While each of us loves our children enormously, we will acknowledge that school holiday times can be challenging, especially during winter. Certainly by the middle of the second week, any rules around screen time are likely to be much more flexible than normal. And the willingness to withdraw screen time privileges is likely to be much less strict because… then what would they do?
So our hearts go out to the parents who will be coping with children in Covid-19 lock-down over the next (hopefully short!) period of time. No grandparents (sob); no going out to play, no visits to movies or friends’ houses… No wonder parents might wind up feeling like this:
And of course, if you are separated parents, the whole thing might just feel overwhelming. What are you even allowed to do in this situation?
So from FDR Practitioners at the FDR Centre, we have put together some guidance and tips which we hope will be useful. Our intention is to continue to support separated parents, to help them to find the best parts of themselves so that together, they can make the best decisions for their children.
Today the Principal Family Court Judge, Jacquelyn Moran, issued a statement offering guidance to parents or caregivers who share custody.
The key points she made were:
Parents must put aside their conflict at this time and make decisions that are in the best interests of the children and their families, as well as 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. 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; or
- someone involved (ie the child or people in the home they have been in or will go to) has been:
- overseas in the last 14 days;
- in close contact with someone who is currently being tested for COVID-19; or
- in close contact with someone who has the virus or is being tested.
Parents and caregivers should discuss if shared custody arrangements would allow COVID-19 to potentially spread without them being aware and reach an agreement. This may mean the child may stay with one parent/caregiver for the initial 4 week period. If children are moving:
- children should be accompanied by an adult when moving between homes;
- private vehicles should be used, where possible - public transport can be used where there are no alternatives; and
- the overriding consideration is for parents to make decisions that are in the best interest of their children; and
- where there is a shared care arrangement and the families are in different towns or communities, the safety of the children and others in their family units should not be compromised by movement between those homes, particularly if there are more than two homes involved.
- where children cannot move between homes, the Court would expect indirect contact - such as by phone or social media messaging - to be generous.
So, if you have a Parenting Agreement then please use it and especially use the flexibility function. Your Agreement is likely to cover school holidays, and the school holidays have been brought forward, so apply the principles and adapt in the best way for each of you and your children.
When your Parenting Agreement talks about “shared care”, think about how that can work in a situation like Covid-19 lock down. How can you share the care of your children so that each of you stays sane, all of you stay healthy and your parenting relationships (both co-parenting and parallel parenting) work as seamlessly as possible. Adapt in the same way as you have adapted to working from home.
Are there other people to consider in either of your children’s two homes? If for example, you live with your parents, are they vulnerable and how will having your children to stay impact on their vulnerability? If you live with flatmates, what impact will your children staying have on their already stressful lock down situation?
If you change your Parenting Agreement so that the child/ren stay with one parent most or all of the time, what will be the impact on that full time care-giver’s life? How can you, the non-care-giving parent support them (in real and practical terms!)
If living with other people is going to prove too challenging for having the kids to stay in their normal pattern of shared care, how can you still keep in contact with them regularly? (We have some tips coming up that might help with that).
Be as kind and considerate of each other as we have all been asked to be to strangers or neighbours. It’s a great opportunity to build up some parental goodwill.
Have a competition to see who can be the most creatively kind, and include the kids in the project. Jelly babies are a great prize and the Haribo ones are particularly shareable. Another opportunity for kindness!
When you go for a walk on the beach,
(and aren’t you glad we live in New Zealand right now?) collect a stone or a shell and make them into memory stones so that later, when we are all socialising happily again, we can recall the acts of goodwill and kindness that we experienced during a really tough time.
Can you incorporate a walk on the beach or the park as a way of changing care givers? (It may make changeovers in an unsettled time less of an issue for the children).
Can the two of you collaborate to make good messages from both of you to the kids? We have lots of really good messages from our prime minister at the moment and I know some people who are using a “What would Jacinda say?” technique for decision making about whether or not something is allowable under the lock down rules. Can you instigate a “Mum and Dad say…” daily message to your children? The research into what helps kids says that joint messages from parents to children can be very comforting for them.
Ask the children what they know, they may know little about COVID-19 and therefore you can take their lead on how much information you are giving to them. Don’t forget children will pick up on your anxiety, so maybe check the news each day after bedtime.
Make the message age appropriate. Can you make the joint messaging fun? Create the message together and take turns to deliver it. Draw pictures or use images or cartoons from the wonderful world of internet resources.
As well as creating reassuring joint messages for the kids, can you also reassure each other?
Can you treat each other as work colleagues on a joint project that is worth millions of dollars and the project is,
“How can we both help Jonnie or Jane to do this homework project? Can Mum help with the illustrating and Dad help with the research? Working together to ensure that the kids are keeping on top of the work sent by their school to them to do from home. If the kids are learning reading or spelling with Mum, can dad test them? (You can do these things online if you can’t organise face to face contact).
If both parents are working from home, can you each have uninterrupted time for that when the other parent “looks after and plays with the kids?” That could be done in person or online.
Can you schedule a zoom or facetime chat with each other or exchange an email with each other to check in and share info about the kids and how everyone is coping? (Try to make this child free and remember that you are work colleagues on a joint project that is worth millions of dollars).
There is a quote that I use to remind myself of in stressful times and it says, “It’s easier to grow healthy children than it is to repair damaged adults”.
Kids can be incredibly sensitive to change in general and to change that impacts as stress on their parents in particular. They can feel a need to take responsibility for their parents’ wellbeing. They might do that by telling you what they think you want to hear. They can feel ignored and then do something naughty to get your attention back. So, what you do together now to support your children (and what we do as professionals to support you, their parents) will certainly impact on the future health of all of us.
What about the Money, Honey?
Money and financial responsibilities for children can be a contentious issue and really hard to talk about. While each of us might have financial “personality traits” and while we might have a pattern of judging each other for these, the Covid-19 Lock Down time presents us with an opportunity to do things differently and create a new normal.
It is likely that many of us will have changes in our financial situations in the near future. It is likely that the changes will be more negative than positive in the short term. And, our financial shared responsibilities will continue (because having children is like that). So, our tips for dealing with the money aspect of shared parenting are:
Be honest. Talk about what is happening or talk about what you are worried might be happening. These are not things we have control of.
Be vulnerable. Ask for help from the other parent if you need it.
If your co-parent asks for help, be kind whenever you can and explain why you can’t help if that is your honest situation.
Be creative about what you can do when money is in shorter supply and how you can talk with the kids so that they have some (age appropriate) sense of what is going on. The government has put in place safety nets so that it is less likely that anyone will lose their house or won’t be able to buy groceries or petrol. So no need for kids to worry. But if you have to ration things, tell them that. “Everyone is spending less money on stuff for a while because of the lock down and working less.
Can each person in the co-parented family have one thing that they can choose? Reading a book together? Watching something on Netflix together? Playing Lego castles? Drawing pictures or colouring in? Making fairy cakes?
Can you share ideas that work with other families? Can your children share ideas with their friends on their online play dates?
Can you develop a habit of short online playdates with your children’s friends? (Maybe best for parents to facilitate so that cries of “that’s not fair” are less likely to ring out regularly).
If you are struggling or you don’t have a Parenting Agreement or it has grown out of its useful date, get hold of us and we can help you. The Suppliers of Family Dispute Resolution Services (The FDR Centre, Family Works and Fairway) will still be working although like most other people, your FDR Mediator will conduct your Mediation online.
Typically, if you and your other parenting partner live some distance away, the children won’t be able to travel to see the other parent and the other parent won’t be able to travel to see the children. (Please see the message from the Chief Family Court Judge above).
What can you do instead?
Use online services and Apps, like FaceTime, Google Meet/Hangout, Zoom or Skype. Many have a free system and they allow face to face contact across distance.
Create a WhatsApp group for your kids and their parents and extended family members
Let your kids create a WhatsApp group for friends so that they can socialise virtually.
Make ordinary things fun: cook together, teach your kids how to play scrabble or monopoly or charades….
Play cards online with grandma and grandpa.
Get the other parent to read to the kids over the phone or online, especially at bedtime.
The online platforms mentioned above are particularly good for these sorts of contact and most are free.
If you are on your own, you are allowed to have a buddy. (This is for parents on their own). You can do things with your buddy (but you’re only allowed one each). There are guidelines for this on the government’s website.
Some Tips for Dads (From Kidz need Dadz)
- Remember this is all about the children, it is not about Dads talking about what they do with their children.
- It is not a competition between you and the mother of your children. It’s a collaboration to make the Covid-19 the best time that it can be for everyone, and doing that together.
- So, turn up and be in the moment. (Big tip: Put the phone away. Close down devices other than the one you are using to be in contact. Turn off the notification option).
- Dads can be easily discouraged from making video calls, if you feel like you are expected to put on a performance. You don’t have to compete with You Tube. Just use this time to keep in contact and make sure that it is child- friendly.
- Think about what you are going to do/talk about before you call.
- Make sure you have copies of the kids’ favourite books in both homes. Borrow from friends and get your children to follow the story from the other copy.
- For young children, use puppet stories, rhymes and songs with actions. Its OK to play the fool with them; they will love it.For older children’s story times, get them to draw pictures of the story, or help them to create stories with you, eg put their names into the story instead of the character names and ask them to make up an adventure or a problem.
- When you are physically there with the children, give them hand and knee horse rides, and create obstacle courses/indoor camps or caves with them.
Some Tips for Mums
- Remember this is all about the children. It is not about Mums talking about what they do with their children.
- It is not a competition between you and the father of your children. It’s a collaboration to make the Covid-19 the best time that it can be for everyone, and doing that together.
- Support your ex to be the best father he can be. (Big tip here: it's good for the kids to have the best possible relationship with both of their parents).
- Use the time that the Dad is with the kids to give yourself a break. Make a cup of tea, sit down, clear your head.
- Communicate with him about what the kids like to read or how they like to be read to.
- Talk with the kids afterwards about what they liked the best and help them to prepare for the next online session with their Dad. Help them to make lists of what they want to talk about.
All of our talking points, guidance and tips require parents to communicate and make great decisions for their children.
We encourage you all to communicate regularly, be open and honest in your communications, and help each other to help your children.
Your children seeing you both working together as a co-parenting team will give them confidence, enrich their well-being and give them a sense of safety in these challenging times.