Probably one of the most important topics surrounding children of separated parents right now is how Covid-19 is affecting contact arrangements. Self-isolation, quarantine and lockdown are all contributing to separated parents being increasingly concerned about whether they will see their children as usual. Unfortunately it also transpires that some parents are weaponising Covid-19 and using it as a reason to withhold contact to the children. And because of that I’ve received so many emails from worried parents who don’t trust their ex and are sure that rightly or wrongly, this will happen to them.
If kids can see both their parents aligning to keep them safe, then that goes a long way to protecting their mental health.
The terrain we are walking on right now is unchartered in every way. Particularly for those of us who parent apart. There are so many questions bubbling to the surface; many of which have been dealt with on this really useful website run by Only Mums and Only Dads. The issue that seems to sit underneath a lot of these questions is around trust.
How do we trust our ex to parent responsibly during this crisis?
How do we know that the other parent will wash our child’s hands, stay two meters apart, not be taken out unnecessarily, not have any contact with other people?
How do we know if they’re really ill if they say they are and have to suddenly isolate?
How do we know that when we can’t see exactly what is happening and have to rely on what is being said to us? That makes us feel out of control and powerless and when we can’t control something it drives a fear response, a fight or flight or freeze response that increases our adrenaline and floods our body and mind, and this prevents us from seeing things clearly and making rational decisions.
What we’re in now is a place where we have to take a big leap of faith. A really big step on our shared and co-parenting journey. And it’s scary. Because what we are doing essentially is parenting in a life or death situation with someone we ultimately probably don’t entirely trust. And that is very difficult. It goes against all our parental instincts to keep our children safe.
By breaking it down into steps, we hope this article may help you through this, even if it’s just a little bit.
The first thing to say is that this article assumes there are no protection orders or abusive situations in place. Only Mums and Only Dads have really good resources for that, you can find them here.
However your relationship ended, it’s important to remember that in most cases it ended for reasons that were adult-adult. Which means that adult behaviour and reasons were the cause of the relationship breakdown. Fundamentally we need to remember, that even though we may not like our ex and we may not believe them to be the best parent in the world, and they may parent differently to us, we need to objectively see that they are not a bad parent. That they wouldn’t put their child in harm’s way. Most likely the fundamental parental feelings we have are replicated in some way with the other parent too. And whilst that may mean if you both go to the zoo, you may put a harness on your two year-old and your ex wouldn’t, neither of you are going to dangle your child over the lion pit.
Seeing things from each other’s perspectives is a really useful piece of work you can do. If you can get to a place where you can understand your partner loves your child, then you are likely to be able to trust them as a parent even if you don’t trust them as an adult. Here is an exercise to try to help you see things from their perspective to help move your co-parenting relationship forward during this time:
Stand up in a place where you will be uninterrupted. Think about the issue you need to solve. It might be that you are feeling worried about your child going to the other parent’s house this weekend because of the pandemic.
Step 1: During this exercise you are going to be yourself, then your ex and then your child/children. Firstly stand up and be yourself. Imagine your ex is standing opposite to you. Bring the issue to mind and say to your ex, out loud (it’s more effective if you can speak aloud) all the things to do with the issue that are on your mind. Speak clearly and really tune into them as if they are there. Say everything you need to say.
Step 2. Go and stand where your ex was standing and look back to where you were standing. Really get into their character and persona. From your ex’s point of view, say what you need to say about this particular problem you have, respond to the comments that were made in step one.
Step 3. Repeat for as many times as you need to, to completely understand each other’s perspective on this issue.
Step 4. Now stand in a different place where you can see yourself and your ex. Now you are you child or children. Say what they need about this issue from their perspective.
If you can manage all that (and it won’t be perfect but it will help you) then you should have an understanding of what’s going on from everyone’s perspective. And if you can do all that it can help build up trust within the co-parenting relationship to enable you to parent with your ex and trust that they have the best interests of your child at heart, even if they differ slightly to yours.
Some of the common worries:
I have an underlying health problem and I need to keep my children home with me in order to self-isolate fully.
How do I trust that my ex is not going out to meet their new partner with my kids.
My parents are elderly and live with us, I can’t risk my children going to their other parent’s house in case they are not isolating properly
I’m convinced that they won’t be washing their hands / keeping two meters away / not going into supermarkets when they are at my ex’s house.
My ex won’t let me see my child at all until this is over. She says she has an elderly relative at home that she can’t put at risk. I don’t believe her.
Remember, this pandemic is affecting everybody across the world in one way or another. If you’re able to find the positive parenting perspective of working together to help keep your children scaffolded and protected then you will be lessening their anxiety during these unsettling times. If kids can see both their parents aligning to keep them safe, then that goes a long way to protecting their mental health. And that’s worth having.
Posted on April 22, 2020