Resolving Parenting Issues During Or After A Divorce During Covid-19
How can we use COVID-19 to change our ways?
Unexpectedly, divorcing or divorced parents found themselves in the midst of a major crisis, COVID-19. According to the most recent statistics, up to 90% of the United States is under stay-at-home orders. Most courts have been closed or operate on an extremely limited basis. The threat of going to court lost its impact as in most cases access to court has been cut off. Parents, now more than ever, have to seek ways to talk with each other to resolve their differences. Tough times can help us realize the importance of being rational, compassionate, and kind to each other. COVID-19 gives us an opportunity to look at ourselves with honesty and candor. We have to reach beyond our conflict.
Many courts have informally opined that COVID-19 is not a reason to withhold children or prevent court-ordered visitation. Courts have not issued such orders but expressed their informal thoughts on handling such disputes.
Parents with existing court orders for sharing parenting time must figure out a way to safely abide by them. Parents, who do not yet have orders (because they were in the process of settlement or mediation when COVID-19 started) must continue to talk to each other to avoid escalation of the conflict. We must remember that children are affected by this situation as well. Their school routines, access to friends, extracurricular activities were all abruptly ended or drastically changed.
So, how can parents approach parenting conflict?
Re-focusing on your children is your best chance of finding ways to talk to each other in a respectful and constructive way. Parents want what is best for their children. What that usually translates into during a divorce, however, is a belief held by each of the parents that only she or he can determine what that “best” is. If parents can look at the situation from the perspective of their child, the answer to the conflict would often become obvious. Children want both parents. They want both parents to talk to each other in a civil way. They want to see both parents. They want to talk to both parents. They want to do all of their activities with both parents.
Becoming honest with yourself can help parents become honest with each other. Growing up and setting aside your emotional hurts can help parents refocus the conversation back on their children. Looking at the situation pragmatically may help parents come up with options.
Taking care of your own emotional and psychological well-being is more important now than ever before. Exercise, sleeping well, eating well, meditating and staying away from negative news and social media feeds are a must during times like these. Make time and space for your own needs. As parents, we deplete ourselves, which ultimately hurts our children. Divorce is a time when we need self-care the most.
Lack of information about each other’s households is the most common reason for increased anxiety among parents. During or after a divorce, parents feel that they have a right to privacy; and often are not willing to disclose information about their homes, new partners, routines with their children, activities they do with the children, etc. Some parents refuse to provide each other with their new cell phone numbers.
This is the time to set aside our need for privacy and provide each other as parents a comprehensive briefing on each other’s home environments, contact information, work schedules, protocols with COVID-19, routines done with the kids, etc. The more each parent knows about the other the better at this time. It is important to discuss how to keep both households on the same COVID-19 safety protocol, i.e. managing outings for essentials, washing hands, disinfecting items like mail, groceries, keys, procuring and wearing masks, gloves, etc.
Having candid discussions is another way to attempt resolution. Fear of becoming vulnerable stops people from having a constructive dialogue. Divorce posturing is one of the biggest obstacles to forward-movement towards settlement. When it comes to children, try not to even out scores kept during your marriage. It is not their fault that your spouse hurt you during the marriage. It is not their fault that you felt unloved and unappreciated during your marriage. Now, that the marriage is over, your emotions about your spouse have to be processed in appropriate ways, which means away from children. Parents may want to work harder on taking care of their emotional state, so that their conversations about the children are not tainted with emotional drama. Kids require so much of our attention, love, care, and devotion. This is the time to be our best.
Honesty is another way to arrive at some good resolutions. If one parent works in an emergency room or a busy grocery store, parents must be honest with each other assessing risk for the children. Can COVID-19 protocols be maintained at both households under all circumstances? Is it safer for the child (and thus the other parent and his/her household) to temporarily have visited online only? Can visits be safely maintained? kids miss both parents and want to spend as much
If every interaction ends in a fight, parents should reach out to mediators, who can help them on an hourly basis. Parenting is hard enough without an epidemic. You are not alone. If you cannot agree on visitation schedule or disagree with COVID-19 protocols at each other houses or cannot figure out how to streamline homeschooling at this time or how to adjust support in light of layoffs and pay cuts, reach out to a mediator. It takes a village to raise a child. Now, it may take a professional to help you resolve an issue.