Separation and divorce are crises for families. The COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of crisis on co-parents and their children, who are already stressed. The virus is endangering lives world-wide. In record numbers, people are losing their jobs, their income, and their familial and social connections.
Those who still have their jobs are balancing working virtually from home, taking care of their non-school age children, helping their other children with online schooling, and worrying about the health and safety of their family, extended families, and friends.
If you and your co-parent have had a productive co-parenting relationship before the pandemic, you may be able to see an opportunity to work together and support each other and your children more than you have before. Bruce Fredenburg, one of my colleagues, says that the children are the real wealth of the family. With this in mind, you can become a more united team to preserve that wealth and ensure your children’s emotional and physical well-being.
A healthy co-parenting relationship is vital to your children’s physical and emotional health.
If you and your co-parent have a strained relationship, this time of crisis can exacerbate the contentiousness in your co-parenting relationship. Research indicates that the higher the tension between co-parents, the more at risk their children are for difficulties coping with separation and divorce. These children can suffer from irritability, sadness, excessive worry, anxiety, depression, acting-out behaviors, a decline in school performance, difficulty concentrating, headaches, body pain, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite or overeating, and regressive behaviors, for example, baby talk, bedwetting, and nightmares.
This crisis is an opportunity for you and your co-parent to focus on your number one priority — the safety and protection of your children’s emotional and physical well-being.
Be Flexible and Work Together.
Several years ago, I read a similar story in the book Beyond Reason: Using Emotions As You Negotiate. I was inspired to write the below to illustrate how co-parents can cooperate and create successful co-parenting relationships that will benefit their children.
Two co-parents were attending a co-parenting class. There were ten pairs of co-parents in the class. The facilitator instructed each pair of co-parents to sit together, facing each other, with their right elbows on the table. “Grasp your partner’s right hand with your own right hand and don’t let go. Each co-parent will get one point every time the back of your co-parent’s right-hand touches the table. The goal for each co-parent is to get as many points for himself as possible during the exercise. Keep your eyes closed and be completely indifferent to how many points your other co-parent gets. You will have one minute for this exercise. Ready, set, go!”
For one minute, nine co-parent pairs struggled as each co-parent tried to physically force the back of the other’s right hand down to the table. The tenth co-parent pair was the lone exception. One co-parent immediately remembered the goal was to get as many points for herself as possible. Following the facilitator’s directions, she kept her eyes closed and became indifferent to how many points her co-parent got. Instead of trying to push her co-parent’s hand down to the table, she surprised him by immediately pulling his hand down to the table and giving him an easy point as the back of her hand touched the table. She then quickly pushed his hand to the table, taking an easy point for herself. Her co-parent immediately caught on. Keeping their eyes closed and their right elbows on the table, they swung their clasped hands back and forth as many times as they could.
When the exercise concluded, each pair of co-parents reported to the group how many points each had earned. No one had more than two points, except for the co-parent pair who had cooperated. They had each earned more than ten points.
Despite the directions to the co-parents that they were partners and that they were to be indifferent to how many points their other co-parent got, the other nine co-parent pairs assumed that they were adversaries. This assumption prevented them from earning as many points as they could have earned.
Which co-parenting pair in the above story do you want to be for your children and extended family? What is the legacy you want to leave them about this time in their lives? What do you want to role model for them about how you resolve conflict?
One Day This Pandemic Will Be Behind Us
The danger that the COVID-19 virus brings is undeniable. The opportunity that it offers you is for you and your co-parent to join together for your children’s benefit and make your co-parenting relationship more cooperative than it was before the pandemic.
If you run into an unsolvable conflict with your co-parent, visit the below website of Collaborative Divorce California for professionals in your area who can help you co-create workable solutions: https://collaborativedivorcecalifornia.com