Sharing your children can be a challenge even without the pandemic of COVID-19. Here are some tips to help you figure out the best way to co-parent during this difficult time.
Adapt your current plan.
A number of factors may have recently changed, including school closing, job lay offs, "shelter at home" orders and the like. Does your parenting plan need to change as well? If you have a summer plan, and "school's out" a quick adjust to follow your summer plan may be a good response. Likewise, being flexible about who is available to care for children in this changing landscape should be preferred to dogmatic adherence to the express provisions of your order. Also, changing exchanges to fit with social distancing recommendations should be discussed. If someone is going to miss out on parenting time, due to travel restrictions, health, or some other factor outside of your control, discuss cooperative ways to make up time once this crisis has passed.
Confirm that you and your co-parent are both following these Covid-19 guidelines
According to the Center for Disease Control, you should take the following steps to protect children:
Clean hands often using soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer
Avoid people who are sick (coughing and sneezing)
Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces daily in household common areas (e.g. tables, hard-backed chairs, doorknobs, light switches, remotes, handles, desks, toilets, sinks)
Launder items including washable plush toys as appropriate in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. If possible, launder items using the warmest appropriate water setting for the items and dry items completely. Dirty laundry from an ill person can be washed with other people’s items.
Have a plan for when your child is ill.
The CDC advises that children may present with mild symptoms. The symptoms of COVID-19 are similar in children and adults. However, children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild symptoms. Reported symptoms in children include cold-like symptoms, such as fever, runny nose, and cough. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been reported. It’s not known yet whether some children may be at higher risk for severe illness, for example, children with underlying medical conditions and special healthcare needs. There is more to learn about how the disease impacts children.
For this reason, discuss with your co-parent how you will respond to even mild illnesses. If both households are healthy and no one with underlying conditions or special risk factors resides there, perhaps sharing a mildly ill child will not present a risk that outweighs your child’s need for frequent contact with both parents. There are lots of non-in-person options for contact, so co-parents should consider limiting contact between their ill child and others for a period recommended by your healthcare provider.
Get on the same "social distancing" page with your co-parent
Practice Social Distancing: Discuss whether or not both households are taking extra measures to put distance between themselves and others (social distancing). Of course, you should follow the orders of your local governments and the recommendations of health care providers. However, coordinating with your co-parent to insure that everyone is taking the best measures to protect your child is possible and preferable to simply refusing to share the child.
According to the CDC, information about COVID-19 in children is somewhat limited, but current data suggest children with COVID-19 may only have mild symptoms. However, they can still pass this virus onto others who may be at higher risk, including older adults and people who have serious underlying medical conditions. For this reason, you should consider whether sharing your child(ren) may put others at risk, and plan accordingly. If others in your home are at particularly high risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider extra precautions to separate your child(ren) from those people.
Make a new plan if you have to change your current plan.
If continuing with your current parenting plan, and sharing your child(ren) is not the best thing to do at this time, the parent who “retains” the child(ren) should do a few things right away. First, make sure that you have clearly explained what factors and circumstances cause you to believe that not sharing the child at this time is best. Next, be creative and flexible about ways to help your child(ren) stay is touch and keep connected to their other parent including remote contact by facetime and other apps that allow video and audio communication. Help your kids write cards or letters to family members they may not be able to visit. Finally, make a plan for “make-up” time. As difficult as these circumstances are under usual circumstances, it becomes even more difficult when stressed. Children absolutely benefit from having meaningful time with both parents, and depending on their developmental stage, suffer when this contact is gone. For all of these reasons, there is no single correct answer for all families in all places at all times. Ultimately, you and your child(ren)’s other parent are best suited to protect their best interests.