Co-parenting poses new challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic

Published: May. 20, 2020 at 2:57 PM MDT
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The viral pandemic has turned many of our personal lives upside down. Divorced or separated families are now dealing with a new reality, which is the uncharted territory of the coronavirus impact.

Dr. Michael Whitehead, who is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Twin Falls, said communication is critical during this time.

“Kids are like emotional barometers," Whitehead said. "They pick up on the emotional environment wherever they’re at. The biggest thing in dealing with kids in divorce is feeling like they’re caught in the middle of the parent’s decisions or caught in the middle of the custody arrangements. That could increase the level of stress that kids feel. The more that they’re stressed, the more difficult the parenting is going to be."

KMVT’s very own Brittany Cooper has been co-parenting for five years. She says she is lucky that she has a great relationship and communication-line with her ex-husband.

“Since I do broadcast two shows from home, I make sure that I let my ex-husband know, ‘Hey, we’re going to be busy from 6:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. If you can make your Facetime call after the 6:30 p.m. show after my battery is charged and I don’t need it anymore for a couple of hours that would be great.’ So, they Facetime quite a bit.”

Cooper’s daughter Booklyn agreed.

“Yeah, I Facetime him sometimes and show him what I’m up to,” she said.

According to the peer reviewed journal "The American Sociological Review" stability in the home is crucial to the development and well-being of children. It says children who experience multiple transitions in family structure have worse developmental outcomes.

“It’s really important that consistency takes place because depending on where the child is at in their developmental stage, that consistent parenting relationship is very important,” Whitehead said. “Whether it’s via teleconferencing or actual in-life visits, the kids will do better when they’re connected to both parents.”

If there are concerns with the safety and health of the children in the care of a specific parent, parents need to seek professional help, like a parenting coordinator or a lawyer. Also, if a child is showing signs of increased aggression, depression or social isolation, then therapy is highly recommended. Otherwise those issues could result in long-lasting negative outcomes.

“The research on childhood outcomes as a result of divorce, usually revolve around conflict between the parents," Whitehead said. "Whether that’s visitation, COVID or anything…, then it’s going to create long-term problems. A number of those long-term problems could be anxiety, depression or lack of ability to effectively get into relationships in the future.”

However, it’s important to remember that there are ways to come out of this pandemic stronger and more united than ever before.

“I think what this adventure, as my daughter puts it, has taught us is to be flexible, is to find balance in our life because with all this uncertainty everything is new," Cooper said. "We’re all going through this together, and I think a message of unity is what we really need right now."

“The pandemic has brought us together, stay together,” Brooklyn said.