A few weeks ago life as we all knew it changed dramatically, a global health crisis sent the world into a spin. Enter COVID-19 in all its shit storm glory. I don’t know about you but I felt like everything started to play out like the slo-mo setting on my iPhone. Added to this global health pandemic some of you are trying to co (vid) parent.
In terms of what co-parenting your child/ren with your former partner now looks like, this is a choice you get to make, parents it’s time to step up, swallow the hard pill and focus on your kids.
Having to communicate with an ex-partner can be really tough at the best of times, communication is now more crucial than ever.
I recently heard Kim John Payne from Simplicity Parenting (Counsellor, Educator, Author) speak on the GOOP podcast. He was predominantly discussing anxiety in children but what he said about thinking before you speak really resonated with me.
He says before you speak (where possible) ask yourself these questions –
- Is what I am about to say kind?
- Is what I am about to say true, not just factually but true to OUR family values?
- Is this necessary? Do I have to speak about this now or can it be deferred? Do I really need to say this?
- Is it securing? Will what I am about to say make the other parent or child feel secure?
If the answer is no to any of these questions then defer it or deflect it. It doesn’t mean that what you have to say is not important or relevant but maybe there is another way of saying it or maybe there is a better time to have the conversation.
Facilitate the existing arrangement where possible
Stability is important especially for younger children, evidence tells us that familiarity can help facilitate a sense of safety for our child/ren. Having said that, this period of time is anything but stable or familiar. So if a temporary deviation from your ‘normal’ regime is going to make life a little easier for you and your children at the moment, this is okay. It is important to focus on creating a lifestyle that promotes happiness, safety, and respect for a cohesive family unit. So how do we do this?
- Hold close the family values and decipher clear boundaries that work.
- If there is a regular parenting arrangement, whether it be court ordered, a parenting plan or a verbal understanding of how and when the child/ren will spend time with each parent and it works – stick to it. There is no need to change something that is working.
- Communicate any changes with the co-parent in writing via text or email.
- Communicate any changes with the kids (If they are old enough). Talk to them about the reality of this time and how as a family, you are in this together.
- Listen to the kids.
- Listen to the co-parent and what they have to say. You may not agree with their contribution; but put your big girl/boy pants on and hear them out.
I have had a lot of questions from clients who are concerned about the other parent not isolating or being as careful as you would like them to be and what they should do. There’s no doubt that this is going to cause some genuine concern and fear. It is a real and valid concern especially in uncertain times and remembering that your children are undoubtedly the most precious people in your life. Safety of the children comes first.
Difficulties, and where conflict may arise is when one parents opinion may differ to the other parents. If possible and for the sake of your children, remain calm, realistic and put aside differences, it’s the future that we need to focus on, both for the children and the parents. Again, communicate and raise your concerns with the other parent. Some suggestions that you might like to discuss are –
- Other people coming into the home, what are the rules at their house? Can you reach common ground here?
- Are they still working and who will care for the child/ren if they are at work and not working from home?
- How will you both home school the children?
- What is the hygiene routine at their home?
- Do they have enough supplies/food/clothing for the children when they are at their house.
In the event that the current arrangements cannot continue as they have been, be sensible about it and don’t cut off all contact with the other parent just because they cannot spend physical time together.
Some ways to keep your co-parent informed and for the children to stay connected with the other parent are –
- Offer catch up time and create a countdown calendar so the children know when that will be.
- Increase telephone contact
- Zoom sessions (free)
- Skype sessions (free)
- FaceTime (free via WIFI)
- SMS if they are old enough
- Have the children write a letter or do a drawing.
COVID-19 is not an excuse to stop the children spending time with the other parent. Having said that it is imperative that the children are not at risk and that includes a health risk. If you are still unsure what to do you should seek legal advice.
The Federal Circuit Court/Family Court to its credit, are taking a very sensible approach to conflict resolution. Chief Justice William Alstergren in his recent media release gave a thorough overview as to how the Courts are dealing with cases in these unprecedented times. First and foremost though he says this –
“As a first step, and only if it is safe to do so, parties should communicate with each other about their ability to comply with current orders and they should attempt to find a practical solution to these difficulties. These should be considered sensibly and reasonably. Each parent should always consider the safety and best interests of the child, but also appreciate the concerns of the other parent when attempting to reach new or revised arrangements. This includes understanding that family members are important to children and the risk of infection to vulnerable members of the child’s family and household should also be considered.”
You can read the media release here, or you can listen to his interview on Triple M here, it’s worth listening to.
Finally most people are fundamentally good people and will try and do their best for their children.