March 16th, 2020
Well, isn’t this a pickle? There’s a fucking pandemic just as you’re trying to figure out whether to stay or go, or have made the decision to go, and suddenly all your plans are up in smoke and you’re not quite sure WHAT THE FUCK TO DO.
Join the club, mama.
My ex and I are in deep negotiations about what we allow our son to do at each house, and we’ve been divorced for ten years.
Our usual dynamic is that I’m overly alarmist. Then to combat that, he’s overly chill and nonchalant. Then to combat that, I get more alarmist (and maybe send him a few too many CDC stats and articles about how the world is ending and the only way out is complete social isolation), and of course to combat that he lets my son go to band practice and takes him to rent bikes (without antibacterial wipes, I checked!!!!) and ride around the LA River.
This is how it’s gone for twenty years. In response to whatever position one of us takes, the other takes the extreme opposite stance. Just because.
Fortunately, because my ex and I have been divorced for so long, we’ve found our stride through these challenges. This time that included both of us acknowledging the above dynamic and each of us taking responsibility for our personal brand of “crazy” in a crisis.
It also included me admitting that, since he has two other kids at his house (a step and a half-brother for my son), and that collectively we have three kids spread out over four households, I’m feeling a bit out of control and my fear levels are pretty high.
When I was able to identify and openly acknowledge my fears, my ex was far more willing to share his own fears with me, and ultimately we were able to openly communicate and create a family plan together.
I know this isn’t possible for many of you, but I’m telling you this because I want you to know that a). I’m deep in this too and b). There’s hope for an easier time down the line.
But since you’re in it now what the hell are you supposed to do?
Whether you’re trying to decide whether to stay or go or are already in the middle of the process, but still co-habitating, this pandemic is going to put your relationship to the test.
Between working from home together, and having your kids home with you, this will be super stressful for the most solid of marriages! For those with marital strife, this will likely surface all of your issues, possibly in some ugly ways.
Here are some tips to maintain your sanity:
- Create space. Make sure you have your own space to work/read/meditate etc. If you have a spare bedroom, make it your sanctuary for the foreseeable future. If not, find a corner that’s yours. We all need our own space. This shouldn’t be a threat to anyone, and if it’s perceived as a threat, or if your husband resists your need for space this is a red flag you should take note of.
- Make a schedule for yourself. This might look like a rigid calendared schedule, or it might look like a list of things you want to get done each day, like meditation, a workout, or a walk in nature.
- Communicate expectations clearly. Make sure you and your husband talk through all the variables. Tell him if you need an hour of quiet time, and ask what he needs to maintain his sanity. Try to work together to give one another what the other needs. If this proves impossible, or if you encounter resistance to this level of communication, this is also a red flag you should note.
- Do not sequester with an abuser. If you’re in a physically or emotionally abusive marriage, you are in far greater danger right now. An abuser will use a sequester as an opportunity for greater abuse. Here’s an article from the National Domestic Violence Hotline about domestic abuse and COVID-19.
- Get out of the house every day. Go for a walk or a hike. Get out in nature with your kids. Take your phone for a solo walk and listen to a podcast — mine, or something mindless and fun.
- Come to reasonable safety agreements. One of the biggest difficulties I’ve seen in the last week are parents with completely different ideas of what’s going on in the world right now. I’ve seen moms panicking because their husbands want to take their children to Hawaii for Spring Break, or because they’re blowing off basic hygiene protocols. I’ve seen women fighting with husbands who still believe this entire pandemic is a hoax by Democrats to win the election, and I’ve even seen one woman in a blind rage because her husband is a surgeon who just came back from international travel and didn’t take any quarantine precautions and jumped back into the OR. While these cases are extreme and it may not be possible to come to agreement with people who are willfully ignorant, if you’re living with a reasonable, well-informed person, talk through all the eventualities, such as, will you allow play dates? How about playgrounds or open parks? What do you agree on in terms of ordering food in, vs. cooking at home, and how will you divide these responsibilities with both of you at home?
For parents who are already separated, these types of agreements may be harder to come to. For example, I wasn’t thrilled with my son going to band practice on Saturday, but the other parents were ok with it and the kids all promised to keep their distance from each other. They even posted a hand-washing PSA on their instagram and then went out for a hike to a local waterfall. But my ex and I got into a bit of a power-struggle over it, until I finally had to relent because a). It wasn’t my parenting time, and b). Ultimately, even though I disagreed, I trust my ex’s judgement. (This was three days ago, and things are changing so rapidly, so they may not be doing this again, and in a week we might all be horrified that they did this. Time will tell…)
Co Parenting across households
As I mentioned, in my blended family, we have three kids across four households, five if you include my mother’s — and she’s immunocompromised. There’s so much I can’t control — and in a pandemic control feels really fucking important.
Any time there’s something that’s outside our control, our first instinct is to try to find anything and everything we can control. (Hint: this is why friends and families of addicts and alcoholics can be so fucking controlling. We’re just trying to find it anywhere we can!)
Many of us have already had to contend with any number of things we can’t control at our ex’s house. Bedtimes, food, screen-time, new partners, etc. But a fucking PANDEMIC???
We did not see this one coming.
The most important thing to know is that you must comply with your parenting agreement. If you’re in an amicable and collaborative relationship with your ex, you can work together to make any changes you both deem necessary. But if you’re not amicable, you may not make unilateral changes, and if your ex is non-compliant, you may need to contact your attorney for help.
Unfortunately, many courthouses are closed, hearings are being postponed, and more courthouses are being closed every day. For this reason, filing a complaint and going ex-parte may not be possible. But you should still document everything and know that there may be action taken in the future.
My friend and colleague, Divorce Attorney, Susan Guthrie Esq. put out a podcast episode about this that you can listen to here.
My friend and colleague, founder of the online divorce platform, Hello Divorce, Erin Levine, wrote a blog post about whether or not COVID-19 will affect your divorce, which you can read here.
My best recommendation is to try to keep a level head about all of this. You have got to be able to differentiate between what you can control, what you can’t control — and how important is it? If your ex is doing things at his house that you don’t feel comfortable with, you can’t control it. But if they’re patently dangerous (and you need to have a level head to be able to truly discern this), then a call to your attorney might be in order.
Many businesses are going online now. Mediators are being trained by my friend Susan Guthrie to take their mediation businesses online, and you can find arbitrators and all sorts of legal professionals offering their services online right now as well. If your attorney or mediator isn’t keeping up with the times and offering online services, you may need to shift course and find someone who is. Don’t become a victim of the times by not taking action and advocating for yourself. There are options available to you. Utilize them.
Therapists are also shifting their entire practices online, which should be very useful in the coming months. I know I’ll be taking advantage of such options! Many couples therapists will be doing this as well, and the best and healthiest of marriages will likely need these services!
There will surely be more developments coming and I’ll be sure to update everyone in my Facebook Group as things progress. The women in there are supporting each other through this in beautiful and amazing ways, so if you’re a woman and need additional support, join us there.
In the meantime, wash your hands, help your neighbors, and don’t hoard toilet paper
Want more information on how to navigate life after divorce? The Divorce Course is your one-stop shopping for everything you need to know!