Being a lawyer at the time of COVID-19 seems more challenging than ever. Tension and conflict are definitely heightened. Patience and having a relaxed attitude is invaluable at this time.
When couples with children get divorced it becomes challenging to set a good example for the kids so that the children can learn about cooperation, forgiveness, conflict resolution, and sharing. COVID-19 can bring out the best in people and parents have a golden opportunity to respond to the crisis with goodwill and positive interactions.
I think at a time when so many people have different ideas of what is to be done we need to fall back on the advice of our local governments and health authorities in the location where you are living to resolve disagreements. Most everyone will agree that social distancing, limiting social interactions, and following proper handwashing and hygiene is paramount. Most health professionals support these initiatives and the children’s physicians can be called if a dispute becomes out of control.
Parenting During COVID-19 Isolation
When children are forced into isolation they rely on their parents to protect them. There are always simple challenges like who takes care of the children’s clothing, computer equipment, phones, and other toys when they go back and forth, back and forth between homes. During the COVID-19 crisis there can be arguments about how to clean and sterilize these items. One parent can be strict with meals, screen time, and safety and the other parent may be lax.
Children’s clothing that may need to be shared should be washed carefully at each home. Computer equipment and phones that go back and forth should be wiped down appropriately as it changes households. When dealing with the added anxiety of COVID1919, both the kids and the parents can make the whole experience more fearful.
Parents need to be calm and relaxed so they do not add anxiety to their children’s lives. Parents need to keep safe in order to protect their children. Children need to be kept safe in order to protect their parents. It would be helpful if the parents both expressed hope and positive visioning to help let their children know they will survive.
Screen time can be a subject of controversy and more of an issue at this time. Some of the children I see spend way too much time on the screen. I have some adolescent children in my practice who are addicted to screen time and they have no interest in stopping or slowing down. I see others who are experimenting with street drugs and having disastrous reactions. This becomes a source of conflict between divorced and separated parents.
In this time of caution, it is crucial for parents to look out for symptoms to make sure they are not transferring the virus between households. If one person travels outside the country or works as a health professional or some other job on the front lines then they may infect the family and then the children would not be able to spend time with their other parent. Making up for this lost time is again an opportunity for co-operation and goodwill.
There are increased challenges when parents are working from home, supervising their children’s online school work, and making time to play and spend fun time with their children. Many divorced couples are using creative solutions like Zoom or Skype or FaceTime to allow their children to maintain contact with their grandparents, friends, and relatives from the other spouse’s community.
There can be a lot of hostility between a divorced couple and lawyers get caught in the battle.
Some parents do not even talk to each other. There are situations where one divorced couple doesn’t directly talk to each other but use intermediaries like siblings or lawyers. Other couples communicate through text messages and do not actually see each other in person. Sometimes children pit one parent against the other. This is a powerful way to get attention. Occasionally Children’s Aid can get involved and lawyers have a huge burden and responsibility to run the show. Everyone especially the children suffer. As a physician, I see the behavioral and physical impact that this can have on a growing child. Adolescence is a particularly difficult time.
I have treated many adults who in their growing years have been scarred and traumatized by divorce. I have seen adults who tell me that when they were children they somehow felt that the divorce was their fault, that they felt unlovable and if they had been better children maybe their parents would have stayed together. Children often carry the scars of a custody battle and witnessed conflicts between their parents into their adult years.
COVID-19 is a golden opportunity to work on issues of cooperation and love. Children should always come first since they are usually the innocent ones.
Dr. Mel Borins is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto and is on active staff at St. Joseph’s Health Centre. He is author of the books Go Away Just for the Health of It and An Apple a Day – a Holistic Health Primer. His latest book, A Doctor’s Guide to Alternative Medicine-What Works, What Doesn’t and Why, is available online. www.melborinscreative.com