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MEET JANET BYTHEWAY, Clinical Psychologist. "Co-parenting under lockdown."

MEET JANET:

Janet Bytheway is a clinical psychologist. She has worked in private practice for the last 28 years and is an accredited FAMAC mediator. Her special interest is working with children and families. She has also worked with children living with chronic psychiatric conditions like Bipolar Disorder and their families; adults diagnosed with personality disorders; co-parenting in high conflict situations and doing court ordered family assessments and interventions.

Some thoughts about co-parenting under lock down

(These suggestions also apply to normal co-parenting)

Parenting is hard. Co-parenting is even harder. It is difficult at the best of times. Under lockdown, depending on the kind of co-parenting relationship that you have, it could feel downright impossible. 

The lockdown regulations, where the children were not allowed to move between parents and had to remain with the parent where they were when the lockdown started added an extra challenge. This has changed but only under certain conditions, which I will not discuss here. The short and the long of it is that for many families, it will remain difficult. This may be hard for you as a parent, but it will be harder for your child. 

Parents, some things for you to keep in mind:

  • It will be hard not to be able to see your child/ren. Do not make your struggles with this, your child's problem.
  • If ever there was a time in your co-parenting to focus on what is best for your child, this would be it. Your child's needs come first. 
  • Your child will most likely be struggling with not having contact with the other parent. The responsibility falls on both parents to make sure the child understands, at an age appropriate level, why this is happening i.e. this is not through a fault of either parent.

Parents, some practical things to keep in mind for your child:

  • Both parents need to ensure that they facilitate the necessary contact between their child/ren and the other parent e.g. telephone calls, video calls, what's app messages.
  • It will still be helpful to structure the contact, so that they know when it is happening e.g. "Mommy will phone you after breakfast and then at bed time" or whatever arrangements you put in place.
  • Even young children deserve privacy. Encourage them to take the call in their room or somewhere private. This will also address the concern with video calls often raised by parents that they do not want the other parent looking around their home. The more complex i.e. tense the co-parenting relationship, the more important this is. 
  • How the contact looks will be influenced by the developmental stage of each child, i.e. the arrangments for a 3 year old wil be different from the arrangements for a teenager.
  • Younger children on the whole will struggle more. The very little ones up to 5/6 years will need more concrete contact i.e. video call vs a phone call; more than once a day. This may apply to some older children too, especially if they are anxious or struggling with the changes.
  • For children who do not have thier own device to contact the other parent, make sure that they are shown the messages from the other parent.
  • Technology can be used for the other parent to read a story, do an activity together, have a snack together or have a play date where the child can be in their room with the other parent.
  • Children who do not like talking can be urged to show you something they have done or their toys or a pet.
  • For older children who don't like to talk on the phone, having conversations about less personal things than what you been doing today e.g. discussing current lockdown and what they think about it; asking what the first thing is that they would like to do after the lock down is lifted?

I have found that parents who agree on very little, can agree that they both love their child and that they want what's best for their child. It's easy to be distracted by what the other parent does that you don't agree with. Keep the focus on your child and what's best for them. 

 

 

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DR LESLEY CAREW

Dr Lesley Carew is a registered Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist practising at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town with a satellite sessional room on Thursday afternoons at the Akeso Milnerton.

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