When it comes to managing your family life during the COVID-19 pandemic, at this stage you have probably figured out what it takes to succeed. If I were to have written this blog post in March the advice that I would have shared may be a lot different than what you are about to read. For one, we didn’t know just how the virus was going to impact families with children. While many people have suffered with illness associated with the virus and worse, yet many have died, for the most part young people and their parents have been able to avoid these outcomes. That is a good thing, to be sure.
Once we were able to avoid the concerns regarding the virus and its impact on young children and adolescents, much of the concern over the virus shifted from health to family-life. If you are a parent who no longer lives with your child’s other parent, you are undoubtedly familiar with the phrase “co-parenting.” Co-parenting, for those of you who are new to this topic, refers to the coordination of parenting objectives with an ex-spouse or ex-partner after a family law case concludes. Working together with a person with whom you are not on the best terms with is the main challenge associated with co-parenting.
Many people look at this as a challenge that is insurmountable. As a result, they put little effort into co-parenting and often times it shows in relation to the nature of their relationship with the ex-spouse. Children (especially older children) pick up on these shortcomings and can take advantage of the fact that, for example, they have a different set of rules and expectations at each parent’s home. A more united front is usually more effective when it comes to discipline and expectations for school-work. As a result, children grow up more well-adjusted and prepared for adulthood when parents work together, despite the challenges that this may present.
Communication is essential when it comes to being able to co-parent effectively
Communication is always at the top of the list of challenges when it comes to co-parenting. You are not going to be able to co-parent through osmosis, as nice as that may sound. It is necessary for you to be able to communicate well with your ex-spouse about your children. Things change at the drop of a hat when it comes to the kids. Homework assignments, disciplinary problems, food allergies, extracurricular activity schedule changes, and the list goes on and on. You should work on communication with your ex-spouse first and foremost if you want to be able to co-parent effectively.
How can you work on communication with someone who may have caused you a great deal of heartache? How can you work on these things when a pandemic upends the ability for most of us to spend time with anyone outside of our immediate household on a regular basis? The answer to that question is easier than you may believe. First, you do not have to communicate with this person face to face. In fact, given the nature of your history with one another it may be best for you all to not communicate face to face. Limiting personal interactions may de-escalate a situation to the point where you all can work together on parenting issues much more effectively.
Second, technology allows you and your ex-spouse to take advantage of many different forms of communication. We have the tried and true method of the telephone but given the prevalence of text messaging even the phone seems outdated. However, if you need to have a lengthy discussion about a particular topic the phone is tough to beat. There is something about the ability to hear another person’s voice that only a phone can capture. Calling someone on the phone also helps with time management. Nobody wants to spend half an hour texting when a four-minute phone call will suffice.
Third, the challenges that present themselves when it comes to working on co-parenting are something that you can work on during this period of time when we are stuck at home. Think about all the things that you used to be able to do with your time rather than co-parenting skills: going to a movie, going to a ball game, going to a restaurant without having to wear a mask, etc. These are all activities that are either nowhere to be found right now or are restricted to the point of not being enjoyable. Rather than concern yourself with other things, why not challenge yourself to be a better communicator?
This may have been something that you looked at doing years ago but have never really put your best foot forward into. Like cutting the grass or doing any other household chore, co-parenting can be something that you put off until it can no longer be put off any longer. Your excuses for not doing it right now are pretty minimal. Either work towards benefiting the relationship with your ex-spouse now, or maybe lose opportunity forever once the world fully resumes its normal operating path.
The benefits to your children are innumerable when it comes to co-parenting
Think about co-parenting from the perspective of how it can benefit the lives of your children. No matter how many kids you have or how old they are, there are no downsides from this perspective to your becoming a more effective co-parenting participant. Being able to present a united front to your kids will benefit them in many ways that I would like to spend some time talking about right now.
For starters, I think that kids in divorced or separated parent situations tend to look at it as an opportunity to act out and misbehave depending upon how much rope they are given by the parents. If you discipline your child in one way, and your ex-spouse completely disregards that discipline and lets your child have free reign at their home, you are going to run into some serious problems.
The discipline that you hand down will be ineffective because you do not have 24/7 access to your child any longer. Now your son will have first, third and fifth weekends with dad and if dad doesn’t care to follow through on the disciplinary tract you have your child on then all your efforts will have been for naught. If your son knows that your disciplinary measures only apply to one house then he will be more likely to violate your rules.
Another aspect of this conversation that we need to have is that discipline at your house provides an opportunity for your ex-spouse to alienate your child from you. Imagine a situation where you do not work on co-parenting with your ex-spouse. Your ex-spouse then takes advantage of the fact that your child prefers to be with him because he will not discipline your child. What you are left with is a child who resents you for disciplining him and an ex-spouse who is more than willing to tell him things that will further alienate him from you.
If you can work with your ex-spouse on presenting a united front towards your child in this regard then you will be better off. Don’t neglect how the steps you take now towards bettering that parenting relationship with your ex-spouse can pay dividends down the road. Trust goes a long way when times are difficult such as right now with the pandemic. If you can how your ex-spouse that you are willing to go the extra mile for him or her, I imagine that he or she will do the same for you as well.
Don’t assume bad intent every time your ex-spouse does something
There is a certain reaction is to be expected during a divorce when your spouse does (or doesn’t do) something and that action/inaction leads to you becoming upset. Let’s say that your spouse picks your children up late for weekend visitation. The pick-up time says 6:00 p.m. in your temporary orders and he swings by at 6:20 to get them. No explanation, no text message to let you know that he is running late. All you get is a car horn that is honked upon arrival.
Now this really bothers you all weekend. You are at home and you stew about it until it begins to stick with you for the next week. You begin to look for every opportunity to catch your spouse doing something that you don’t like. When you find that perfect opportunity you pounce- you call your lawyer and tell him the “gotcha” moment. You want the lawyer to call your spouse’s lawyer and read him the riot act. Is this fair?
Sometimes it is. Sometimes you have no choice but to hold a spouse accountable for their actions. Sometimes he or she really is out to harm you in some way- either large or small. However, many times (most of the time in my experience) it is negligence on the part of a spouse that catches your ire rather than malice. Meaning- your spouse may have had a legitimate reason for being late to pick up the kids and wasn’t able to send you a message about it in advance.
Flash forward to the current time period. It would be a smart move right now to extend some patience and grace towards your ex-spouse during this time. Take a look at all the uncertainty that is going on. Jobs are being lost left and right. The school calendar for 2020-2021 is still up in the air. We don’t know if the current stay at home orders will persist into late June. Vacation plans, visitation schedules and it is possible, even the health of our families is very much in question.
During this time you can extend some patience and the benefit of the doubt to your ex-spouse. If he or she does something out of character do not assume that it is the sign of things to come. More likely, it is a sign of someone who is operating outside their routine and having to adjust to something new. We all are capable of making mistakes during times like these. You may have done something similar and just not have noticed or been made aware of it.
Final thoughts on co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic
You do not have rely solely on yourself to improve your co-parenting skills. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan has many, many blog posts and other information on our website that can help you learn more about this subject. You may even be able to find a post that touches on your specific situation and fits your circumstances exactly. And if not, you can always contact our office for a free of charge consultation where your questions can be answered.
Ultimately, however, if you do not put into action the things that you learn it will be all for naught. You need to be able to focus on what is best for your child right now. Your pride, past hurts and slights suffered due to your ex-spouse are less important now than ever. Make it known to your ex-spouse that you want to work on co-parenting with him or her. Make a plan to implement with him or her. Give each other some grace and then try, try again if you fail the first time around.
Questions about co-parenting? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
Co-parenting effectively can be a tough adjustment to make after a divorce or child custody case. If you have questions or issues with your circumstances related to post-divorce life please contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultations six days a week where we are able to meet with you via phone or video conference. We would be honored to share with you some information about your case and also help you to understand better what services we can offer you and your family as a client of ours.