Alright friends, buckle up because I’m going to give this to you straight with no chaser (I’ve always wanted to say that). Co-parenting is tricky business, with or without a pandemic. There’s constant shuffling of children from one house to the next all while trying not to unintentionally step on a landmine filled with your ex-partner’s feelings.
The ugly truth of the matter about this COVID co-parenting is no one knows what they’re doing. There, I said it. Now we can all relax a little. No one is doing it right. No one planned for a pandemic when they got divorced, or broke up. Not a single soul saw a 1918 scale pandemic throwing a two by four in their parenting plan. We are all lost, and we are all scared.
I have read some pretty scary stories about judges taking children temporarily away from the parent that works the frontline of this virus. In this situation, I can see how anxiety led the other parents decision to go to court, but I can’t help but feel deep sorrow for the child and frontline parent. At no point should a parent’s job determine how well they can protect their child, but I can see how in this instance the concern is elevated. The lawyers and judges are navigating uncharted territory.
The question has become, how do we as parents figure this out? We see these little eye looking up at us to have the answers. They need to know why they can’t go to Dad’s, or why they need to stay for two weeks instead of a weekend. How do you explain incubation periods and deadly viruses to children?
Over the past few weeks the question “what are you guys doing for custody during this time” has been asked at least three times a week in a couple of the mom groups I belong to. The answers all vary. Some ladies are saying they aren’t sending their children to their other parent. Others are doing 2 weeks on and two weeks off so the parent can watch for symptoms of the virus before sending them back. The majority are sticking to the original custody agreement and hoping for the best.
It seems that tensions are higher than usual in these routine exchanges and anxiety is spiking with the fear that their child may come home sick. In my own situation, I have struggled with anxiety around continuing to send my older children to their dad. I struggle not because I think he can’t keep them safe, I know he can. I know he loves them just as much as I do and would move heaven and earth to avoid harm coming to them.
Still I kept them away for a full week, when he gets them every other day. I needed the space to think and feel, while working through it all. Thankfully my ex-husband understood that, and knows how I operate under anxiety inducing situations. While he was annoyed with me, he still allowed me to do what I felt was best without any fuss.
This virus is just that scary to me. It’s scary enough to make me question every decision to leave the house for supplies and question every time I let my kids out of my eyesight. I’m just scared and for a moment I operated out of that fear instead of logic.
But, how do you protect your children from something you can’t see; something that someone just breathing in the same room could give them? How do you regulate that within a custody agreement? The hard truth is, you can’t. We as parents cannot make this pandemic fit into this co-parenting box that we and the courts created. We may want to give it a try, but in the end, who are we hurting with the sudden change in yet another routine?
The best way to get through COVID co-parenting is to communicate effectively and patiently. If you’re concerned about the virus, talk about it. Talk about what you’re comfortable with and see what your children’s father or mother is comfortable with. Check in with them, because chances are, they’re concerned too. Their anxiety is likely high as well, and the one thing I’ve learned about anxiety is, it looks for the things it can control. In this co-parenting situation, it may turn into a custody dispute.
Dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude is hard enough, adding a custody dispute on top of it could be unbearable. Our children need us to be the ones with the answers to this situation.
Co-parenting can be challenging under the best circumstances, let’s try to remember that COVID co-parenting demands it’s own set of flexibility and understanding. Also, none of us know what we’re doing.