How families approach their everyday has shifted during these unprecedented times, and they face a new set of challenges to acclimate to – throw in the dynamic of co-parenting and things can get even more difficult. So we sat down with the Life360 Family Expert and registered psychologist, Dr. Vanessa Lapointe, to ask her about co-parenting best practices during COVID-19. Here is what she shared with us:
What is your advice on how to best co-parent during these times?
Now is a time to be as grown-up as you can. Join together to create a plan for how you will work as a team to ensure the safety of your children. Really work to avoid talking about other “big” issues at this time; with everybody’s nervous systems on high alert, this is not the time for tackling the big stuff. You can utilize location-sharing technology such as Life360 to help keep your family connected, ensure everyone is following social distancing measures, and reassure you of your child’s safety.
What are some of the biggest hurdles co-parents face during this time and how do you recommend approaching them?
One of the biggest concerns appears to be about whether or not the other parent is as committed to isolation/shelter in place measures. Another is decision-making, which is a major source of stress for co-parents. If you do need to step in and make decisions, check in with yourself very honestly about “intent.” Think: is this decision for your child or against your co-parent? Have decisions flow from intentions that are for your child only.
What do you do if one parent is taking social distancing less seriously?
First, you need to resolve within yourself to neutralize any judgements or anger that this brings up for you. Any conversation that begins with that kind of energy is bound to go sideways. I recommend www.thework.com as a simple 4 step process to do this. Then, with a more settled kind of energy have a conversation where you are committed to being curious, listening, and stating your wants clearly and directly.
What if the parents share different views on the virus?
Do not throw that parent under the bus no matter what. Your children deserve to have two parents and to call the other out is to deny them a feeling of trust with that parent. Instead, respond with open questions such as “what do you think of that?” and then LISTEN intently, reflecting back to your child what they share with you so your child feels seen and heard. Of course, you can also offer openly “would you like to know what I think?” And let your child know that it is normal for people to have different opinions.
What do you do when one parent is telling the kids scary things about going outside and getting fatally ill?
You will need to work to neutralize this for your child, again without throwing the other parent under the bus. “Sometimes when our brains get very worried, we look around and all we can see are the scary things. It doesn’t mean those things are true – it is just what happens when brains are in a scared state.” And then highlight the inherent positive in this – “And even though we don’t need to be concerned about that kind of stuff, do you know what I really love? I love that your mom/dad loves you SO much that you are the number one thing their worried brain thinks about. That’s a big kind of love and how perfect is that?!”
How important is flexibility in a time like this?
Kids are scared and the recent restrictions and changes in their lives can leave them feeling angry. This makes it more important than ever to have the emotional bond between the two homes be very flexible, so your child always feels “with” you even if they aren’t physically with you.
Tension is through the roof all over the world, which can spark arguments more quickly. How can parents govern themselves accordingly?
STOP. That is how we handle this. Now is not the time to take on conflict or actively engage in combative, retaliatory exchanges. You need to be the bigger person, for your children if not for your own sanity. Even if your co-parent hurls an angry text or email your way, you do not need to defend. Defense is the first act of war.
How can co-parents adjust to new schedules and find compromises in terms of childcare?
Childcare will likely prove to be difficult. If you can find a way to support each other across your two homes and spell off childcare together so each of you has an opportunity to complete your work-from-home obligations or even just to have a break, that would be an ideal world and a unique benefit to you as co-parents across two homes. So work it to your advantage. Beyond this, establish a routine in your new normal. We are creatures of habit as humans, especially children. And during unsettling times, this is more important than ever.
Dr. Vanessa Lapointe joined Life360 in March 2019 as a Family Expert to help further the company’s mission of keeping families safe and connected. Dr. Lapointe is an Author, parenting expert, and registered psychologist.