I’ve been receiving a lot of questions from mums and dads who are divorced and separated about parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic. I understand why – even if you are on the same page as your ex-partner generally, the unsettling times we are living can throw a spanner in your carefully constructed parenting regimes.
Conflicts are rising. Divorced and separated parents don’t agree about whether or not it’s OK to go outside, or visit friends. They’re unsure who is coming and going in the other parent’s home and how that might affect their child, and their own circumstances. Routines are out the window. Where one parent may be focused on maintaining a strict home school structure, the other may be treating school closures like a vacation. This can leave one parent feeling like they’re carrying the brunt of the responsibilities.
How can we negotiate these differences? Can divorced parents get on the same page?
You not only can, but you really must. Parental conflict can lead to negative outcomes for our children. And it’s essential that you’re on the same page to keep them safe, as well as your loved ones who are potentially more vulnerable to illness. So, here are some ways to make shared custody achievable during a global pandemic.
Consider Your Homes As a Single Household
Australians have been told to stay at home. But when your children are travelling between two parents, they have two homes. And if you are part of a blended family, there may be three or even four homes in the mix.
In those situations, treat all your children’s homes as part of your extended household. You can (and should) appropriately enter the other parent’s home when and if required – and when invited. You can (and should) travel between those homes to meet your custody arrangements. And you can (and should) ensure that your children are safe and well at each home where they ‘live’.
Keep Criticisms and Critiques Out of the Conversation
When it comes to our children we often find ourselves in the position of mama or papa bear. We want to fight ferociously for their rights and their happiness. Sometimes this can lead to criticism of the other parent.
Before you criticise your ex-partner, or even give them some well-meaning critique, ask yourself, ‘Is this really important?’ Is it really that big a deal that your child stayed up until 9pm when you like them in bed at 7.30? Maybe it is. Maybe it isn’t. Is it important that your child is meeting up with his friends at the skate park against the advice (and rules!) of the government? Yes.
If it is important, by all means, mention it (gently). But if it’s not, let it go. It might not be easy to let those things go, but it’s worth it. When you do have something important to discuss, the other parent will be more open to making changes.
Do the Right Thing in Your Home
You may be unhappy about the time being spent on school work in the other parent’s home. Or maybe you feel that your child should be spending more time riding bikes outside and less playing video games.
It’s difficult to feel like you don’t have control, but all you can really do is make sure that you’re doing the ‘right’ thing in your own home. Set up routines that work for you and your child for schooling and outside time. Be there to help with the schoolwork that comes home, even when it’s not your custodial day.
Most importantly, talk to your children about why these things are important. Ask them to help you brainstorm ways to establish and stick to the important parts of the routine in your home. Getting them involved may help them take those routines with them to the other parent’s home as well.
The entire world is going through something momentous right now. Every one of us is grieving at the moment. Your ex-partner is no exception. Be compassionate to their situation.
Then, be compassionate with yourself. If home schooling is just overwhelming you by the end of the week, take Friday off. If your routines are proving impossible to stick to, relax them. You’re going through this as well. It’s not the time to be perfect. It’s the time to be gentle with yourself and with others.