We have written a lot recently about the exceptionally challenging landscape affecting existing parenting arrangements caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the deluge of government updates, health alerts, constant news feeds and social media it is easy to get overwhelmed with the negativity of the situation.
So let’s take a look at some more creative and interesting opportunities presented by the current difficulties.
On some level, many parents are starting to accept that, for the next few weeks at least, parties will need to get increasingly creative about the way they will maintain the important relationships with children who they may not be seeing in person.
For the children involved it may well be one of the most significant periods of disruption that they have experienced. The acute distress at both the reality and prospect of being separated from a parent with whom the children have spent regular time up until recently, is something that I think all parents have an obligation to try and reduce wherever possible.
What is clear, is that there are a range of ways that parents can help children to manage this difficult time. Focusing on the quality of what can be achieved over a distance without the need for physical contact I think is a far better way to address those concerns, rather than insisting upon the legal rights and disappointment of what may be missed.
In the modern world of text messages, email and social media, when was the last time that you took the opportunity to actually write your children a letter. The idea of sending something through the post via snail mail is an almost archaic concept, but young children relish the idea of receiving person mail addressed to them. The simple act of opening a letter, reading it and seeing the handwriting of the other parent may indeed be a novel experience. Simply knowing that the other parent took the time to think about them and write by hand, almost perhaps more than what the letter may convey, may be an important way to reach out to children that you’re not presently seeing.
With Easter coming up, it may be an opportunity to consider new and different gifts that are perhaps more appropriate to post, rather than chocolate. Is there something that can be booked up in advance for children where, even if they are missing out on time this Easter, there may be an exciting event or activity that could be booked up for later in the year? Perhaps now might be the time to consider the idea of experience based gift vouchers with longer expiry dates, coupled with the explanation about what exciting events the children might be able to participate in later on.
There is also the myriad of online and platform based facilities for both parents and children living some distance apart to participate in together. While there may certainly be a technological and financial expense associated with those, it may be a perfect opportunity to look into what might be possible in that virtual environment. Certainly a number of common video games such as Minecraft have common platforms that can be established for parents to play the same game with their children, even though they may be many hundreds of kilometres apart. There are also similar fitness based activities for bike riding, running and other virtual based sports. You as parents are best placed to know the activities that your children enjoy in the real world and finding an appropriately themed online activity may be the perfect substitute. If it’s good enough for F1 drivers then surely there is an appropriate substitute out there for most families.
For almost all of the above activities to work there must be some degree of communication, good will and encouragement from both parents to ensure the children have what they need in each household to use many of the above platforms. Now, more than ever, separated parents need to truly focus on what their children need right now, rather than focusing on what can’t be achieved. This is not an opportunity to create new disputes or reflect on the difficulties associated with the separation.
If the costs of future holiday bookings, online gaming subscriptions, computing hardware or high speed internet are just not financially viable for both parents in the current economic climate, then be flexible and understanding of the limitations and keep coming up with alternatives that might be. It does not have to be expensive or complicated. At its core, simply assisting a child to open a letter addressed to them from the other parent and encouraging them to spend 15 minutes to write back and post a reply costs little more than your time, and may make an enormous difference to a child that is anxious and missing the other parent. Even the simple act of being flexible and encouraging more regular phone and video calls each day or at different times could go a long way to maintaining or building some good will with a parent who may be physically separated from the children and finding themselves isolated at what may be a very difficult time.
So while there may certainly be an element of disappointment, frustration and distress around the current impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, be creative and look towards what might be possible. While balancing the need to protect everyone’s health and safety feels like the only focus, take each and every opportunity to show to the children that they remain in your thoughts and remain connected.
You never know, an activity that is formed and set up in these more challenging times may be the one that has the greater longevity after the current health pandemic has abated, and life starts to return to normal.