Between Two Homes: Tips for Co-Parenting and Exchanges During a Pandemic
by Sally Pretorius and co-author Dr. Hillary Lewis as published in Texas Lawyer
As our nation reemerges from the quarantine of COVID19, we find ourselves in truly unprecedented times. It has been nearly 100 years since our world’s last major pandemic – the Spanish Flu of 1918. The devastation is rooted in so much terrifying uncertainty combined with the startling death rates and the economic collapse, just to name a few. The uncertainty now permeates all aspects of our lives and is especially felt by parents and families. Parenting in the time of a pandemic highlights the incredible responsibility that parents have to prioritize the health and safety of not only their children, but also the entire family. Decisions of parents have never had such an impact on their children. Travel on the work trip? Attend the neighborhood happy hour? Participate in a playdate with your kids? These decisions are now even more important. There is a significant social responsibility that must be acknowledged. The impact of personal decisions is real and the risk of parental exposure to COVID19 must not be ignored. These are universal concerns that demand thoughtful and responsible parental decision making. Furthermore, as reintegration continues, two home families may face an even greater challenge— aligning their decision making to support an equal level of safety and precaution.
Co-parenting is hard. It is hard for nuclear families and even more so for two home families. Co-parenting necessitates effective communication, which can be even more difficult in two home families who often have a history of ineffective communication. Now, co-parenting during a pandemic becomes even more challenging amidst fear, panic and anxiety to the equation. We are dealing with a novel virus with unique characteristics that have allowed for the rapid devastating spread. The long latency period between exposure and onset of symptoms has made contact tracing difficult. Additionally, the wide range of symptoms has unfortunately fueled the spread, as many with mild cases or totally asymptomatic cases are continuing to participate in normal daily activities, thus spreading the virus. All of these aspects of COVID19 reinforce the enormous responsibility that parents have to be thoughtful with their decision making. How can we help divorced families navigate this? How can we aid extended families with similar concerns? The principles to support a structure of safe decision making can be extended from two home families to many larger networks of families and friends.
To help two home families get through this pandemic, here are some tips to co-parenting and exchanges during a pandemic.
- Communicate using a third-party server– Today, we have so many different options for communication—text message, email, social media (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp) messages, and the traditional phone call—which can lead to miscommunications. Using a designated mode of communication like a third-party server called Our Family Wizard or AppClose (which is a free resource) allows for all communication to be in one place and easily accessible.
- Shared Priorities– Remember that you and your co-parent have a priority in common: your children. When making decisions for the children try and find commonality in goals—for example completing schoolwork, allowing safe socialization—and bring decision making back to that goal. Try and avoid unnecessary drama and be flexible. For example, if a child has an iPad he uses at Mom’s house, but he also needs it at Dad’s house so he can complete schoolwork, allow the iPad to travel back and forth and come up with rules for the transport.
- Respect the other parent’s priorities– If a parent is high risk or practicing strict social distancing, respect that parent’s decision and honor some of their guidelines. Showing respect for the other parent’s rules and guidelines teaches a child more than you will ever realize.
- Don’t put the kids in the middle– Don’t ask your child to be a message courier, watch dog or tattle tale. Children are adjusting to the change in their normal routine. Asking them to report back on what the other parent is doing or whether they are following the rules at Dad’s house or asking them to keep secrets adds another layer of stress, which can be avoided.
- Be a good human– Show grace in unusual circumstances. Everyone is adjusting to a new set of norms and dealing with the stress of our current situation. Intentionally offering kindness and greater understanding in unusual circumstances is certainly the example we all hope to set for our children. For instance, if a party is social distancing/self-quarantining due to exposure, their current job, or a similar reason and can’t exercise their scheduled possession, be flexible and let that parent FaceTime or agree to exchange weekends. Almost all Texas possession orders start with a sentence that says “Unless greed otherwise” to allow parents flexibility.
This era of COVID19 has introduced the concept of social distancing, has demanded improved hand hygiene and promoted mask wearing and has ultimately reminded us that the actions of one affect the outcomes of many. The health and safety of our families and communities will continue to depend on responsible decision making and effective communication at the individual and family levels.