As we battle through the pandemic, there's a number of difficulties people are facing, one of which being co-parenting. That's why we spoke with Licensed Psychotherapist Kristi Thrailkill with Baltimore Family Therapy on ways parents can successfully get through these times.
Below we've listed some frequently asked questions regarding co-parenting.
What are the difficulties people can face co-parenting during the quarantine, how can they overcome those?
Divorces and separations are difficult as they are, but when you throw a quarantine into the mix it makes it even more difficult to get people on the same page about visitation, communication, sports camps that are coming up that are canceled. So there's a bunch of little issues going on, but they add up to bigger things. The number one thing I'm seeing with many of my clients is the significant other being wrapped into the mix.
Sometimes, it can be used as a 'I don't like his girlfriend so I'm gonna say it's not safe to see his girlfriend'. Sometimes it's a genuine issue where maybe it's not so safe to be going back and forth between parents that have many significant others or a significant other that is a doctor or a nurse or being exposed to COVID. So there are fears involved, the trick to that is to align where your fears really are coming from. Are you genuinely scared for your child's safety and health or is it an opportunity to get back at your ex?
In terms of custody agreements, should parents be doing two week at a time scenarios?
One of my friends actually reached out and said that they had started the two week, 'break-off'. So she has the children for two weeks and then her ex-husband gets them for two weeks, which I think is, it's going to be rare to find families that really want to agree to do that. Two weeks is a really long time to be away from your children. Depending on their age, maybe they're a little bit older, it's fine.
It's almost like they're self quarantining and bouncing back and forth each time. You really have to kind of find out what exactly is best for your family and what you can agree with the most. I do think if you're both working or one is working, if there's a ton of people being exposed in the environment. I do have a couple that I work with that while I work with, they actually called the pediatrician and the pediatrician did a telehealth session with them to talk to both of them at the same time about things they should be agreeing to do together, ways to be safe, ways to keep it at bay as much as possible. Some couples have agreed that maybe for now just the dad will just zoom call or come by and see from a distance. But it really just depends on what your schedule is usually like and what you're both comfortable with.
Unfortunately, a lot of these custody agreements are legal and so you have to abide by what they say unless you're both in agreement.
What should parents who are struggling to come to a peaceful agreement do?
First of all, keep your mouth shut around your children. Please, please don't talk bad about the parent. (Especially around the children) They are picking up on that no matter how sneaky you think you might be being.
This is a scary time for everyone, especially for children. So we really need to provide them with some stability and 'fake it until we make it', of acting like we are brave too and that they are safe no matter what, which obviously as parents, hopefully the goal from both parties, whether they like each other or not, is to keep the child with the healthiest and the healthiest environment possible.
Is there a message you’d like to send to families struggling during these times?
Push the pause button on hating your significant other. Right now there are more important things, there are people dying, there are people losing your jobs. Maybe you've lost your job. Maybe they've lost their job. Maybe your child is scared. Maybe no one is sleeping. Maybe you're having trouble paying the bills. There are bigger problems to focus on than hating each other right now.
So I would suggest, and this might sound a little crazy, but pushing the pause button on hating them, don't say, 'you know what? I'm going to forgive them for all that they've done. I'm going to let all my walls down and we'll be friends.' Now you don't need to do that. Just say for right now, I'm going to do that.
Honestly you might find so much peace in that deciding that pause of hatred that you might continue it on into your regular life. And this could be looked at it looked at as a blessing, but show each other some grace because no matter what you guys have done to each other and your past or the experiences that you've had with each other along the way, you both have the same goal to raise healthy, wonderful adults.
There is an app that I wanted to recommend. I have several clients that are divorced families that use it. It's called our family wizard, it's got a whole slew of options, there's a calendar that you can add your calendar things to, there's a place where you can add pictures, so you don't need to send texts back and forth or read into them too much.
What's extra special about it is it has this monitor that reads whether or not what you are saying to each other is kind or has a potential tone to it. This kind of will say, 'Hey, Hey, check your tone before you hit send on this and get your attitude in check a little bit'. It's something that I think would be a wonderful tool to use right now. If you're finding yourself just angry or unable to communicate kindly, it might get you in check a little bit.
Here's a link to that app!
If you're struggling through the pandemic, whether it may be mental health, unemployment or just trying to make ends meet, we've got you covered. We have a number of resources under our Rebound Maryland section that can help.