While most people are focused on how to pay their bills or keep their businesses running or maintain their sanity while we endure increasing isolation as a result of Covid-19, parents whose children live in two homes are facing another problem: how to adapt a parenting plan to a pandemic. Here are a few suggestions:
- Follow the guidelines. If your municipal, county, or state government has issued “shelter in place orders,” you should follow them while your children are with you. Make sure you are taking all reasonable efforts to comply. If you are concerned your partner/co-parent/ex-spouse is not complying, you need to take action (see below).
- Communicate clearly and in writing so there is no misunderstanding. Clear, effective communication is key. All of your communication with the other parent should be kept objective and amicable, if at all possible. Keep this mantra in mind: “Keep It Simple, and Keep it Civil.” Although maintaining verbal communication is a very good idea, you should also send a written message via email, text, (or an on-line app such as Our Family Wizard or Talking Parents if that is called for in your parenting plan). Parents must learn to communicate in new ways about school, health issues, stress issues, etc. Outline the concern in a non-accusatory way. For example, if you are concerned about a violation of the shelter in place order, a Keep It Simple, Keep it Civil email might sound like, “The kids mentioned they played with two kids next door during the shelter in place order. Can you clarify, did that happen, and can we discuss my concerns about that? ” If you send a hostile message, the other parent is likely to focus on their anger, rather than on solving the issue.
- Be honest. Honesty is the best policy, perhaps even more so during a pandemic. If you didn’t get a chance to complete homework with your child, or your child didn’t eat or ate late, or didn’t take medicine that day, be honest about it. Trying to hide these very human mistakes destroys your credibility. As tough as it can be to admit a mistake, courts are generally able to see past mistakes, but not lying, and judges can penalize liars.
- Show grace and patience. We are navigating uncharted waters. We need to give ourselves permission as parents not to be perfect and we should allow the same for the other parent. You will likely be frustrated by an action or inaction of the other parent, but perhaps try a different approach and show the other parent a little grace.