Back in March, when COVID-19 hit, closing schools in California, I faced an unexpected challenge. As the internet exploded with memes and posts about distance learning, there were also a lot of co-parents like me panicking as they quickly realized that they no longer had school as a buffer and a degree of separation between households.
I recently got married again and blended families with my new husband, so we are now co-parenting our three kids from previous relationships. He shares 50% custody of his two boys with his ex, and I share 50% percent custody of my daughter with mine. Our life consists of a lot of scheduling, some compromise and many involved parents.
In California, we’ve had schools close for fires, floods and other natural disasters, but they were usually back open again in a couple of weeks. No one thought our kids would remain at home for as long as they have. This was definitely something new for my husband and me to navigate with our ex-spouses.
Previously, my ex-husband and I mostly dropped off and picked up our daughter at school, which meant I could go weeks without any reason to see him. There was the occasional school event or change in her schedule when we would have to drop her off outside of school hours, but those days were few and far between when school was in session. Needless to say, it had been a long time since I had to see him regularly, and I can’t say I wasn’t worried about how it would go.
Since our divorce, we have always been co-parents, but have oscillated between being good friends and not talking much at all. When we first separated, it was incredibly challenging to figure out how to make it work with two households and a new custody schedule. We each had different views on parenting, bedtime, discipline and meals and were in constant competition to be the better parent.
Eventually, we were able to put our egos aside and come together to create some continuity for our daughter. It took me a while to work through my need to control everything and accept that what happens at his house is up to him and that boundaries needed to be respected.
But add in distance learning and coronavirus restrictions, and you have a whole new set of norms to navigate.
There were many discussions over whether we were doing this right. We had to decide if it was important that our kindergarten-aged child attend all her Zoom meetings. I mean, is gym class really essential when she’s running around the house all day anyway?
My husband’s older kids had real schoolwork to complete, and there were definitely a few assignments that got lost in the shuffle between homes. We also needed to figure out what would be acceptable when it came to social distancing and outings outside of the home.
“Would my ex make sure our daughter wore her mask in public and agree to limit playdates and other interactions? Could I trust the other adults in our kids’ lives to take precautions and prevent us all from getting sick?”
Ex-spouses are often eager to criticize what you do on your time, which made us all hyperaware of every decision we made. Everyone was on edge and stressed out. We had two families and three households to consider and it felt important to me to make sure we were all on the same page. Would my ex make sure our daughter wore her mask in public and agree to limit playdates and other interactions? Could I trust the other adults in our kids’ lives to take precautions and prevent us all from getting sick?
As I started to talk to other co-parents, I realized that my worries were not just my own. Our issues were minor compared to others with more serious problems to navigate. There were parents who were using COVID-19 as leverage in custody battles, parents unable to take time off from essential jobs, parents losing their jobs altogether, or even worse, parents who were worried about matters such as neglect or abuse. This was a challenging time for everyone and my heart broke for many of the other children I knew.
After a while, things got a lot easier for my ex-spouse and me. We interacted regularly; I can even say we became friends again. Eventually, we realized that we are in the same COVID-19 bubble whether we like it or not, so we might as well make the best of it.
We would occasionally have dinner, spend time together with our daughter, and I even cut his hair in our backyard a couple of times. There is a certain level of trust that needs to be attained to let your ex-wife come at your head with scissors.
The bottom line is that none of this would have happened if we weren’t forced to see each other every two days. Now, don’t get me wrong: If I had to list the things I wanted to do, seeing my ex-husband every morning before I’ve had my coffee wouldn’t be at the top. But our daughter was thriving, and that is what mattered. She loved that she got to see more of both of us, and the face-to-face time helped us to make decisions quickly and work out the schedule with ease.
Now, as the children go back to their classrooms, we are still getting along quite well. Everyone has relaxed a little, and we have learned to live life at a very different pace. We continue to communicate as friends and even share an inside joke or cup of coffee every once in a while. My ex-husband is a welcome guest in our home, and although he no longer has to come by regularly, I still see him far more than I did in the past.
My husband is a strong supporter of this and always treats my ex with the respect and dignity any father deserves. Our life is messy and complicated, but I’ve never been happier. Our children are being raised in three loving homes and are so lucky to have many positive role models in their lives.
This has been a unique time and one we won’t forget, but it gives me hope for the future and whatever else comes next in our co-parenting journey.