Co-parenting in any instance can be difficult, but co-parenting while social distancing and self-isolating? This can hike up the tension in even the most amicable of relationships. Divorced copywriter Felicity Haythorn offers some ways to take control and even enhance your co-parenting regime…
Felicity Haythorn, 39, is a mum of two and a freelance copywriter. She lives in Devon.
I split up from my children’s father three and a half years ago. He remained in London while I returned to my roots in Devon. Since then, we have been successfully co-parenting despite the four-hour drive from the capital to the south-west. But in the few days leading up to lockdown on 23 March, I was in a bad way: anxiety had sent my stomach into spirals, I found it hard to sleep and I was very tearful.
Not only was I worried about home-schooling, work issues and financial insecurity, but I was also panicking because my ex-husband had moved (temporarily) down from London to Devon to help to look after our two daughters.
To the outsider, this was an ideal situation – why wouldn’t I be grateful for childcare during lockdown? However, I was filled with trepidation. My ex’s relocation had happened so quickly that I’d had no time to process the implications on the children’s routine. And although I was delighted that the children would be seeing so much more of their father, we hadn’t discussed how we would approach self-isolating since he had left London and even whether it was safe for the children to see him. Communication broke down and old power struggles raised their ugly heads.
I was flooded with negative feelings and anxieties from the grim past. But I realised that co-parenting during a pandemic is unprecedented. It was now of paramount importance to find mutual ground and ensure our children continued to thrive. Here are three things we did to cope:
Improved empathy means better communication
I now realise how hard it has been for both my ex and I to parent two children when we live so far apart. Because he has been spending a lot more time with the girls, he can empathise with how much I do when I’m parenting alone. I now get how difficult it must be for him to be separated from them for weeks on end. Greater mutual empathy means that we can talk to each other more freely than before. We both now understand that it is a must to always have a conversation with the other parent before making any decisions that affect the children.
My ex and I are both self-employed. I am a freelance copywriter and work part-time from home (in normal life, this means one parent is always there for the children). The girls’ father works full time, running his own business. Both of our jobs are equally as important, so we have agreed to respect this by giving the other parent 48 hours’ notice if an important work call came up and that parent needs help with childcare.
Agree a parenting plan
We have been fortunate to be able to agree our informal parenting plan out of court. Outside These Weird Times, I am the primary caregiver and the girls see their dad one weekend a month, every half term and for a portion of the holidays. During lockdown, we have decided that the children spend four nights with each parent before swapping. This means a short burst of quality parent-children time alternated with a few days to work and rest. The flexible schedule is rigid enough to create routine and stability for our girls while allowing us to keep our businesses going. We are both struggling with the home schooling (who isn’t?!) but we are incorporating learning into play, as well as lots of reading, exercise, arts and crafts and cooking. I am staying in touch with both teachers and keeping them informed of our children’s progress.
Despite a rocky beginning to lockdown, I am proud to see my ex and I come together to support each other during the crisis. Our communication has improved and respect for each other has strengthened. I am worried about how the children will react when lockdown is over and their father returns to London but for now, much like every family, we are taking it day by day. I hope our enhanced co-parenting regime will set the scene for a better relationship after the crisis is over, too.
Felicity Haythorn is a freelance copywriter who loves telling brands’ stories through social media and really good copy. Check out her IGTV series, Copy and Coping, for more co-parenting experiences and copywriting tips.