This is a difficult and worrying time for everyone, everywhere. Our world has been tipped on its head. If you are going through a separation, chances are you were already going through some emotional turmoil and vulnerability before the current pandemic came along to double down on your stress and anxiousness. If you are co-parenting, you face some extra challenges but they can be worked out! Here are the tips I am sharing with my 1:1 clients at the moment.
Plan Ahead - If you haven’t already, pull together a plan for how your co-parenting arrangements will look should you face illness, isolation, the closure of schools and day cares or further restrictions imposed on movement.
If any of these events happen, the last thing anyone (most of all, your children) need is you having to quickly come up with new arrangements when everyone is feeling under pressure. Having a pre-agreed plan also helps when you face those inevitable “What if...? ” questions from your children.
For your children, seeing you jump straight to “Plan B” without a lot of panic or fuss gives them certainty and assurance that the important adults in their lives have got this.
Be Prepared to Change Changeovers – as part of your planning, think about how changeovers in care might need to change.
If you use a neutral venue such as sports activities, school or a library, agree on a back-up neutral changeover venue in the event your usual venue shuts down. Venues that are outdoors and where you can maintain good distancing practices are ideal.
If one or both of you rely on public transport for changeovers, agree on a plan for if public transport services are reduced or shut down.
Be Flexible – life at the moment is very much about taking each day as it comes and rolling with any changes that occur. Now is the time to make like bamboo, rather than a rigid oak:
“Bamboo is flexible, bending with the wind but never breaking, capable of adapting to any circumstance.” (Ping Fu).
Try hard to carry out your obligations under any court ordered arrangements or parenting agreements. However, if restrictions, changes in work commitments or illness make it unreasonable to stick with those arrangements, roll with that and work out alternatives. Rigidly trying to hold on to unworkable arrangements will merely create extra stress and ultimately won’t likely serve your children.
It may be one parent has to travel further than usual, you use non-physical contact alternatives or arrangements are made for extra time being accommodated later.
Focus on finding solutions that work for your children, rather than past grievances, and bear in mind your children are learning from how you problem solve at this time.
Keep Contact Happening – Our children will be feeling anxious too, no matter how well we try to protect them from being so. These anxieties will likely include worrying about their parents and what may happen if mum or dad or other loved caregivers get sick. If your children are in your care, ensuring they have lots of regular contact with their other parent or caregiver (using Facetime, Skype, Phone calls etc) will go some way towards easing this time for them.
Amp up the Three C’s – Now is the time to amp up the communication, courtesy and cooperation between co-parents. Your access to legal and dispute resolution services may become reduced so focusing hard on these three C’s may be what gets you through!
Communicate about what each household is doing to take precautions. Discuss any issues around vulnerable members of the family. Decide together as guardians whether to take the precaution of withdrawing your children from school, even if school is still open. Now is the time to be open and transparent with information about the messages your children are being given about the current situation, any worries the children have expressed and any illness that may occur in your household.
Ensuring you maintain a courteous communication style, speaking with your ex as you would like to be spoken with, can help reduce the potential for heated exchanges.
If communication between you both is not viable without further conflict, then look to whether there are family members or friends who are able to serve as Switzerland and be good go-betweens.
Aside from the children’s care arrangements, it is likely financial considerations will impact upon you too. If there are reductions in income or job losses this will be a source of increased stress that impacts how they communicate. It also may impact on a parent’s ability to contribute to the children’s costs. Communicate early about these concerns (anticipate and plan for them before they happen). Adopt understanding of one another's stress. Help each other where you can and cooperate to find an interim solution.
Try to be scared without being scary - You likely have worries and fears about what lies ahead for you and your children. Remember your children have amazing radars that will pick up on any anxiousness and fear in their parents. They also will be getting lots of information from other sources, including mis-information from their peers.
Brene Brown urges us to “Try to be scared without being scary”. Filter information appropriately for your children, given their ages. Reassure them and, if age appropriate, discuss with them the plans you have in place. They will be watching and learning from how their parents navigate and problem solve during this time. Regard that as a great opportunity you are being given.
Everyone is Doing Their Best – Most of all, adopt a generosity of spirit. It helps to see the world through a mindset that everyone is simply doing the best they can with the coping tools they have got. That includes your ex.
If you feel you need additional support or want to help other separated parents by sharing what is working for you at the moment, head on over to The Divorce Lighthouse Group. It's a wee haven online for smart, savvy women going through a separation or divorce.