Is the end of the Covid cooker in sight?
The last 18 months have really taken their toll on families, causing stress and dividing many, regardless of whether they’re living together or apart, nearby or far away.
Isolation, shielding, quarantining, extreme lockdown measures, being ‘forced’ to spend unusually prolonged periods of time together, furlough and loss of jobs and income have all created a pressure cooker like none we’ve seen before, resulting in excessive family conflict compared to a ‘normal’ year.
Families have struggled and in the legal world, we’ve seen a marked increase in both domestic abuse, particularly coercive and controlling behaviour, and parental alienation.
The pawn in the pandemic
Parental alienation is defined by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (CAFCASS) as “when a child’s resistance or hostility towards one parent is not justified and is the result of psychological manipulation by the other parent”.
Sadly, the Coronavirus restrictions have led to some separated parents being prevented by the other parent from spending time with their children on the basis that it was not safe for them to move between households.
And although in some instances, the event of parental alienation was down to the misinterpretation of government guidelines during the crisis, ultimately the children are the ones who really lost out.
Cases of parental alienation are often complex and extreme so you may not have struggled with this specifically, but it’s possible that both yours and your ex’s contact with your children has changed during the crisis and you may feel this has affected the relationship with your children.
Out of the ashes….
Although it’s too soon to say whether we’re fully out of the Covid19 woods and only time will tell, as of 19th July, aka ‘Freedom Day’, all previous restrictions have been lifted.
This means that coparenting and agreeing a new schedule or contact arrangement can now be approached as it may have been done previously - with a positive and open mindset, and no external limitations.
And although scheduling may have historically brought a new source of stress, upset and disagreement, this is a ‘clean slate’ opportunity and we’re here to help.
Points to ponder moving forwards
Our short guide provides some practical pointers to help both create a new contact arrangement that keeps everyone happy:
- Put your kids first
Putting your own feelings to one side can feel impossible but most children love quality, meaningful time with BOTH parents and it’s essential that they get this. Think about whether you’ve considered your kids needs and put them first? Will they be happy?
- Invite older kids to take part in the planning
Allowing older children and teenagers to voice ideas for what they want is both important and respectful to their needs, or perhaps give them a selection of workable scenarios to choose from so they still have a say. This can be particularly important for older kids who often look forward to time with friends, other family members and external interests.
- Be flexible
When considering your ex’s requests as well as your own, it’s always a process of give and take. Try to be reasonable and fair. When planning new schedules, consider your kids’ emotional needs and how well they cope with being away from the parent who provides the primary care.
- Embrace ‘change’
Accepting that ‘change’ happens will help you adapt to new schedules. New plans may need to be made or may change in light of work, family or health issues, schooling and children’s interests, all of which can have an impact on making arrangements.
- Remember kids worry (even if they don’t tell you)
Even throw-away or ‘harmless’ comments can upset, worry and stress children. ‘Dad is being really unreasonable’ or ‘Mum is making this impossible’ can create a negative impact. Try to keep negative feelings, frustrations and reactions to yourself. If anything major requires discussion with your ex, do it when you are calmer and without your children present.
- Keep busy, make your own plans
Create your own new personal schedule, treating time without the kids as an opportunity to look after your own health and wellbeing, planning things you don’t get to do with them around – eat well, rest well, socialise (now you can!), keep fit and have fun.
A new tomorrow
Life after Covid doesn’t need to be a continuation of stress, upset and anxiety for you or your children.
With practical planning and respectful communication, families can work together to create their new ‘normal’, helping foster strong relationships between parent and child.
If you’d like any help or advice creating a workable contact arrangement or if you are concerned you may be suffering from parental alienation, please contact us on 01606 48777 – all new Family Law clients receive a FREE 30-minute consultation.