How to positively & effectively co-parent during difficult times

I wanted to share these 2 informative articles with you at this difficult time, sourced from the UK as they have been dealing with the virus scenario longer than us Kiwis.

Firstly an article about the legal situation in New Zealand as it relates to children in shared parenting situations during lockdown. And secondly some robust advice about how to co-parent if you are already separated or divorced.  

Here is the NZ legal situation as it relates to children in shared during lockdown

On 24 March 2020, the Principal Family Court Judge, Judge Moran, released a statement regarding children in shared care and COVID-19.

It is important that parents take a sensible and pragmatic approach to parenting arrangements during the lockdown period. The paramount consideration over this period is the safety and wellbeing of your children as well as ensuring government restrictions are complied with. It will likely be necessary for parents to be more flexible and open to alternative co-parenting arrangements.

Generally, children in the same communities can continue to go between their homes, unless: – the child is unwell. In this case the child should not travel between homes until they are well. – someone in either home is unwell.- someone involved (i.e. the child or people in the home they have been in or will go to) has been overseas in the last 14 days, OR has been in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for Covid-19 OR has been in close contact with someone who has the virus or is being tested.

Where children cannot move between homes, the Court would expect indirect contact – such as by phone or social media messaging – to be generous.

Parents must put aside their conflict at this time and make decisions that are in the best interests of the child and their families and the wider community. This global pandemic should not be seen as an opportunity for parents to unilaterally change established care arrangements without cause or otherwise behave in a manner inconsistent with the child’s best interests or the court ordered care arrangements

Judge Moran’s statement in full is here.

Co-parenting advice during coronavirus

Here’s a video of our Founder, Bridgette Jackson, talking about how to cope while living in self isolation when you are in an unhappy relationship.

Communication between separated parents is “vital” right now, says Natalie Wiles, a chartered legal executive. “It is important to remember that both parents will usually share parental responsibility for any dependent child and that parents should keep each other informed in relation to the health and wellbeing of their children,” she explains.

Older children should be included in conversations, too – especially now they are no longer at school or seeing their friends, and having to adjust to a new reality.

Pam Stallard, 32, from Brighton, UK is currently co-parenting with her ex Amber, 33, and Amber’s mother, Liz. Their three-year-old son Cole has been spending time in both homes – and the family plans to continue sharing childcare during the lockdown. Pam, Amber and Liz have been self-isolating for the past week since Pam, a teacher, showed symptoms of coronavirus. How do they make it work?

“The absolute key is communication, and I am so lucky that my ex and I have a really good line of communication and it’s been improving since the need has arisen,” Pam tells HuffPost UK. “We support each other and understand that by helping each other, we’re making Cole’s life better, which is the most important thing of all.”

Managing self-isolation between households

Everything co-parents do, every choice made, should be in the child’s best interests. A child needs stability and routine – and maintaining this, while also keeping them safe during the outbreak, is paramount. There will be some tough calls in the coming months. One of the biggest questions is how people navigate self-isolation if they, or their child, gets sick.

If one household in a co-parenting set-up does show symptoms, it’s important to follow the guidelines and self-isolate for 14 days – and yes, this means parents in different households both self-isolating if they want a child to move between their homes freely.

Parenting with a court order during coronavirus

In families where there’s a court order in place determining the arrangements for a child (or children), it should be adhered to – except in circumstances where self-isolation is required, says Natalie Wiles.

“If an order is not adhered to without a very good reason it is possible for an enforcement application to be made to the court which could result in penalties for the non-compliant parent.”

In the first instance, parents should be speaking to each other to agree child arrangements. If this isn’t possible, the next step is to seek independent legal advice from a solicitor.

James Maguire, managing partner of Maguire Family Law, acknowledges there will be situations where parents won’t get along and further support is needed to mediate arrangements.

“This is especially important to recognise where there is a history of coercive control or domestic violence,” he says. “It will be important that parents, and indeed children, are not forced into inappropriate arrangements at this already difficult time.

“The courts are still open and will accept urgent applications with regards to childcare arrangements. However, delay is likely to be an issue, even with urgent applications, and given the fast moving and changing government advice, there may be no perfect outcome.”

Note that the NZ courts are partially open at the current time for urgent applications but like our overseas counterparts the situation is always changing.

Keeping your child healthy and happy

“It is important during these very worrying times that as much stability is maintained for the children as possible and following established patterns of time spent with each parent will play a big part in this,” says Wiles. Sticking to normal routines is crucial for maintaining emotional wellbeing – both your child’s and yours.

However in families where one parent still has to go to work, it might not be easy for both parents (and therefore both households) to self-isolate – if this is the case, you might need to make a judgment call and hold off seeing your child for 14 days.

Remember there are other methods of maintaining contact such as FaceTime, WhatsApp or Skype that allow a child and parent to see each other and speak, even if they can’t physically be together.

If this is the case, make a schedule and stick to it so you know that at a certain time of a certain day (or days) each week, you’ve got 30 minutes (or however long) of uninterrupted FaceTime with your child. You can also download co-parenting apps like 2Houses or AppClose where you can manage schedules, message each other, and in some cases add photos and drawings that your child has done, so the other parent can keep up-to-date.

Anna Giannone, a co-parenting coach, recommends making a parenting plan parenting plan, ebook co-parentingto stay on top of your schedules – regardless of whether you’re having to interact via video call or not. “A healthy co-parenting plan promotes respect for each parent’s role, creates healthy boundaries and restructures the family in a positive way,” she says. And who knows? Maybe this will enhance your co-parenting regime and relationships after this crisis is over, too.

In NZ at this current time the schools have closed down and all schoolwork is being done via online learning.  Cathy Ranson, editor of parenting site ChannelMum.com, acknowledges that having kids at home can seem stressful – but that it doesn’t have to be. “As parents we often complain there isn’t enough time to really talk and bond with our children, so use these weeks as a ‘relationship reset’ which will improve the way your family relates to each other,” she says.

Parenting expert and child behaviour expert at Parent 4 Success, Elizabeth O’Shea, says we should treat the time as an opportunity to spend some quality time with our kids. Here are some ideas to make the next few weeks, or months, a little easier. 

  • Stick as closely as you can to your normal routine

Schools are likely to set work for children to do at home if they’re unable to go in. Ranson advises you to stick as closely as you can to your usual routine to keep a sense of normality. Set an alarm, have breakfast, and get them up and ready for the time they’d usually start school. 

  • Embrace work from home options

If you’re a working parent you have set up a designated ‘workspace’ at home so your kids know when you are working and when you are available to play.

  • Keep talking to your kids

We should use this extra time to talk with our kids, says Ranson. “Have a family chat time each day when everyone gets five to talk about how they feel,” she suggests. “It may seem odd at first, but it quickly becomes a lovely way to share feelings and bond the family together.”

O’Shea recommends kicking off the period of all being home together with a family brainstorm, to discuss ideas about how everyone would like to spend the time – both with the family and on their own. “Your children will have some great ideas,” she says. 

Google search for ‘conversation starters with children’ for topics to talk about over meals, such as their favourite band, what superpower they would most like to have, who they would invite to a meal if they could invite anyone, living or dead. 

  • Ease any anxieties

Some children maybe frightened about the Covid-19 rules so talk to them calmly with facts to reassure them. 

“Make sure to keep the conversation open,” says Rachel Thomasian, a family therapist, noting that kids may continue to hear things about Covid-19 from peers. “Let your kids know that if they have any questions or want to talk about it again, they’re welcome to come to you. I know that it can get frustrating to revisit a topic multiple times. But not only does having these conversations as many times as your child wants to help them build a sense of safety, but it also helps create a secure attachment between you and your child and helps you become their safe base to come back to.”

  • Bake like you’ve never baked before

Perhaps now is the time to stock up on baking items? Kids love making cakes, says Ranson, and it’s an easy way to make treats for their time at home.

  • Bring out the old-school games

Revive fun pastimes like hopscotch and skipping. “They may seem old fashioned to modern kids but once they try them, they’ll get into them,” says Ranson. “Older kids can pass hours together playing the retro way.”

You could also try card games and word games, adds O’Shea, or set up a ‘family disco’ and get your children to plan the playlist. “Find a project you can do together, such as building a den, bird table, even clearing the garage.”

  • Teach them life skills

Amanda Gummer, a psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children says parents should remember a lot of skills that children need to learn aren’t taught at school. “It’s a great opportunity to teach children how to do laundry, budget to do a weekly shop, look after house plants, change a bed, sweep/vacuum the floor and so many more life skills that they will enjoy learning if you make it fun.

“Try playing match the socks when sorting laundry, or playing hide and seek when cleaning up rubbish from various parts of the house. The Goodplayguide.com has lots of fun and developmentally beneficial activities as well as educational toys and games that can help children engaged with their school subjects.”

  • Review screen-time rulesscreen time, children ipad,

Experts are divided over whether you should stick to your usual screen-time rules. Ranson suggests they could be relaxed. “This isn’t the time to be strict,” she says, You could also check out the learning and academic channels on YouTube Kids. “There is a wealth of great teaching and all for free. Kids won’t realise you’ve sneaked in an extra lesson, they’ll think ‘aha, I’ve got one over on mum watching YouTube.’ But stay in the room and supervise so they don’t stray on to other content.”

O’Shea advises sticking to screen time limits. “Reiterate that they will only be allowed a maximum of two hours screen time a day. But help your child plan their viewing times and what they most want to do during this time.”

What you do depends on your own family and circumstances. 

  • See how your kids can help 

Teens might be able to help older neighbours and friends who are self-isolating by doing a shop. Check who needs help in your neighbourhood and consider setting up a WhatsApp group of local families to help. Even if your kids are younger, this could be an option, O’Shea adds. “Could you and your children be part of the volunteer army that helps elderly or single people who are suffering from coronavirus and deliver vital supplies to their doorstep?”

  • Have frequent movie nights

Can you find ones that you can all watch, snuggled under a blanket, with some home-made popcorn?

  • Try and keep fit

If the weather allows, maybe go for a walk, bike-ride, or even just do some gardening with your child,” says O’Shea.

people walking, exercise, teen

“Remember children need to exercise for at least half an hour a day. However, if it’s too cold or rainy, a pillow fight may be a good way to let off steam. Or let your child plan and run an exercise class for the family!”

Further Resources from Equal Exes

Get more help with Parenting and Children

Parenting Cornerstone, divorce coach,Equal Exes Online has written 8 Cornerstones which explain situations that develop during separation and divorce. Parenting and ChildrenParenting workbook for divorce cover is one cornerstone.

Go to our Cornerstone page Parenting and Children and take the quiz to work out your situation.

There’s also a Parenting and Children Workbook to help you work out your own needs.

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