Divorce and Parenting in the age of COVID-19

We have been hearing a lot about the new normal resulting from life in the age of COVID-19. Our individual and collective worlds have been rocked in ways as novel as this strain of virus. To be sure, we are living in historic times. The outbreak of COVID-19 has become a defining moment for our families, our communities, country, and world that will leave an indelible imprint on an entire generation and beyond.
Couples who have chosen to mediate their separation and divorce are already acutely aware and focused on the effects divorce poses on their children, and under normal circumstances struggle to bring about a resolution in their best interest. It is never an easy or painless process for a couple trying to navigate the issues, manage the emotional responses, and set aside competing egos for the sake of the children.

However, what happens when the stress of a global pandemic is added to the picture. Daily changes in family dynamics due to government mandates to shelter in place now requires many parents to assume daycare responsibilities for their children, grapple with the frustrations presented by online learning as children are homeschooled, all while teleworking full-time from a home office. The physical strain of remaining hyper-vigilant about health and safety protocols, isolation felt due to social distancing, and the threat of financial fallout can feel overwhelming to parents and intensify the anxiety felt by children already struggling with the grueling reality of their parent’s eventual parting, resulting in upset, outbursts and other behavioral issues.
Recognizing this as a critical period in your child’s life, one that will shape and influence their eventual ability to reconcile the divorce of their parents, should be the motivation that allows you to call upon your best selves, put your heads together, and get them through it.

If living in the same house, parents should strive to:
• Share the responsibilities of the caring and schooling of your child with your spouse. Create a schedule for their online learning that taps each other’s subject strengths and provides a break for the other.
• Recognize the frustrations your child may feel and seek supportive time-outs like taking a walk outside, throwing a ball in the backyard, etc. Keep it positive, not punitive.
• Try to laugh often with your children. There are many physical, emotional, and social benefits. It boosts the immune system, relieves stress and eases anxiety and tension.
• Provide encouraging words and small rewards for your child when least expected.
• Self-care is an important element of surviving difficult times. Take time to engage in a healthy activity that brings you relief from the stress you feel. Consider yoga or meditation, free online platforms are available.
• Be mindful of your feelings and emotions and if necessary, seek professional help through an online professional therapist.
• Be aware that your children are observing and registering the way in which you interact, which will form the basis for their future relationships.

It may not feel like it today, or even tomorrow, but you will get through this difficult period and will move on to your new life. The question to ask yourself is how do you want your children to remember this period in their life? Fortunately for everyone, now is the time to shape that answer.

Barbara Badolato is a certified social worker and holds a master degree from Adelphi University, School of Social Work. She has worked with divorcing couples for more than 30 years, and is widely regarded for her experience and compassion in dealing with the emotional aspects and financial concerns of couples and families going through a separation and divorce. Contact Divorce Mediation Professionals at (516) 222-0101.

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