These are unprecedented and challenging times. Protecting our physical and mental health, and that of our children, is a priority. Relationships in families can be very important in helping us through stress, but they can also come under strain themselves. There are particular challenges for children currently whose parents live in different homes. Some top tips to help during this time are:
1. Follow Government advice as it evolves, protect health and reduce the spread of the virus. Think about how best to do this whilst also maintaining your child’s important relationship with their other parent. The current UK Government advice is that ‘where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.’ Parents who live in separate homes can continue to look after and spend time with their children, where it is safe to do so.
2. Current arrangements may need to be adjusted to respond to health concerns, school closure, childcare needs, changed work patterns, financial issues. Try to agree changes with the other parent that are in the best interests of your children and take everyone’s needs and circumstances in to account. Remember that stress and anxiety levels are higher at the moment and you might need extra patience and flexibility. You might be able to help each other through this, for your child’s sake.
3. If you or your child or anyone else in your household needs to self isolate then make sure the other parent is kept informed. Parents may have different views about health concerns and the most appropriate response. Communication and understanding of other perspectives are key to agreeing a way forward.
4. Use technology to help your children to continue to keep in touch and maintain connection with their other parent remotely. Ideally use video connections online so that children can see and interact with their other parent, and other family members.
5. Look for creative ways of supporting your children to interact with their other parent if they are not able to spend time with them in person. They may be able to play games, do quizzes, join together in exercise, music or art activities over the internet. Many websites are offering free resources and useful tips and hints.
6. If there is a court order or formal agreement in place then it is important that you try to stick with this as much as possible. Parents can agree between themselves to vary the arrangements, and may need to in response to the current situation. It would be sensible to record an alternative agreement in a note, email or text for clarity. Where parents cannot agree, one parent may vary the arrangement to something that they consider to be safe and in line with Government advice. If in the future such action is questioned in court, however, the court will look to see whether each parent acted reasonably and sensibly. If the arrangements are varied the courts will expect efforts to be made to establish and maintain regular contact between the child and the other parent safely, for example by video or telephone. There is more information from the Scottish Courts service here: https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/coming-to-court/attending-a-court/coronavirus
7. Seek out help and support. The current pressures are adding to already stressful situations for many. Relationships Scotland Member Services may be able to offer some online and telephone services, such as family mediation or Parenting Apart sessions. Contact the Service nearest to where you live here: https://www.relationships-scotland.org.uk/find-a-local-service. If you have concerns about your own safety, or the safety of your children, because of violence or abuse, alcohol or substance misuse, or other issues, professional advice and help is recommended. More information and links to other support agencies are at https://www.relationships-scotland.org.uk/family-support
8. Model the behaviour you want your children to develop to build resilience through adversity – be kind, generous, forgiving, hopeful – and remember to have some fun.