There’s one thought that races through single mom Neferteri Plessy’s head constantly lately: What would happen if I get coronavirus and I can’t take of my kids?
“As a mother, I always think about the needs of my children,” the mom of two boys, ages 13 and 10, and creator of Single Moms Planet, told HuffPost. “But this pandemic has made me think even more about what they’ll need if I’m not there. Who will take care of them? Where will they live? How will their financial needs be met?”
It’s a subject that makes her uneasy, but now, more than ever, Plessy knows it’s important to get personal affairs in order in case of illness or even death.
The stakes seem that much higher when you read stories about single parents who’ve had coronavirus. Take, for instance, the story of Sundee Rutter. The 42-year-old stage 4 breast cancer survivor and single mother of six died from COVID-19 complications on March 16 in Washington state. In the story’s most heartbreaking detail, Rutter had to say goodbye to her kids through walkie-talkie.
“For single parents, it’s a reminder we must be prepared for what may lie ahead,” Plessy said.
It’s an unnerving time for single parents, no doubt, but planning ahead can take some of the stress out of the situation. Below, experts share how divorced or single parents can prepare if they get sick.
If you’re experiencing mild symptoms of the virus, stay home but keep your distance.
The good news: If you suspect you’ve contracted COVID-19 but are only experiencing mild symptoms of the virus ― fatigue, dry cough, aches, chills, sore throat, runny nose and diarrhea ― you can stay home but self-isolate.
Unless your child is undergoing chemotherapy or has asthma, you can generally take the same approach as you would with the flu, said Sachin Nagrani, a physician and medical director for Heal, a telemedicine provider of doctor house calls.
“Isolate as much as possible at home, sleep in a separate bedroom, minimize close contact and wear a mask when in the same room,” he told HuffPost. “Disinfecting high-traffic areas such as bathroom and kitchen and door handles is important. Washing hands frequently is essential.”
For parents of toddlers or infants who need direct care, wearing a mask and washing hands will be your best lines of defense, Nagrani said.
That said, don’t be afraid to reach out for help from family or close friends if your energy is zapped from the virus, said Marcus Plescia, the chief medical officer for the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials, a nonprofit organization that represents public health agencies across the country.
“I get that it’s very challenging to isolate much if you are the only caregiver,” he said. “But the reassuring news is that there seems to be very little or hardly any serious disease in children, so they are not at great risk.”
Have an emergency plan — and an emergency caregiver — in mind.
Every single parent has a different situation. Some may be the primary caretaker but have a parenting partner who’s in their children’s lives. If that’s the case for you, get on the same page about how to keep yourselves and the kids from becoming sick. If one of you were to get gravely ill, the other would in all probability take the parenting lead.
If you’re a single parent without a co-parent or an ex to designate as your child’s caregiver in the event that you’re incapacitated, give some thought to who you’d select. When selecting a legal guardian, pick someone who will provide children with as much stability as possible, said Ann Margaret Carrozza, an estate planning attorney in New York.
“Close geographic proximity matters,” she said. “Ask yourself: Would selecting this person allow my children to remain in the same school and not lose established friendships during a time of emotional upheaval?”
Recognize that there’s no “perfect guardian” and instead look for a person who will treat your children with warmth and patience, while allowing them to have fun, Carozza said.
If you’re struggling to select one person, the attorney suggests suggesting two “B+ candidates” and have them act together.
“The children would physically reside with one guardian, but both named guardians would participate in medical and education decisions,” she said.
Get key estate-planning documents in order.
Life insurance may make sense for you, especially if your kids’ other parent isn’t in the picture.
You may want to look into term life insurance, which provides coverage for a set period of time, usually around 20 to 30 years. Insurance brokers may try to push you into a whole life insurance policy but term life insurance policies are much more affordable.
David Bross, an estate planning specialist at Truepoint Wealth Counsel, told HuffPost that single parents should consider preparing three big estate-planning documents:
- A financial power of attorney (FPOA): “This is a legal document that gives an agent the authority to carry on a person’s financial affairs and protect their property by acting on their behalf,” he said. “The FPOA gives the agent the ability to pay bills, write checks, make deposits, sell or purchase assets or sign any tax returns.”
- A health care power of attorney (HCPOA): “This is a legal document which gives an agent the authority to make healthcare decision on your behalf if you are incompetent or incapacitated,” Bross said.
- A living will: “This is a legal document that allows you to specify what end-of-life treatment you do or don’t want to receive it you become terminally ill or are permanently unconscious with no chance of survival without the administration of life support,” he said. “Without a living will, the decision to remove live support is left in the hands of your health care agent or family members. This can be a very emotional decision for family members. By creating a living will, you set forth your wishes and take that decision out of your family member’s hands.
Manage your stress and take care of yourself.
Yes, it’s important to identify people who can serve as emergency caregivers and prepare key documents. But it’s equally important to manage your stress and anxiety over what could happen.
Focus on what you can control in this situation: keeping your kids as safe and healthy as possible and prioritizing your own self-care and health practice. That means making sure you get your rest, eat well, exercise and wash your hands thoroughly and often after going out.
As for things you don’t have control over ― feeling isolated and financially strained, potentially catching the virus ― work on learning to accept the unknown and the uneasy feelings that go along with it, said Gina Delucca, a clinical psychologist at Wellspace SF.
“Know that your feelings are normal and valid, and that it’s OK to feel whatever you’re feeling,” Delucca told HuffPost last month. “Remind yourself that what’s going on is temporary and try to find comfort in knowing that we are all going through these tough times of uncertainty together.”
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Experts are still learning about the novel coronavirus. The information in this story is what was known or available as of press time, but it’s possible guidance around COVID-19 could change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.