Hi. I’m Brenda Ockun—publisher and founder of StepMom Magazine—here with a message for parents and stepparents who have shared or joint custody or whose children are young adults who either live with you or stay with you for extended periods.
The question of how to handle scheduled visitation, parenting time, and kids going back and forth between homes is a hot topic right now. It’s causing confusion and concern as the whole world adjusts to the idea of social distancing: stepfamilies included.
I’m not lawyer or a doctor. But lots of you have asked for my advice.
This is life unlike anyone has ever known it. There is no rule book and there is no legal precedent for dealing with a crisis like this one. The guidelines divorced or separated parents typically follow which relate to our kids, visitation and other agreements or situations have been upended.
So, how should we handle this?
Today, our co-parenting and shared visitation practices must be re-evaluated. In many cases, we’ll need to adjust them so that—along with the rest of the world—we do everything in our power to minimize everyone’s risk of carrying, exposing and transferring coronavirus.
For parents and stepparents, this means:
Now is the time to put aside any differences we may have.
Now is the time to put our families’ and kids’ well-being first.
Now is the time to do everything we can to truly communicate with one another.
Most importantly, for the health and safety of our communities and the world, NOW is the time for parents and stepparents to: STOP worrying about whose day or weekend it is and START talking about what kind of a schedule makes the most sense.
In light of this global pandemic—a situation we’re all in together—the RIGHT thing to do is to be sensible. EVEN if that means: deviating from our usual schedules, limiting or ceasing back-and-forth activity between homes and staying in contact from a distance.
No one wants to be separated from their child for an extended period of time—especially not during uncertain or scary times. But we all have a responsibility here. In some cases, we simply have to make difficult decisions. In some cases, you may need to allow that child to remain “in place” with the other parent to avoid risking their health, or the health of others.
Common sense is key.
Here are a few questions co-parents should ask themselves:
* Does anyone in your home work in health care?
* Does anyone in your home work with the elderly or others at-risk?
* Does anyone in your home have a compromised immune system?
* Does going back and forth increase any loved one’s risk of exposure?
If you said “Yes” to any of those, it’s likely best for your child to stay put. If yours is the home in least physical contact with other people, then having your child stay with you for an extended period of time might make more sense.
World-renowned stepfamily expert Patricia Papernow said: “Kids should NOT be going back and forth” and that “this is a TOUGH piece of reality, especially since this may go on for a long time.” In her view? “Kids should be in one place for the duration.”
Anything else, she added, is “just too dangerous—for everyone.” As an alternative, she suggests considering longer times between exchanges. Instead of weekly or every other week, stretch that to two, three or even four weeks at a time.
Look, I know many of you are already juggling fragile relationships. This kind of stress doesn’t help. But if you’re a parent or a stepparent who’s hesitating to speak up for fear of rocking the boat: THIS is the time to put your foot down, especially if having the kids go back and forth between homes threatens to put anyone at risk.
These are difficult times. And these are difficult decisions. So, please: Moms, Dads, Stepparents … put your differences aside and work together on this. If you believe your situation puts ANYONE in danger and you’re unable to work with the other home, find a workaround.
Contact your family doctor, therapists or attorney for personalized advice.
We have, as parents, have a wonderful opportunity to model what cooperation, common sense and courage look like. Remember, the kids are always watching. And they count on us to do right by them.
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