I honestly never expected to be writing a blog like this. We are in uncharted water and very scary times. On top of health concerns everyone is worrying about their financial futures as this virus is sure to have an economic impact on the whole world.
For some parents, there is also the added worry of how this is going to affect their co-parenting relationship and contact with their children.
I can’t do anything to offer any support around the health and financial issues so I wanted to offer my advice on something I do know about.
At a national level the current advice from the UK government is to avoid “non-essential contact”, stay home for 14 days if you live with someone with a cough or temperature and schools to remain open for now. Things are changing on a daily basis as we learn more about the virus but this is where we stand and that is already causing issues for parents.
Many parents are refusing to return children after contact or claiming self isolation and cancelling contact. Whilst I am not saying that in some cases this is absolutely the right thing to do, I am also aware that there are cases where parents are using this to restrict contact and alienate the other parent. Essentially the government are giving permission for abusive people to isolate their victims. Again, this is not to say that reducing contact isn’t a necessary step, just an acknowledgement that abusive parents will and are using the advice to their advantage (as predicted in my previous blog).
What is confusing for many parents is the dilemma of following government advice and reducing contact and self isolating to protect others including their own children, knowing that if they cancel, it will be used as a weapon to beat them by the other parent who will create the narrative of “they don’t care about you”. Some parents may even accuse the other parent of being unsafe because they take them out and so refuse contact to keep them safe. It is a real mine field.
The reality of this is that it has created a real paradox and cognitive dissonance in many people. They hold two very different but valid opinions about the same thing. This confusion can be very triggering for victims of abuse because this is exactly what they experienced during the relationship. So not only are people confused and scared by the outbreak, they are also reliving their past trauma at the same time. Which is why it is so important you learn how to manage this situation.
3 Ways To Manage Quarantine
If you aren’t able to see your children, keep communication lines open. Arrange regular telephone or video calls, send letters, care packages, use social media. Get creative in ways to stay in touch. Military families spend months away from their families and the bond between them and their children does not diminish and so this doesn’t have to either.
If your ex is not supportive of contact, record videos and either save them to your phone, laptop or upload them onto video sharing platforms (private setting) so that you can show them your “video diary” at a later date. This is one of the biggest things we as a society will ever go through in our life time and so keeping a record will be really helpful for both you and your children once everything settles. You can send letters (unless you have a court order which specifically states you can’t) but there is no guarantee they will get them but if you send them recorded you can again provide evidence when you are able to.
As adults this is a really scary time and the children will pick up on that even if they are not old enough to know what is going on. Help to reduce their anxiety by exploring their understanding of what is going on and offer an explanation (age appropriate) if necessary. If you are stuck at home, plan activities and keep them entertained. The truth is being stuck indoors without a break for 14 days (or however long this goes on for) is not going to be fun for anyone. There will be a lot of pent up energy and anxiety which can cause arguments and definitely put a strain on even the best relationships. Think of ways you can work through that. Having a plan in advance really will help.
Finally, keep yourself safe and well. Follow the guidance but try not to get obsessed with it. The press and even social media are fear mongering and that can add to your anxiety. Limit your news watching/paper reading/ social media time to reduce your anxiety levels.
If your ex is playing up and refusing contact on the grounds of self isolation which you feel is unnecessary, let it go. The reality is that there is nothing you can do. They have a legitimate excuse now to cut contact and arguing with them only fuels their ego. They love to know they are hurting you so a simple “thank you for keeping our child safe” will suffice. Again this is unprecedented territory and we have no way of knowing what is coming next. Save your energy for the long game.
If they refuse to allow you to talk to your children during this, again save your energy. Yes it is cruel and vindictive and not in the child’s best interests but there is nothing you can do. In all likelihood courts will be closed shortly and so there is nowhere to turn. You have to find your own way through this. I do not say that flippantly, I appreciate how tough this is. But I have learnt the hard way that worry and anger do nothing to move you towards your goal and so focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t.
Your children may have a lot of questions about what is happening. Be aware of your own feelings about this before you respond. It can be really easy to transfer our fears onto our children and so being aware of how we feel can help to manage that. They are seeking reassurance and comfort from you and so try to stay positive. We will get through this.
You may feel scared. You are probably worried about yourself, your children and elderly relatives. Maybe even for society as a whole. That is normal and natural. It is something we have no idea of how it is going to go. The unknown is scary. Add to that the added implications on our finances and it could be easy to drown under all the difficulties. Managing fear can be difficult, especially when we are being bombarded with worse case and apocalyptic scenarios. As previously stated, I recommend limiting your time watching the news/reading newspapers/social media to keep on top of the fear.
Get in touch with where in your body the feeling is because the simple act of acknowledging the physical sensations can be enough to reduce the feeling.
Practice 4-2-4 breathing if you find yourself becoming overwhelmed with panic. Breath in for a count of 4, hold for 2 and out for 4.
It can be frustrating being kept from your children and also being told by the government how to live your life, it can feel very controlling and abusive when this is the environment you have experienced in the past. But it really is a wasted emotions. It achieves nothing. Right now there is no rule book about what is happening and so where possible, you have to go with it. Try to keep your emotions in check and focus on staying safe and healthy.
Obviously being way from your children will feel like a terrible loss and you may experience grief. It’s important to allow those feelings to flow. Grief is a cycle between denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance. Try not to get stuck in any one of those stages. The next stage will come but it isn’t linear. You will go back and forth. It’s all normal and natural. Don’t fight it, it shows how much you love them and that in itself can be a comfort. It wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t love them so much.
If you are self isolated or we are forced into lockdown, try to stay busy. Talk to friends over Skype, Facetime or other video call services. Read the books you have always meant to. Start a new hobby. You could start a business. Make some changes round the house. I always find moving my furniture quite therapeutic! If you can find the best in this situation, you will fare far better.
Finally the prospect of being in isolation can be very worrying and scary to many people. Humans are social creatures and to be potentially forced to stay away from others is going to feel really unnatural. Please know that support is out there. Just because it isn’t face to face doesn’t mean that you can’t get help. We at The Nurturing Coach have introduced weekly online support groups to help you through this period of uncertainly. Do join us, it can really help to talk to others.
I hope this has offered some guidance for you. I appreciate it is a difficult time and I certainly don’t have all the answers but I wanted to offer something. Do stay safe everyone. Take care.