7 Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Leaders from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and AFCC have released guidelines for coparenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic
From the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis:
Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
Kim Bonuomo, AAML
Nancy Kellman, AAML
Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML
Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC
1. BE HEALTHY.
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
2. BE MINDFUL.
Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.
As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.
4. BE CREATIVE.
At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
5. BE TRANSPARENT.
Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
6. BE GENEROUS.
Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
7. BE UNDERSTANDING.
There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.
Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
This article was authored and published as a joint statement by the AAML and AFCC on March 17, 2020. Reprinted here with permission from AFCC. More COVID-19 resources from AFCC are available here.
“I don’t know why,” she said to me. “I just feel like crying all the time.”
I could understand the feeling. When much of what you know and have come to depend on goes out the window, it’s unnerving. For some, especially those struggling with anxiety, it’s more than upsetting. It’s a fear firestorm. Here’s why “hunkering down” for two or more weeks can be difficult and what you can do about it.
Why It’s Hard
Social distancing is unnatural for many. In times of uncertainty and perceived danger, we naturally flock together. Birds and animals do it; so do people. We believe there is strength in numbers and comfort too. We naturally feel better when we can talk with friends and family. Having someone hold your hand or touch you on the arm when you’re about to undergo a medical procedure typically slows your pulse and helps bring down your blood pressure. It’s calming and soothing. Now we’re being told that what we do by instinct is irresponsible and potentially dangerous. It all feels very unnatural and it is.
Routine is reassuring. Even though vacations and holidays are pleasurable experiences, most people also enjoy a return to routine. Our bodies function best when we retire at a regular hour and wake-up on a similar schedule. (Consider how you feel the week after daylight savings time or when you’ve crossed several time zones and experience jetlag.) We are meant to have similar schedules and routines mentally, physically and psychologically. When these are disrupted for an undetermined length of time, we struggle to handle it well.
We prefer to have an end date or goal in mind. Most people will tell you they can handle just about anything if they know when it will end. “When will I stop feeling like this?” they wonder. “When will this be over?” “How long am I going to have to live like this?” The problem with the COVID-19 pandemic is that we don’t know how long it will last. What will happen next is uncertain. We wonder if we have what it takes to stay the course.
It’s hard to grieve ambiguous loss. There are a lot of losses associated with hunkering down for two weeks or more. There’s the potential loss of the remainder of the school year and all that this entails—regular contact with friends, end-of-the-year field trips, prom, athletic competitions and so much more. It will be the “lost year” for many children and their parents. It’s also the loss of family gatherings, special trips and important anniversaries. A lot has changed in a very short period, just as in the death of a loved one, and we struggle to accept the new reality.
What You Can Do to Keep Your Cool
1. Develop a new routine as soon as possible. We are naturally creatures of habit, so developing some new habits will help. Get up at a regular time. Establish a meal schedule. Allow for exercise or play time (outdoors if possible). Decide on work time and space. Schedule time to connect virtually with friends and family. It may not be easy, but creating a new structure for doing life will help everyone involved. As my father used to say about the start of family vacation, “It’s just takes a few days for everyone to get trail broke.”
2. Write, draw or express creatively about the experience. Someday, this will be the story you and your kids will tell their kids or grandkids—the Great Pandemic of 2020! Think of it. We love movies, stories, paintings, photographs and other works of art emanating from periods of time in our history when people had to adjust. Beautiful quilts were constructed during some of the most difficult days of our pioneer history—often in sod shanties in the middle of nowhere on the great prairie. People wrote music and sang songs of hope and courage. In difficult times, the human spirit is capable of creating beauty. Set aside time each day for yourself and your kids. Don’t miss this opportunity to create something meaningful.
3. Acknowledge losses versus pretending they don’t exist. Talk about what you will miss. Be realistic. It’s okay to shed some tears about things you’re sad about. In fact, it’s much better to acknowledge loss and sadness than to act as if it doesn’t matter. Those who have experienced loss will tell you that talking about it, processing loss and disappointment, will go a long way toward helping one accept the new reality and move forward.
4. Innovate and create new options and opportunities. While most of us chafe at having to do something different or in a new way, it’s actually very good for us and our brains. We activate more neurons when we can’t do things in the same way we’ve always done them. There are books you’ve always wanted to read, but never had the time. There were skills or hobbies you hoped to pursue, but kept putting off. There were games you promised to play with your kids, but struggled to find time in the schedule. Now, you have time to play board games, teach your kids to cook, practice a musical instrument. Look for new ways of interacting and learning together as a family. Read or listen to books together about other people who faced challenging circumstances and not only survived, but thrived in the process.
5. Focus on what you have over what you don’t. Challenge yourself and the members of your family to make a list everyday of at least five things you have and for which you are grateful. One day’s list might include the following: 1) Roof over my head. 2) Time to read a new book. 3) Opportunity to try something new in the kitchen. 4) A good night’s rest. 5) Spring weather.
If you are experiencing some sadness, some gloomy thoughts, a general feeling of uneasiness, you are not alone. You’re human. These are uncertain times. It’s normal. It’s also possible to take charge of some parts of our life in a way that will help you to feel less sad, less anxious and more content. Try one or more of the five options above and see if it doesn’t make a difference.
For more great insights and tips be sure to subscribe to our Good Dads Podcast, and check out this Keeping Calm episode, where we talk to two dads about not hitting the "panic button", and keeping their kids calm in a time of uncertainty.
Jennifer L. Baker Psy.D., Founder & Executive Director of Good Dads, is a clinical psychologist and family therapist with nearly 30 years of practice helping individuals, couples and families.
Planning a staycation this year? We’ve got a lineup of fun and inexpensive activities for the whole family in the form of things that are sure to make memories and teach your kids new skills along the way.
These simple and low-cost activities promote bonding and offer families a chance to refresh and recharge by getting out of the usual routine of work, school, and extracurricular activities.
Ideally, you’ll want to think about your child’s age and interests and involve him or her in the planning. One-on-one time doing things with your kiddos is something they’ll remember for a lifetime, but also remember to build in free time for everyone’s sake. As we’ve talked about previously, it’s actually healthy and important for children to have unstructured play time and to experience boredom. Include a mix of planned activities and downtime and you’ll strike the right balance and create an epic staycation they’ll be talking about for years to come.
1. Backyard Campout
Kids love the adventure of camping, and the security of knowing they’re close to home is a bonus. Let them think through the packing list (tent, camp chairs, sleeping bag, flashlight, etc.) and encourage them to help with as much of the campsite setup as possible. Learning to pitch a tent, build a campfire, and search for constellations are great skills that build confidence in the hearts of young explorers.
2. Day Hike
Hiking is great for nearly all ages, though you’ll have to adjust your expectations a bit depending on the age of your child. When they’re really young you can carry them in a pack, but they may still tire easily, as they likely will in the independent but short-legged toddler and preschool years. Younger kids will probably find plenty of thrill in hiking a paved Greenways trail, while elementary and older will start to enjoy more adventurous trails. No matter their age, make sure you’re prepared for the great outdoors and take a backpack loaded with sunscreen, bug spray, tissues, sunglasses, and of course plenty of water and snacks. Seriously don’t forget the snacks. Kids love snacks.
3. Scavenger Hunt
Ah, the scavenger hunt. Classic fun, and great for indoors or out, depending on the weather. You can create the list OR make it even more fun and let your kids brainstorm with you. If you have an early reader/writer in your crew they’ll love writing out the items themselves and checking things off for the family. It’s a very official job, after all, made better with a clipboard or small notepad and pencil. Possible items for inclusion on the list are people, places, or things that can be found around the house, your yard, or a nature trail.
4. Explore Your City
Often there are fun things to do around the area we live in, we just don’t take the time to step outside of our daily routine long enough to explore them! Consider historic sites or buildings, museums, or landmarks that tourists in your area would be sure to hit. If you’re drawing a blank, try searching your city on TripAdvisor to see things from a fresh perspective.
5. Pool Day
Even if you don’t live in an area where it’s warm enough to enjoy an outdoor lake, beach, or pool, you can still make plans to visit a local indoor water park! Pack a few toys, towels and snacks (by now you’ve probably noticed we’re serious about snacks around here) and make an afternoon of it.
6. Unstructured Quiet Time
Picture the ideal vacation day spent lounging around a pool or on the beach without any distractions. Now try to recreate that feeling at home. Try a technology-free day or afternoon for the whole family. Pick up that book or magazine you’ve been interested in reading but just haven’t found the time to enjoy. Encourage your kids to do the same. This is a great time to break out their Busy Board or Imagination Box and let them do their own thing while you do yours.
7. Movie Night
Let the kids help choose the movie and pop the popcorn. You can also put them in charge of making sure everyone has a blanket and a cozy spot to enjoy the movie. They’ll love having jobs to do and you’ll enjoy the time together.
8. Board Games
Board games are a great option for family time. You can typically find things that will interest kids as young as two, and are fun for adults, too.
Options like The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game!, and Shelby’s Snack Shack Game are fun and teach things like colors and counting to younger kids. Another popular preschool board game is Richard Scarry’s Busytown Eye Found It, which teaches cooperative play and encourages teamwork, promotes attention to detail, and reinforces object identification and matching skills. Who knew kids could learn so much from family game night?! Connect 4 or Jenga are great classics suitable for ages 6 and up, that teach skill and strategy. For kids 8 and up, Stratego is a fun capture-the-flag type game of strategy, and Uno Flip is a fun, slightly more challenging version of the classic favorite.
9. Yard Cleanup/Gardening
Getting your kids involved in household chores teaches responsibility and hard work and taking time to celebrate and reflect on a job well-done will pay dividends.
If the weather cooperates, spend an afternoon outside doing yard cleanup together, perhaps picking up sticks and sweeping the sidewalk. Let your kids help choose seasonally appropriate flowers or vegetables to plant and water with their own kid-sized garden gloves, shovel, and watering can. No yard of your own? See if you can find a community garden or an elderly family member who would enjoy the help. Then enjoy an impromptu picnic dinner or campfire while admiring your work and celebrating the season.
10. Yard Games
Whether you purchase something or make up your own backyard games, the kids will have a blast. This 3-in-1 set with a low net is designed with younger kids in mind, and even if the kids can’t handle the ball or birdie yet you can try letting them hit balloons around with the badminton rackets. Bean bag toss, Ladder Toss, or Wooden Dice also look like fun options.
Let the kids help pack up sandwiches and fresh fruit, or pick up some takeout, and go have a picnic at a nearby park. You may want to pack a blanket or camp chairs in case the picnic tables are all taken (#prepareddad) and throw in a football or bubbles for something fun to do after you eat. Another perk of the park is that you can let the kids burn off some energy on the playground equipment or go on a walk.
12. Build a Fort
Remember building a fort as a kid? Whether you’re talking blankets, sheets, pillows and chairs in the living room, or a more permanent outdoor structure this is sure to be a hit. Not only do they get to help build the fort, they’ll have hours of fun playing in it.
13. Cook Together
Teach your kid how to make simple, age-appropriate food items together. Even toddlers can help dump simple ingredients into a bowl to mix up muffins or make a smoothie. Preschoolers love to help make peanut butter sandwiches, bake bread, put toppings on pizza, and cut a banana into slices with a butter knife. Elementary-aged kids will love having a bit more independence in the kitchen and learning more advanced recipes. Make breakfast sandwiches, parfaits, or a colorful salad – there’s a chance they’ll try something new or different if they get to help make it.
14. Dance Party
It doesn’t take much time to have fun and make lasting memories. Turn on some tunes and bust out your best dance moves – the giggles are sure to ensue, and you’ll get some exercise at the same time. For even more fun, you can create a family “staycation” playlist, and everyone adds their favorite songs.
15. Play Catch
Get outside! If your kids are young you can introduce them to playing catch, kicking around the soccer ball, or throwing a frisbee. A classic playground ball makes for hours of entertainment, whether kicking, tossing, or bouncing. If your kids are already involved with a structured sports team, let them just goof around and try something new, rather than turning this into an official practice session. It is vacation after all! Time for free and unstructured play is valuable.
16. Visit the Library
Check out a local library together. Not only can you find books by a favorite author or on a topic your kid is really into (turtles, police cars, a historic figure, another country, etc.), but many libraries often have toys, puzzles, iPads, and/or other activities for kids to explore.
17. Stage a Photo Shoot
Do you have a budding photographer in the house? Show them how to use your phone or a camera (do they still make those separate from a phone!?) – oh yes, we found a digital camera for toddlers here or an instant print one for your preteens here – and let them take some photos of family members, their toys, or interesting things around the yard. It’s even more fun if you can print some of the photos out to hang in their room.
18. Get Ice Cream
This is a fun and easy treat for the whole family, whether you head to the grocery store to pick out ice cream and toppings to make sundaes together at home, or you head out to your favorite local diner or fro yo shop.
19. Check Out an Aquarium or Zoo
Kids love checking out animals and you can get some exercise while walking to see everything. For little kids remember to load up the stroller and water and snacks, and you’ll want sunscreen on everyone if you’ll be outside at the zoo.
20. Arts & Crafts
Pick up some basic art supplies from your local discount or dollar store and let the kids have fun. Crayons, markers, pipe cleaners, pom poms, popsicle sticks, stick glue and some construction paper and you’re golden for toddler through elementary-aged kids. If you’re feeling adventurous and really want to light up their world you can introduce glitter and paint into the mix. Pro tip: Put down a plastic tablecloth before they go crazy with any glue, glitter, or paint for easier cleanup.
21. Volunteer Together
No matter the age of your kids, it’s rewarding to find ways to volunteer together. It doesn’t have to be a major project, either, though those are great too. Whether introducing them to the concept of donating toys or books that they no longer use, putting canned food items in a bag and taking them by a food pantry, or picking up trash (pack the gloves!) at a park, you’re teaching them the importance of serving and caring for others without any expectation of something in return. As they get older you can look into volunteering at the local Humane Society, Habitat for Humanity, or any other number of local nonprofits.
The Bottom Line:
In the end, no matter how you choose to spend your time, the important thing is that you’re together. Making memories doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive. Involve your kids in the planning, watch their wheels start turning, and know that smiles and excited giggles are not far behind.
Now go have some fun and remember we’d love to see pictures of your adventures on Facebook or Instagram!
In closing, if you click through and order any of these games or gadgets from Amazon, Good Dads will earn from qualifying purchases (at no extra cost to you) and that helps us keep the lights on. Thanks for your support - today and always!
Stephanie Grandestaff is a wife and mother, and enjoys handling all aspects of marketing and media for Good Dads.