Noncustodial parenting during coronavirus. Not a topic I intended or ever imagined would be a thing. With all the uncertainty in the world and much disruption to our daily lives and habits, I felt compelled to make a post. Right now anxiety is high and questions run rampant for many families. Even more so for those in divorced or separated family situations.
As you may know, I too am in such a situation. Likewise, I am having the questions, anxiety, countless conversations, evolving arrangements, and more that goes along with the chaos that is the world right now. I admit it is exacerbated by the preexisting separation of myself from my child. When times are trying, we reach for comfort with those we love. As a parent, we want to shelter and provide for our children in a safe and loving way. But for some of us, the ones we want to be with, we can’t. This post may not be my most composed. It is my aim to bring a sense of unity and understanding for noncustodial parents during the coronavirus.
Obligatory disclosure: I am taking the virus seriously for the health and well being of my family, my children, and all those around us. This is a polarizing situation, but health and well being of humanity should never be taken lightly. Please educate yourself on the pandemic. Do what you can do to keep you, your loved ones, and others well during this time. Also keep in mind your children are likely aware of this pandemic in some facet or another. Use age-appropriate ways to discuss the topic with them. One of my favorite sources, PBS Kids, is a good place to begin.
Spring Break / School Closures
Noncustodial parents have a special place in my heart during this time of a regular year, let alone this year. Those who are not in this situation may not realize that these couple months from January-Easter are extremely hard for noncustodial parents. It is a time sprinkled with few extra holidays or long weekends that are our normally granted visitations. Spring Break is usually our biggest, if not our only visitation between January and the end of the school year. As of this writing, many scheduled Spring Breaks are just around the corner. At least, they were…
This new Covid-19 strain of the more commonly referred to term of coronavirus has been escalating for some time. It hit a critical point just last week for the U.S. In what felt like minutes, life went from normal, to elevated concern, to massive sweeping public closures, travel bans, apocalypse type scenes at local stores, and more. Many wonder when they will see toilet paper on the shelves again. While some of us are just wondering when our next chance to visit our kids could be.
Currently, (and this could have already changed) more than half the nation’s states have enacted a statewide closure of their school systems. Some are calling it a closure, some are calling it an “extended Spring Break.” This “extended Spring Break” may have a lot of noncustodial parent’s eyes glossing over. They may interpret it as a free pass to have their child during the entire time of the closure. While that may be one of the few benefits to the current state of things, it is not an automatic. This is where having good communication and co-parenting is key.
Hopefully both parents have an established line of communication going on already amidst this crisis. If not, I urge both sides to be calm and as rational as possible. If you’ve never quite been able to grasp co-parenting or have effective communication, now is the time to put your best foot forward with it. Noncustodial parenting during the coronavirus is no time to make matters worse. Parents should be able to forge a plan that suits the best needs of the child. Period.
First major point to consider: travel
Many noncustodial situations involve travel for the child. Consider the exposure to the child and to each of you in an airport/airplane right now. Driving may be the safer option as far as public exposure goes. It could also be that there are other members (perhaps some elders or those with underlying conditions) of either side’s family to consider as well. It could even mean foregoing the visitation plan all together. Consider and discuss all options.
In circumstances where communication between the parents is not quite up to rational co-parenting levels, consider your options. Know your levels of flexibility and be honest with yourself before beginning the conversation with the other parent. Noncustodial parents can get super sensitive to the topic of their child, and make quick quips that may not help their case. Trust me, I learned that lesson years ago, thankfully not under the pressure of a worldwide virus. Now is the time for rationale. Let some good come out of being a noncustodial parent during the coronavirus, and make strides to improve co-parenting communication.
Next consideration: the best interest of the child’s health
As I sit here writing this, the news continues to pour in of mass closures and cautionary measures. I cannot stress enough to take the high road of making the most healthy decision for your child. Being a noncustodial parent is hard. It was hard before the pandemic. Noncustodial parenting during the coronavirus will likely continue to be difficult. I encourage you to refrain from adding to the hardship by fighting over time just for the sake of time and visitation that is “yours”. Use the opportunity instead to forge a level of joint understanding of health and well-being for your child with the other parent.
Put the child and their needs first. Custody, visitations, holidays, etc are secondary to the health of your child. In some circumstances, mine included, mental well-being should be taken into account too. My child has exhibited a need to share more time with me lately. Luckily this current viral circumstance will allow that to happen. However, where it is not the case, or is not in the best interest of the child, take the adult stance on the matter and move on with the right decision.
A good way to reflect or actively evaluate if you are considering the child’s needs, or your own wants, is to analyze your speech/thoughts. If you’re using a lot of “I” or “me” or “my” statements, it could be centered around yourself, rather than the child. Now that you know that though, be also conscious of projecting on your child what you think their needs or desires are. Getting really worked up over the time specifically, may be another clue you’re making it about you and not your child’s health needs.
Look for the good and engage in their education
Noncustodial parenting during the coronavirus doesn’t have to be strictly focused on custodial arrangements. Look for the good within these new social-distancing circumstances. Maybe it leads to longer phone calls. More opportunity for video chat. Remotely watching a movie or show. Most significantly perhaps could be having a bigger presence in their education.
I take great interest in my child’s education and schoolwork. However, being so far away makes it difficult to know what she is learning or experiencing in her educational journey on the regular. Schools being out of session for this extended period may give some opportune insight for the noncustodial parent. If learning is taking place online, try a screen sharing program so you can have a firsthand account of their learning. (If allowed, don’t forget any other privacy restrictions you may have.)
Due to the disruption to learning, many online learning resources are opening their subscriptions or granting greater access. Find one that may interest and subsidize your child’s education. It can seem like a gift and a special bond between the two of you. After all, what are parents other than their child’s first and biggest teachers? Take interest in their education and encourage your student. This is an easy and effective way to engage and bond with your child. It will last beyond these projected quarantines. Some free online resources can be found here.
For a noncustodial parent, every bit of time we have with our child is precious. Whether your time is more, less, changed, or about the same as expected during this time, enjoy it and stay healthy and safe.