The COVID-19 pandemic brings new challenges for parents who do not live in the same house. During this time of increased anxiety and stress, it is important to work together to parent your children. Here are a few tips from Dr. Maggie Kerr, State Specialist with UW-Madison, Division of Extension:
Talk with your co-parent and children about the expectations you have for your households about social distancing. Stating your expectations clearly is likely to reduce future conflict. If the children will go between households, each co-parent needs to know who the children will be in contact with at the other house, including other family members and children. Each co-parent needs to know the exposure associated with the people living in the house, including who is still going into work and who may be elderly or immunocompromised. Together, you can decide what works best to keep your families as safe as possible.
2. Make a plan
Your custody arrangement should be followed, but the Wisconsin Safer at Home (PDF) order may require additional coordinating. Work with your co-parent to plan for school and daycare closures, travel restrictions, and social distancing. If you are both working full-time at home, consider taking turns with your child so that each parent has some dedicated time to focus. During the Safer at Home order, transporting the child between households is considered an essential activity. Most importantly, communicate your plans to the child so they understand what is happening. Routines and communication help children feel safe during uncertain times.
3. Be flexible
Your co-parenting plan may need to change on a weekly or daily basis. Be flexible and do not blame the other parent when things need to change. For example, if one of you gets sick, you will need to come up with a new plan. Agree upon other family members who might be able to help with your child if needed.
4. Stay in touch
Consider increasing the communication you have with your child via phone, email, video chats, and text during this time. If one parent needs to self-quarantine, this increased communication will be important. Use technology to allow your child to visit even when seeing the other parent in person is not possible. There are a variety of apps and websites for staying in touch from a distance. Learn how to use the technology before you absolutely need it. Phone calls are always a great option, too.
5. Remember the basics
This is a stressful time and the uncertainty and changes may cause more frustration than usual. Do your best not to argue in front of the child or to speak negatively about the child’s other parent. Keep communication open but limited to relevant information, such as custody arrangements, childcare, school work, and exposure risks.
6. Be kind to yourself
This is a tough situation. Do not strive to be a perfect parent. Set realistic goals for your family. Trust that you are doing your best to parent your child through a difficult time. Remember to take care of yourself by talking walks, connecting with your family/friends, and repeating affirmations to yourself. Consider the tips Zero to Three has compiled to help your family through this difficult time.
CDC’s Children and Coronavirus Recommendations
Governer Tony Evers’ Safer at Home FAQ (PDF)
Talking to Kids about COVID-19
Zero to Three’s Coronavirus Tips for Families