Many of us jest that hindsight is 20/20 and wish we could erase 2020 from the annals of our public and private memory. Given the developments over the past 12 months, from the pandemic to the U.S. presidential election, we have a lot of work ahead of us as we move forward.
However, we must remember that, for better or worse, we learn through our experiences. So before moving forward, we should take a look back first. Say what you will about 2020; it has taught us many valuable lessons, especially about co-parenting during and after divorce.
As a divorce and family lawyer who was also once divorced, a co-parent of four children, and now step-mom to my second husband's two kids, I, too, have watched the parenting principles I've espoused for years put to the test — and pass with flying colors. Below are my five top takeaways about co-parenting during and after divorce with the previous year in sharp focus. As we all know, it hasn't been easy.
Parenting children is a fluid experience.
Faced with stay-at-home orders, social distancing guidelines, and distance learning, co-parents have had to adjust their parenting plans. They did this to keep their children and themselves safe while providing their children with the best educational experience possible and giving them a sense of security in a world that felt anything but secure. In many instances, that involved parents forgoing parenting time or making other concessions as needed. Parents did this even if it was to their detriment. The children came first and did better because of it.
We cannot ignore the message; being fluid and flexible should become a mindset and goal for our post-pandemic world. Our children get older, aging them out of certain co-parenting practices. Our lives as parents change, too — we get new jobs, move, remarry. Each would require a give and take between co-parents if they want and expect to keep their children's best interests at the forefront. The pandemic showed us we could. Whatever else we face after this should feel like a breeze.
Co-parents can make any situation work if they put their minds to it.
The pandemic forced co-parents to try alternative methods to parent their children. Though these options wouldn't have been the first choice, they worked because the co-parents wanted them to work.
Wednesday evening Zoom calls replaced Wednesday evening dinners, and non-residential parents shared walks and had picnics in the park. Co-parents played games with their kids, helped with homework, read stories, and tucked them into bed, in many cases, all over Zoom and FaceTime. Would a real hug have been better than a virtual one? You bet. But parents committed to co-parenting well didn't take an all or nothing approach. Not even an event as challenging as a pandemic could stop them from being the parent they wanted to be.
In a post-pandemic world, that scheduling conflict arising from a last-minute business trip should be a lot easier to navigate than it was before. Right?
Single parents are stronger than they think.
Any parent knows just how difficult it is to juggle work, bills, and household chores with their busy schedule and children's. Divorced, single parents have the added burden of juggling these tasks alone. Factor in a pandemic, that burden became exponentially bigger this past year, both from a practical and emotional standpoint.
If you and your kids have been doing OK and you've been keeping your household going, and if you've done the best you could or recognize areas where you can improve, pat yourself on the back. There were some dark days, and you got through them because human beings, particularly single parents, are resilient. The ability to carry on with our lives in the face of hardship is a demonstration of strength. You've got this, and whatever else may come.
Single parents are even stronger when they work with their co-parent, not against them.
The pandemic put so much more on our plates, from dealing with online schooling to extra sanitization procedures to having to keep kids occupied with fewer activities over the weekend. All of that, though, would have been so much more difficult without the help of a cooperative co-parent.
Through the pandemic, many co-parents learned that working with their ex-spouse and not against them improved the situation of everyone involved — them and, most importantly, their children. It didn't take long for many co-parents to become more receptive to hearing out ideas and meeting in the middle, whether their differences pertained to parenting philosophies in general or specific pandemic precautions. Most notably, many parents learned that interacting this way wasn't so hard and may have required less effort than fighting about anything every step of the way.
Relationships can change and evolve.
The pandemic put a spotlight on all of our relationships. Just as life as we knew it could change in a matter of weeks with the unleashing of a deadly virus, we learned how the quality of our interactions could change in a flash, too, especially with our co-parent. How we wanted them to change was, in large part, up to us; the one who wants to initiate change sets the tone.
None of us know what the future holds; the pandemic showed us that. But what so many of us learned, myself included, is that from hardship, from unimaginable circumstances, can come self-realization, forgiveness, and a willingness to do and be better. All of which can benefit us, our ex, and, most profoundly, our kids. And will make this tragic pandemic, and all the loss it brought with it, not a year we want to forget but, rather, remember.