be honest by assuring him/her of make-up time or reassuring them that temporary changes will not become permanent post-pandemic. There are countless ways that you can each say yes to the other and such cooperation models healthy problem solving for the ones who most matter.
Fortunately technology offers you a multitude of ways to maintain contact with each other and with your children. Take advantage of all of them. Call, text, email, face time or zoom. We are social creatures and one of the biggest challenges of shelter in place is the isolation that each of us and our children experience. We know that you are lonely and so are your children so make sure they are able to connect with the other parent when with you. Facilitate your children reaching out to their other parent and be responsive to that parent’s efforts to reach back. Have your child start a journal or write a letter that they send to the other parent so they “feel” connected to that parent and the outside world. Talk about what each of you doing to ensure the healthy and safety of your family; not just your kids but also of each other, recognizing that the choices you make in your home impact the other parent’s household. Your homes are connected as your children transition back and forth and to be sure those connections don’t add to conflict be sure to follow the prior “C’s”.
This crisis is unprecedented in all of our lifetimes. Now is the time to be as creative as possible in your approaches to managing your co-parenting relationship. Now is the opportunity to try something different, something new to see if it might work better. Ask yourself, “how can I help my co-parent” and you may be amazed at the ideas that you discover. Talk with friends to learn what creative ways they are using to manage the challenges of co-parenting. Find new ways for your children to connect with the other parent during this period of greater isolation. Use this as an opportunity to do things differently and you may find a new relationship with your co-parent that lasts well beyond this pandemic.
Finally, if conflict is increasing and nothing is working, seek professional help from a counselor, your parenting coordinator or parenting facilitator so that you can better shield your children from unnecessary distress at a time when they need the two of you to be your best selves.