Co-parenting during COVID-19
It is a difficult time.
The brevity of that statement belies the complex and novel circumstances that many of us are experiencing. While COVID-19 is now part of our collective psyche, each of us brings forth our own version of what it means, the best way to cope and care for our children.
For some, an aspiration for effective co-parenting resembles a steady ship with a synchronistic crew, allowing for rocky waters with a joint effort to steady the ship in the swells. We are in the swells.
Under the best of circumstances, it may be hard to be in sync with your co-parent. It is no revelation that what seems best for one person is often not for another. Parents can disagree on what is best for the children.
Here are three broad thoughts that I hope are useful reminders:
1. Take it down a notch: pause before you assume what your co-parent did was to disregard you as a parent.
“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Consider this: would you rather be right or your children happy? Most people with whom I have worked tell me that the well-being of their child is paramount.
But, too often, the well-being of the child is tied up with the power struggle of being right. This can occur because we do not take into account how the other parent is affected by what we do – especially if we act unilaterally and believe we have good intent, i.e., that we are being helpful. This good intent mindset encourages us to view our actions as “right” and can even let us leap to occupying a higher moral ground, which we then have to defend. All the while, our co-parent has a different impression and judges our actions based on the impact to them (just as we would do in the flip). A negative impact can cause a person to feel offended or threatened that his/her ideas were not considered or executed.
Unchecked, this can escalate a misunderstanding to a cycle of reactivity where each person feels his/her contributions have not been recognized by other and an emotional scoreboard is kept of the offenses endured (intentional or not). Communication can break down as each person assumes the worst about the other.
Simply recognizing that not everything the other parent does about which you disagree is meant to negatively impact you may be enough for you to tamp down your need to defend yourself and provide space for you to productively speak to the hurt or offense. It may even allow you to consider in ambiguous situations, that there is a different explanation you have not yet considered.
Likewise, acknowledging that what you had hoped would be celebrated may not occur unless you have found a way to share your perspective and include the other, can motivate you to find consensus before acting.
2. Don’t get mired in the weeds so that you lose sight of the big picture: adjust your expectations to the circumstances.
“People (children) may not remember what you said but they will remember how you made them feel.” Eleanor Roosevelt
The big picture is that you want your child to feel loved and safe.
This is not the time for perfect. (“Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics…” oxford dictionary) Efforts to achieve that will likely create tension and disappointment.
Acknowledge the stressful times and allow for whatever feelings your child may have. Share with your child in an age appropriate manner what you know and you don’t know. Never promise something you cannot absolutely deliver.
If your co-parent is not living with you, to the best extent possible, keep to any court orders or parenting time agreements. If that is not possible, then work towards reasonable accommodations, knowing that if the situation was reversed you would like the same. Your child needs the support of both parents. It is understood that each family will have unique considerations and for some there may be no easy answers, but maintaining important parental relationships during this period is tantamount.
Consult your counsel and your therapist if you have any concerns.
3. Take an honest assessment of your triggers (even if you don’t share them), consider your responses and their contribution to a conflict.
“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”
Feelings that flood us in a particular moment may lead to a non-productive reactive response which can exacerbate conflict and preclude us from considering the other’s perspective.
Each of us will have a different response to the crisis. We tend to hold on to our beliefs very strongly and seek evidence that confirms those ideas we already hold. Changing our beliefs is difficult. As we have seen, the “experts” disagree regarding the level of threat and risks, so why wouldn’t you and your co-parent? One of you may, or be perceived by the other, to minimize the circumstances while the other may have planned for the worse possible scenario.
Whatever you believe, your attitude will likely be shared with your child. If you are flooded with your own feelings and feel misunderstood by your co-parent, it may be harder for your child to share his/her own concerns and can create a circumstance where your child feels they have to align with one of you.
Wishing you good health and sharing hope for brighter days.