Written by Adele Ballantyne

Adele has an MA in Relationship Therapy in 2011 and is a member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). She has experience in helping a wide variety of individuals, couples and families. Her consultancy work with organisations includes contracts with hospitals and NHS Trust departments.

Separation brings couples many changes – some of which are not of their choosing. The Covid-19 pandemic is similar, except, this time, there is a genuine threat to life, bringing with it a bucketful of emotions, feelings and survival instincts that have a direct impact on how people co-parent.

Children themselves are good at coping with change; they do it all the time and, when parents separate, they get used to differing parenting styles and characteristics.

During times of enforced change, we seek to make our lives as they were. In other words, we try to squeeze what was, into what is now. Only by accepting the situation and making small daily adjustments can we seek to gain some ‘control’ again.

As a relationship therapist, I fully comprehend the process of how we choose our partners and opposites definitely do attract! But this can create difficulties when trying to co-parent, as the differences are magnified once couples separate.

Factors affecting separated parents during the current crisis include:

Personality Type

It’s quite common for one parent to be more worried and the other laid-back. This can create problems when parenting during this pandemic, because of the risk of spreading infection during the transfer from one home to the other.

If a child develops symptoms and has to isolate for two weeks with the non-resident parent, this can be problematic if the court order has specified only weekend contact.

Personality type, level of understanding and communication skills can also impact how governmental information is assimilated and put into practice – it might be that one parent is rigid and becomes upset if the other parent tries to negotiate time with the children.


It’s not unusual for parents who are opposites to become even more polarised – especially during times of high stress. This can lead to parents becoming entrenched, feeling they are only keeping the children safe.

Stress can also lead parents with manipulative tendencies to be even more so, as they try to gain control over the situation.

Past Experience

Parenting differences are common in any couple relationship. We all have unique childhoods, where we watch and learn from our care-givers and other influential adults around us. It’s unlikely any of us have been truly prepared for a situation like the one we are currently facing. Consequently, most parental behaviour going on right now is a mixture of ‘learn as we go’ and survival instincts, hopefully with the best intentions.

As with personality types, opposites may occur around discipline. One parent is more relaxed, the other strict, again often leading to polarisation which could, in turn, lead to disputes between co-parents.

‘Top Tips’ For Separating Parents:

  • Remember, this situation is unique. We’re all afraid and don’t know what’s going on or how this will end up.
  • Be kind and helpful to each other. It’s hard for everyone at the moment.
  • Communicate with each other clearly and ask for what you need, rather than make demands. Clear communication is even more vital with the current 
restrictions on our day-to-day life.
  • It’s OK to struggle and ask for help. Even the strongest, most assured people are struggling at the moment.
  • Ensure you all have some space from each other. We’re not used to being together for this length of time and we don’t know how long it will last. Ensuring children see both parents means everyone can have a break.
  • If things go wrong, seek guidance from helpful friends and family, family law professionals, mediators and family consultants.

During times of enforced change, we seek to make our lives as they were.  In other words, we try to squeeze what was, not what is now. Only by accepting the situation and making small daily adjustments can we seek to gain some ‘control’ again.

This moment in time will come to an end: remember, we are not stuck at home, but safe at home.



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