As everyone continues to struggle to cope with the ongoing pandemic, separated and divorced parents face a unique set of challenges. How do you practice physical distancing when your children travel back and forth between two homes?
Meaningful personal contact with both parents is vital for children’s well-being. Particularly during these unusually stressful times, children need the love, guidance, and emotional support of both parents.
The ideal scenario is for parents to maintain the existing parenting schedule, to the extent possible, modified somewhat to ensure that required safety measures are complied with.
There may be situations, though, where modifications are needed in order to protect children from risk. These times, more than ever call for parents to be as accommodating and solution-oriented as possible.
Here are some helpful tips:
- The best interest of the children is the priority. Stay focused on your children and work together for their sake. Come up with a joint plan of steps to keep your children physically safe and emotionally healthy. Give them the comfort of knowing that, during this craziness, their parents are on the same page about how best to care for them.
- Maintain routines. As much as possible, stick to regular, familiar routines and schedules in both households. Set expectations with your children regarding their responsibilities and behaviours (studying, chores, personal grooming, morning and bedtime schedules) and stick to them.
- Model cooperative behaviour. Behave with your co-parent as you would like them to behave with you. Be open and flexible. As things change almost daily over the course of this pandemic, show your children that you are adaptable and that their safety, health, and peace of mind is most important.
- Find common ground. Talk openly with one another about concerns and be open to new, temporary parenting arrangements. Defuse potential dust-ups by taking a step back and putting yourself in the shoes of the other parent. Imagine what they are feeling and try to understand what’s behind their behaviour.
- Be creative. In age-appropriate ways, involve your children in finding safe ways for them to stay connected with both parents and have fun together, even if physical time apart from one or the other parent is necessary. If one of you cannot see the children, for whatever reason, be sure to stay in regular contact with your children through video chats. Play games together or read together. Play outdoor games with the appropriate physical distancing rules in place.
- Limit difficult conversations. Wherever possible, avoid discussing anything that may lead to disagreement or additional tension between you and your former partner. Stay focussed only on matters of pressing concern at the moment and save your differences for later.
- See this as an opportunity. Consider this pandemic as a golden opportunity to reset aspects of your co-parenting communication that aren’t working. Practice new ways of interacting that you can carry forward when these unusual times are over. Show your children that a crisis can be an opportunity for good.
- Get help. Sometimes even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to co-parent effectively and peacefully. Help is available: hire a family mediator to help you. Mediators are skilled at helping families overcome challenges and find solutions that work for everyone involved.
Even though these unusual times may feel overwhelming and way too long some days, they will be over before we know it. We can help our children to move through challenges with love and respect for each other if we set strong boundaries and reflect on our own behaviour.