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Sharp Health News

Co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic

April 1, 2020

Co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic
Co-parenting during the best of times can be a challenge. Add in the strain of a worldwide pandemic and related shelter-in-place orders and stress levels can increase, communication might falter and emotions are likely to run high.

“Co-parenting is hard,” says Maricar Jenkins, a licensed clinical social worker at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital. “Even when a separation or divorce is amicable, it requires an abundance of patience and empathy.”

Most will agree there are general guidelines for successfully co-parenting in good times and bad. Along with the golden rule of honoring your child’s relationship with and affection for their other parent, co-parents should always focus on the children’s needs, keep communication lines open, and maintain consistency in rules and schedules.

However, what happens when you’re dealing with the challenges brought on by a national emergency and all that comes with it? From changes in work schedules or job loss, to 24-hour isolation and new child care needs, the potential for conflict rises.

“Married couples with children disagree,” Jenkins says. “And divorced parents who share custody of children disagree, which is a totally different beast. Even in healthy relationships, negotiating conflict can be challenging and unpleasant.”

Jenkins says that co-parents must plan ahead for the potential challenges caused by the disruption that COVID-19 brings into our daily lives. “Emotions might be high, which can impact how we communicate and interact with others.”

She offered a few examples of situations that might come up and require increased levels of understanding and collaboration:

  • Each parent might have different opinions about the COVID-19 threat and different levels of compliance with expert recommendations to reduce the risk of exposure, such as social distancing and orders to stay at home.

  • You might have more contact than usual with the other parent because pickups and drop-offs prior to COVID-19 likely occurred in the context of school schedules and extracurricular activities and sports.

  • Work schedules may vary. Some parents might be working more or fewer hours than usual. One parent’s work might be considered “essential,” while the other parent can work from home, which could mistakenly be interpreted as, “they are home and can watch our kids,” even though working from home still requires dedicated hours to focus.

  • Each parent might have a different idea about “structure” as it relates to home learning and activities that are allowed throughout the day.
“Dealing with your child’s other parent during this time requires a lot of patience and flexibility,” Jenkins says. “Anxiety levels and conflict can easily increase.”

In an effort to keep the peace and provide as much comfort and calm in a time that is challenging for everyone, especially children, Jenkins offers the following tips for successful co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Keep your child on a schedule and have structure. Try to be as consistent as possible in both homes.
  • Communicate early and often.
  • Seek support from agencies that are offering assistance if child care needs and finances are affected.
  • Avoid judgement and bringing up the past, and do not let emotions get in the way of communicating — even about simple things.
  • Be flexible and as accommodating as you can.
  • Compromise for the good of the kids.
  • Avoid bad-mouthing the other parent and having escalated conversations or phone calls in the children’s presence.
“You always have a choice,” Jenkins says. “You can choose to be your best self, even with your former spouse or partner. Kids notice their parents’ interactions and reactions, and it’s important to be a good example, especially during these trying times.”

Talk to your doctor if you or a loved one are experiencing excessive stress, anxiety or sadness for an extended period. Learn more about mental health services at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital and read important COVID-19 information from Sharp.

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