Co-parenting Successfully in 2020

Parenting isn’t always easy. Kids are complicated, and they don’t come with a manual. No matter how well prepared anyone is for parenting, there will be situations where they’re out of their depth. That’s especially true in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic changing the way we do virtually everything. Parenting is different in the face of the pandemic. We spend a lot more time at home with our families, and more people than ever are attending work and school virtually, meaning we’re all on top of one another stuck inside while figuring out how to make our new routines work. Many families are struggling financially, which is an added layer of stress that can make things seem unbearable. If this has led to tension between you and your co parent, you’re not alone. Successful co parenting is something that takes work, and it naturally becomes more difficult when life becomes more difficult. However, it is possible to co parent successfully in 2020, and the key is communication. 

Effective communication, or lack thereof, is a common thread in many relationship problems. No matter how much we might wish it, no one is able to read minds. Your partner might know you really well and be able to intuit what you mean most of the time, but there will still be times when you need to directly ask for what you want or need. Many of us grow up thinking that there is something wrong with asking for help or asking for what we need, but that simply isn’t true. No one can be fully independent in every aspect of their lives. As humans, we need connection. We make connections by being vulnerable and sharing what is true for us while making space for the people we care about to be vulnerable and share what is true for them.  

Kids are much more perceptive than they let on, and they know that this is a stressful moment in time. They can pick up on your stress, both through your verbal communication and through your body language. Whether we like it or not, our kids are looking to us to see how to react to this, so as difficult as it is to accept the loss of control, it’s important to model to our kids how to deal with a tough situation. Here are some ways you can make co-parenting in 2020 a little easier: 

Focus on what you can control

For the most part, this means focusing on your responses to things that are out of your control. We can’t control the virus or public health officials. We can’t control the changing economy or the upcoming election. We can control the way we react. We can control what we teach our children about this moment in time – are we using this as a moment to demonstrate the value of treating others with respect and dignity? Are you leading by example? When you have a tough moment or lose your patience, how do you react afterwards? Your kids are picking up on this. 

Equal isn’t always better

It’s not always realistic for every family to divide the labor equally between parents or caregivers. Sometimes, one parent has a job with more flexible hours, so they are available more of the time for childcare and household chores. Some people simply prefer certain tasks over others – one partner might hate gardening but the other doesn’t mind doing work outside. Splitting things 50-50 between caregivers might make sense mathematically, but it doesn’t take into account the lived experience of each family. 

Revisit these topics often

As we know all too well, things can change completely in a short amount of time. That’s why these conversations should be a regular part of parenting. Make sure to talk to your co-parent regularly about your expectations and your feelings. Share what you’re worried about and support each other as you support your family. When you’re co parenting with someone, it can be easy to look at every problem as “me versus them”, but try to think about it differently. Think about it as your parenting team versus the problem. You’re on the same side. 

Know that arguments are inevitable

You will never see eye to eye with another person 100% of the time, and it’s not realistic to expect to. The way we approach parenting is informed by so many things – the way our parents treated us in childhood, the relationships we’ve had throughout life, our own values, and societal context, just to name a few. You don’t need to be constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, but keep in mind that arguments will happen and they aren’t the end of the world. In fact, arguments give you a chance to practice healthy conflict skills, like active listening. When you know that arguments are inevitable you can focus on what’s most important: the repairing process after the argument. Maybe for you and your co parent this means that you need to take some time to yourselves before you discuss this again. Maybe it means that you meet with a counselor so you can get a third party point of view and guidance. 

Plan for the worst

This isn’t to say that you should always be expecting the worst to happen, but anxiety can be tricky to deal with and making a plan for what you’ll do in your worst-case scenario can go a long way to making you feel better. Even if everything goes wrong, you know what you’ll do. Talk to your partner about ways you can prepare your family for the future. How will you manage COVID risk as a family? If one of you gets sick or is unable to care for the kids, what will you do? Take some time to figure these out with your partner. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs out there, and the curve-balls we’ve had to deal with this year have not made it any easier. If you’re struggling with parenting or co parenting effectively, you’re not alone. Taking some time to talk to a counselor about ways to adapt your parenting and co parent effectively right now can make a big difference.

-Lindsay N Sanner, LSCSW, RPT