Approximately 50% of marriages end in divorce in the United States. That leaves a lot of parents trying to figure out a way to co-parent at Christmas with their estranged spouse. Now with the additional challenge of a pandemic, co-parents are facing completely different types of struggles.
How can you navigate the protocols of COVID-19 when your child is living in two households? And what if you and your co-parent don’t agree on the necessary precautions?
While it may not always be an easy task, research shows that minimizing conflict between co-parents is best for the children involved. Children of divorced parents can feel additional responsibility and stress if they perceive that they are a source of conflict for their parents. While there is a lot of uncertainty in our current environment, parents can take specific steps to help their children’s holidays run smoothly and without issue.
Kathyrn (Kyung) Dickerson, Principal and Family Law Attorney at Smolen Plevy suggests that the best way to alleviate conflict is to try to avoid it from the beginning. Dickerson recommends that co-parents plan their holidays well in advance. This allows both parents the time to have input and feel comfortable with the schedule and activities that have been mutually decided.
Written communication is best according to Dickerson. She suggests that co-parents outline all of their plans in writing. That can be as simple as an email, but it helps to ensure that all parties have come to a mutual understanding and agreement.
Because the landscape of COVID-19 is ever-changing, it’s important to know that even the best-laid plans may not come to fruition. Dickerson suggests families have several contingency plans in the event that something unexpected happens. She also urges co-parents to remain open minded and flexible, as some holiday traditions may have to change this year.
Keep Your Kids In the Know
Advise your children of the holiday plan, so that they know what to expect. This allows kids a sense of certainty with so much uncertainty in their current environment. Talking to them about the schedule of events will also allow them the opportunity to ask any questions that they have and get comfortable with the situations they’ll face with each parent.
What If You Can’t Agree?
What is certain about the COVID-19 pandemic is that everyone perceives and reacts to it differently. This is no exception in co-parenting families. Dickerson recommends that co-parents, “Be conservative in the risks that you take and listen to the experts.” The conservative approach will allow for the greatest comfort on both sides of the family.
However, if an agreement can’t be reached between co-parents, Dickerson recommends talking to your child about what’s expected.
“You can teach the child what is safe and appropriate behavior,” she tells Parentology. “Otherwise, you are stuck with getting the child tested before and after a gathering or going to the separate houses. This will probably be the case until the pandemic is over.”
That said, if you feel your child is in danger or that your court agreement has been violated in some way, you should contact your attorney to discuss your options.
Above all, Dickerson recommends patience and a calm approach. “Appreciate who your co-parent is. During this time people have been subject to a lot of anxiety and uncertainty. Sometimes people rise and become their best selves, others do the opposite. Know them and work within that framework. It doesn’t do any good to get frustrated with your co-parent and this time period hasn’t made it any easier.”
How To Co Parent at Christmas — Sources
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
Kathryn (Kyung) Dickerson, Principal Smolen Plevy