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Compromise is not always easy, but it is an important component of a positive co-parenting relationship. Compromise is integral when reaching agreements and we know that arrangements that have been agreed between parents have a higher chance of long-term success compared to arrangements that have been imposed by the court.
The current Coronavirus crisis is presenting us with new challenges when it comes to child arrangements (see our previous blog here on Child Arrangements during COVID-19). The government advice is that children can move between the homes of separated parents, but this is not always possible. For example, parents may feel that it is not sensible if one of the households is self-isolating or has a member with existing health problems that put them at higher risk. Travel arrangements such as the use of public transport or long journeys between different parts of the country could also increase the risk to children. The safety of children, the wider family and society as a whole must be put first. Many parents are finding that arrangements need to be varied to make them safer. Others are finding that they are unable to see their children face to face at all for a period and are reliant on indirect contact, such as video calls, to maintain their relationship.
It is going to be difficult to navigate these new issues that are arising without good communication and a willingness to compromise.
If you find it difficult to discuss things with your co-parent, perhaps consider talking with a family consultant who is experienced in facilitating conversations between parents.
At a time when most parents are feeling anxiety and fear, communication is key. Kim Crewe, a Family Consultant and Counsellor has helped us put together key areas to concentrate on to assist in communicating effectively, and most importantly in the best interest of the child(ren).
Preparation – Have a conversation with your co-parent to prepare for an unexpected situation, let’s call this scenario planning, for example, in the case that one of you is ill or your child is unwell what will you do. This would be helpful not just at the moment when we are facing the challenges of COVID-19 but in ‘normal’ times too. Preparation can help to prevent knee jerk reactions or a response from a place of anxiety.
Keep communicating – discuss any worries and concerns, if there are niggles, talk about them and don’t let them fester. Ask your co-parent what they think are good practical solutions. Take a moment to breathe and think before responding to any challenging comments. It is ok to take a pause to think.
Agree guidelines – bedtimes, screen times, the new routine. This is still important if you are co-parenting under the same roof. Who is going to be the parent in charge at a given time? Don’t get involved when it isn’t your turn. What are you going to need through this time? How will you manage your work-load? Structure is key, if you are working from home, then allocate specific times in which to do this.
Show kindness – however you feel towards your co-parent, show some kindness and understanding, be empathic. A warm and caring tone of voice can make such a difference. If you have a negative communication cycle, showing understanding can be a really helpful way of beginning to change the style of conversation.
Plan – discuss any potential financial changes this uncertain period may bring. The fear about there not being enough money can be a huge worry. Have an open conversation at an early stage and make a plan about how any shortfalls might be met by both of you. You are much more likely to find a sustainable way to move forward if you work together.
When reaching agreements, it always helps to try to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. It can be even more powerful if you try putting yourself in your child’s shoes. What is most important to them at this moment in time? You may enjoy reading your child a bedtime story at night, but would it be a positive experience for your child to let the other parent do this over video call for the time being, given you are spending all day every day with them? You may not like the idea of your ex-partner seeing inside your home, but in these unprecedented times when video calls may be the only way that your child can maintain a relationship with your co-parent, can you live with it?
Creative thinking is going to be needed for the foreseeable future to ensure that parent-child relations are maintained if face to face contact isn’t possible. How sustainable is it to expect a child to maintain interest in a daily phone call, especially younger children? Video calls can help to maintain interest and seeing each other’s faces can create that emotional connection. Think about reading a bedtime story over video call, or set your child challenges that they can complete and share with you. An easy one is to encourage an art project that you can watch them create, or share the finished product, over a video call. Obviously, both of these rely on the cooperation of the parent in the house with the child at the time.
Lots of parents are taking part in the Joe Wicks daily PE session that is being streamed over YouTube. Can you set a video call up and join in together? Older children often enjoy online gaming and sometimes both parents have the facilities for this at home. Even if it wouldn’t normally be your thing, why not learn and join in with them? It is a way for you to connect and do something that the child loves.
Netflix has a new facility called Netflix Party, this allows two or more individuals to watch a programme together. The programme starts when everyone is logged on and there is a messaging service so that you can chat while you watch.
Finally, it is important that the extended family is not forgotten at this time, with many grandparents and family members feeling isolated. There is technology out there, such as zoom and houseparty, that enables more than two family members to talk at the same time. You can get the grandparents, child and other family members for a virtual get together to mark birthdays and special occasions (such as Easter which is a matter of weeks away).
This blog was originally written by Lauren Guy. For a consultation with a member of our specialist family law team please contact us.