Since COVID-19’s arrival, it has changed nearly everything about daily life. From how we grocery shop and connect with friends and family to where we work and how our children learn, 2020 has brought many changes and challenges to deal with. You’ve already had to figure out how to juggle working from home and crisis schooling, and those who work in essential jobs have had the difficult challenge of trying to ensure the children are taken care of while working in the absence of school and daycares. For those who are coparenting, visitation schedules may have had to have been adjusted or, in the case of high-risk individuals or those who have tested positive for COVID-19, sometimes suspended altogether.
The good news is that many states across the country are starting to reopen for business and attempt to return to “normal” life, but that doesn’t mean everything will instantly revert back to the way it was. As we continue to see what COVID-19 will bring and how it will shape our society and culture moving forward into the rest of 2020 and beyond, here are some challenges that may be coming as summer begins and some tips on how to manage them.
With many places still having bans on public gatherings or limitations on how many people can be together at once, schools have had to scramble to figure out a way to recognize the graduating class of 2020. Other end-of-school ceremonies have also been impacted, including Kindergarten and middle school graduations, school musicals and recognition ceremonies and banquets.
Some schools have attempted to pivot with these changes by offering virtual ceremonies via video-conferencing apps or drive-through graduations where only one family is allowed through at a time to see their child walk the stage and receive their diploma. While these solutions are creative and have given some much-needed recognition for the students, it hasn’t been without its challenges. In some cases, only one parent is allowed to attend the ceremony or there is a very tight cap on the number of people allowed, which can create issues for divorced and blended families.
If you’re dealing with graduation or end-of-year ceremony issues, being proactive and talking directly with teachers and administrators can be helpful. This is something no one has dealt before, and often, solutions are presented and put in place without actually checking if they are suitable or work for the people involved. Letting your administrator know that you still want your child to have the option of a graduation stage walk or that limiting the guests makes it impossible for both parents to witness can help them better understand the situation, and you may find that exceptions are able to be made. If nothing can be done, brainstorm other ways to make these events special such as drive-by recognitions, virtual parties or having an at-home ceremony in the backyard.
You might already have a system worked out for vacations with your coparent, but with COVID-19 cancelling travel plans across the country, your usual destination might not be open or you may have to change vacation weeks. Work schedules might have changed, meaning you can’t take as much vacation time in a row as usual, or you might even opt for a staycation to save money after having to deal with cutbacks in your budget due to time off or unemployment. The bottom line is that summer vacation is probably going to look a lot different for many people this year — and maybe even next — and that means that you’re going to have to work things out with your child’s other parent.
As with most issues involving coparenting, one of the best things you can do is keep the lines of communication open and moving freely. If you already know that you’d like to make some changes to the normal vacation procedures, start talking to the other parent as soon as possible. Most standard custody and visitation agreements have periods of notification set out in writing, which means that if you want to make a change or need to let the other parent know when you’re planning on taking your vacation time, you have to do it a certain number of days in advance. Otherwise, the other parent can say no, and the default schedule remains in place.
Remember to be civil and realize that everyone has had to make changes and adjustments during this time and that this trend will likely continue. Cooperating with each other and ensuring that everyone has the details of planned or possible vacation times easily accessible on a joint calendar or something similar can make the process as smooth as possible.
The 2019-2020 school year is just wrapping up in most parts of the country, but things are still uncertain when it comes to what schooling will look like in the fall. Some colleges have said that they will reopen on-campus classes for the 2020-2021 academic year, but most K-12 schools are still trying to figure out how to manage the large number of students in the building while complying with new rules for social distancing and cleaning. Some schools are tossing around the idea of a hybrid model that would have students going to in-person classes 2-3 days a week and doing remote learning on the other days. Other schools are considering longer class days or year-round schooling so that they can accommodate small class sizes.
There’s also the possibility that you might choose not to have your children return to public schools in the fall. Some parents have expressed how much happier they are connecting on a more frequent basis with their children, and those who are being allowed to continue to work at home might be exploring the ideas of homeschooling or enrolling children in an online school where they will have more control over what the school day looks like come fall.
If you have sole custody, what your child’s education looks like next year is probably up to you. In most cases, the sole custodian has full decision-making permissions when it comes to educational issues, but if you have shared parenting, this is something you will need to discuss with the other parent and come to an agreement on. And even if you are planning on having your child return to traditional public school, there may need to be some changes to what that looks like on the home front depending on how the district decides to move forward.
As you’re contemplating these decisions or waiting on word from your district, it may be helpful to start talking to the other parent about possible scenarios and solutions so you’re prepared to move forward when decisions are made. For example, if your school chooses to move to the hybrid model, maybe one of you has a more flexible job and can work from home on the days your child isn’t at school. No matter what you decide or how you choose to handle things, however, it will be important to stay flexible as changes are likely if not inevitable as the next school year progresses.
The truth is that life changed significantly and quickly for most people at the beginning of 2020, and whether that meant increased work hours, job loss or just major adjustments with more people at home all day, the emotional and mental toll is real for both parents and children. Depending on the age of your children, you may be dealing with younger kids who have anxieties about getting sick, tweens who are trying to suddenly navigate a life without in-person friendships or high school graduates who are upset about not getting to have all their “lasts” and are worried about what this will all mean for college next year. And the mental health and burnout toll juggling all of this has had on parents — especially single parents — is immeasurable.
During this time, it’s important to remember that mental and emotional health is just as important as physical health. And while the demands of jobs and schooling may be significant, it’s important to place a priority on getting out in the fresh air, engaging in physical activity that brings you joy, such as hiking or dancing, and making time for just plain fun. Having a family meeting to create an open discussion about how everyone is feeling and what they need can give you a place to start, and asking children for suggestions on how to cope, such as family game nights or making a summer garden together, can help them feel like valued contributors who have a voice. It may also be helpful to look at telecommute counseling sessions for the whole family, including the coparent, if there are significant issues or you feel like the family could benefit from an objective outsider’s perspective.
No matter what the second half of the year and beyond brings, the key to successfully navigating coparenting during this time is open communication and the free exchange of information. One of the best ways to facilitate this is with a coparenting app like 2Houses. This app includes a joint calendar that makes keeping track of kids’ activities, parenting schedules and cancellations simple and easy, and you can message right within the app so all communication is in writing and in one place. There are also features that let you keep track of expenditures for reimbursement and an info bank so everything has access to important information like teachers’ numbers, medical information and anything else you need both parents to have access to. As we continue to see how the COVID-19 will coparenting moving forward, 2Houses makes it easy to keep everyone in the loop and cooperate when adjustments and changes need to be made.
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