Co-Parenting During COVID-19

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Co-parenting during a pandemic has presented a different set of challenges for separated couples. Creating new custody arrangements isn't as simplistic as it once was, and co-parents with solidified arrangements may find it difficult to implement their former schedules logistically.

Children, specifically, have been dealt a stressful hand during the pandemic. Their routines have changed significantly, yet, unlike adults, they may not comprehend the full picture. Structure and routine are essential for children, and schedule changes can bring about anxiety and negative behavior.

Consistency and transparency from both parents can help kids work through their feelings during this time. Let's explore some common co-parenting challenges families face and how you can navigate them while maintaining your family's collective mental health.

Keep Communicating

Keeping the communication lines open with your children and their other parent is essential for successfully co-parenting during the pandemic. Everyone should be on the same page about what constitutes acceptable behavior and what might be deemed too risky.

Remember, despite there being two homes, your households are connected. Be transparent about what you deem safe in terms of playdates, social gatherings, and dining out.

It's recommended to stay informed of current health and safety guidelines issues by reputable sources and to determine your comfort level as it pertains to your children. Ideally, both households can end up on the same page.

Children may have questions about why their routines have changed and when their lives might go back to normal. You can help support your child by answering in an honest, age-appropriate way. Be sure to speak with your child's other parent about how you'll handle certain questions to keep your responses consistent.

Manage Schedule Changes

Several factors may contribute to why existing custody and visitation schedules would need to be renegotiated during the coronavirus pandemic. Here are some questions to consider when modifying your child's schedule:

  • Is it truly in my child's best interest to travel back and forth between homes during the pandemic?
  • Is one home more conducive to virtual learning, if applicable, than the other? This may mean internet service quality or a parent working remotely.
  • Is anyone in either home considered to be in a high-risk group for suffering complications from the virus?
  • Is a household member in either home frequently in contact with the public?
  • Is your child taking proper safety precautions when in both homes?

Making changes to existing agreements can be overwhelming—especially if it took a great deal of effort to reach the terms. However, from a logistical standpoint, certain homes may be better equipped for handling still-shifting guidelines in certain regions, including possible stints of at-home learning.

Factors such as having parental support for schoolwork and ample outdoor space are worth considering when deciding on your child's routine.

Exercise Safety Precautions

If your child is spending time in two homes, be sure you and your co-parent are both committed to helping prevent the spread of the illness.

Parents and teenagers should be vaccinated whenever possible. Children who are not yet eligible for vaccination should be reminded to wash their hands, sanitize surfaces, and remain socially distanced from individuals outside of their households to reduce the risk of contracting the virus. Be clear about what safety measures are being practiced in each home.

Children pick up on their parents' cues, so be mindful about the words you use around your child regarding your ex. Avoid using words like "unsafe" or "risky" to describe their other parent's behavior, as doing so can make your child feel anxious.

You and your co-parent will likely have slightly different ways of stopping the spread of germs, but so long as you're both following the advice of medical professionals, it's best to take any mild differences in stride.

Be sure you are in agreement with your co-parent that you will inform one another if your child has been exposed to the virus or if they begin exhibiting symptoms while in your care.

Of course, if you have serious concerns about your child's well-being, seek an emergency order or contact a mediator to assist with conflict resolutions. Many of these consultations are currently being offered via video conferencing.

Get Everything in Writing

Even if terms you temporarily agree to are only slightly different, it's advisable to get these changes in writing. A mediator or attorney can draft an amended schedule document stating the plan will end after the pandemic (you'll need to define what's considered "the end").

This provides you with an added layer of protection—particularly if you think the other parent will attempt to take advantage of the agreement later.

If one parent is losing visitation time due to the pandemic, consider using technology to your advantage. Phone calls, video chats, and so forth can help ease separation anxiety for your child. Implementing consistent video can be beneficial for establishing a routine.

You may also decide to factor in extra visitation following the pandemic to compensate for the lost time during the temporary schedule changes.

Prioritize Your Own Mental Health

Children often seek out reassurance from their parents during troubling times. You've probably focused a lot of energy on answering your child's questions and validating their feelings during the pandemic. You may also be downplaying your own emotions to avoid fueling their anxiety.

Changes in your routine can be distressing. It's normal for adults to be overwhelmed by change, and fear over your child's well-being can exacerbate those negative feelings. If you're struggling with your own emotions during the pandemic, you're not alone.

Mental health professionals can help you work through your feelings while also offering advice on how to model resiliency for your child. People with a history of anxiety and depression, in particular, should consider seeking these services to ensure their mental health is addressed. Many clinicians are currently offering telehealth visits in place of in-office support during the pandemic.

A Word From Verywell

The pandemic has disrupted schools, jobs, and even custody arrangements. You may feel frustrated by all these changes, which is normal. Remember, this is only temporary, and life will eventually return to normal. 

In the meantime, use the resources available to you to learn coping skills and model resilience for your child. This is an opportunity to show your child that life can be unpredictable, but you can make it through difficult times by being adaptable. While your current situation may not be ideal, your family can benefit by adjusting to reasonable changes so long as everyone is being kept safe. 

If you find yourself struggling with your mental health, you're not alone. Reach out to a medical professional for help and advice on how to address your needs.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Creating structure and rules. Updated November 5, 2019.

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