Co-parents are facing immense challenges in the wake of COVID-19. To help divorced or separated parents, The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation collaborated with top therapists in Arizona to give you the best advice.
The Aurit Center specializes in online parenting mediation services that help couples develop personalized Parenting Plans that address their needs and the best interests of their children. Throughout the pandemic, we have helped co-parents reach temporary parenting time and custody agreements to address virus-related safety concerns and the realities of working and schooling from home.
Maintaining a united front, when talking with your children about what is happening, is key to healthy co-parenting. Parents should consider being together, even if it is via video, when having these important discussions with their children. Rachel Thomas, LMFT, and Founder of Therapy with Heart in Scottsdale, notes that, “depending on the age, it’s important to be honest and clear in what we know and what we don’t know. If the child is on the younger side, keep it short and concrete. Older children can understand and absorb a bit more.”
Thomas also acknowledges that teenagers are particularly, “experiencing the loss of independence and peer connection which is a huge part of their lives so make sure to give them grace if they are moody or acting out.” Acknowledging and validating their feelings as normal is helpful for children, and for your relationship with them.
Kristine Hendricks, MA, LPC, of AZ Pinnacle Counseling suggests asking your child if they have any questions. “Try answering questions they have. Try explaining in a positive way while leaving out fear. Fear grips us, leaves us with more questions and causes multiple mental health issues. Remember to stay honest, positive and hopeful.”
It’s vital that divorced parents discuss with one another how they will answer their children’s questions, so children hear the same message from both parents. As circumstances rapidly change, parents should stay in communication regarding how best to address their children’s concerns. By collaborating, parents can present a unified message which provides much needed stability for their kids.
Caleb Mitchell, MDIV, MAC, LPC, and Co-Founder of The Phoenix Counseling Collective agrees that certain behavioral issues in children during the “stay-at-home” order are normal. He explains that “our kids are feeling things that they do not have words for and will most likely act out because they do not know how to express or deal with the anxiety that is in their hearts and bodies.”
Parents should not assume that behavioral issues during this time are a result of the other parent’s actions or inactions. Jumping to conclusions before checking-in with the other parent is a sure-fire way to start a custody battle. The Aurit Center’s, Strategies for Couples on Coronavirus Lockdown, has useful communication tools that are also useful to divorced co-parents.
Maintaining some consistency amid the chaos is key for children and parents. Dr. Karissa Greving Mehall, PhD, LMFT, Founder of the Arizona Marriage & Family Therapy Clinic points out that “parents need to foster stability for their children by looking at what they can keep the same for their children, such as routines and schedules” and acknowledges that experiencing a pandemic from a child’s perspective is “unsettling, to say the least.” When parents can agree to keep routines consistent at both households everyone in the family wins.
Balance is another essential ingredient for healthy co-parenting. Michelle Hildt, LAMFT of Therapy With Heart, suggests to “make a plan for each day, but don’t expect perfection; to maintain rituals, but don’t forget about needing alone time; to socially distance, but don’t socially isolate; to limit the time you talk about COVID-19, but don’t discount the impact of COVID-19.”
Co-Parents can work together to help one another maintain some sense of balance. Facetiming with the children for a stretch or two each day may help give a parent a much needed breather for self-care.
While consistency is key, Jade Bruno, LMFT, Founder of The Couch & Beyond emphasises that the most important part of healthy co-parenting during the pandemic is the flexibility of each parent with one another. “Some of your co-parent’s decisions may not make sense or be how you would handle them,” Bruno says, but advises that now is the time to be “giving your co-parent the benefit of the doubt sends the message to children that parents can work together during a crisis for them.”
Rachel Rubenstein, LCSW of Rubenstein Counseling, specializes in therapy for adolescents and families. Check out her helpful list of “Do’s” and “Don’ts below:
- DO stay focused on your kid(s). Their well-being is the priority.
- DO be sure communication with your ex is clear and to the point. If you have a conflict over visitation or joint custody, consult your legal professional. We are in uncharted territory with social distancing and self-quarantines.
- DO keep to routines as much as possible. When changes are made to routines, communicate them with your ex. Parents on the same page make for happier and healthier kids.
- DO talk to your child/children about how they feel in terms of their particular situation: How is it not seeing Daddy every week? Be open to hearing about fears and concerns that seem unusual and be supportive of your child, removing your own feelings regarding your ex from the situation.
- DO understand and expect children may likely regress into more negative behaviors; these are often temporary and the way a child copes with stressful situations.
- DO communicate with your ex about your child’s mental health and how to create resilience in your child, and prevent trauma during this difficult time.
- DON’T assume your ex knows what is happening in your home in terms of new schedules, new problems, and how you are maintaining safety from coronavirus in your home. If there is shared custody, it may be confusing and stressful if the expectations in each home are different.
- DON’T keep information from your ex. If you have a health concern regarding exposure or the like, discuss it.
- DON’T blame the other parent for your child’s stress level. This is a stressful time and stress is a normal feeling.
- DON’T share anger or resentments regarding the current situation between you and your ex with your child or in front of your child. We are all being pushed out of our comfort zones.
Now, more than ever, refraining from negatively speaking about your co-parent around the children is important. In fact, what children need from you is to hear positive reinforcement about their relationship with the other parent.
“Children identify with both of their parents, so when you bad-mouth your child’s mother or father, you negatively impact your child’s self-esteem,” says, Isa Jones, LMFT, CST, from the Scottsdale Center for Sex and Relationship Therapy. “Allow your child to feel safe admiring and loving both parents” Especially during times of unrest she reminds parents to “say positive things about the absent parent.” These little actions can make a world of difference for your child. By supporting and encouraging your co-parent, you provide stability for your children.
Parents also need to take care of themselves. You have permission to practice self-care, even during this crisis. Ryan M. Sheade, LCSW reminds co-parents to “not neglect yourself, your physical health, your mental health, your social health, or your spiritual health.” Staying well benefits both you and your children. Sheade adds, “Don’t get caught up in conflict that has no purpose. Don’t give the power for how you feel to anyone outside of yourself. Don’t sit in shame or anxiety – because these are unhelpful and ultimately destructive emotions. And if you’re having trouble, don’t be too scared or proud to reach out for help.”
Therapists can assist and support you individually, as co-parents, or as a family. If things become overwhelming, talk with a professional. If your children are struggling and you are not sure how best to help them, professionals can steer you in the right direction. Most now offer online services.
If you need help resolving a disagreement, or need help creating creative temporary agreements, The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation also offers online mediation and can help you keep conflict low and create your best parenting agreements.