Family life is already complicated during normal circumstances, but the pandemic puts blended families and co-parenting situations on hyperdrive. I have one teen from a previous marriage, and my partner has a tween and a teen. Included in our family are my ex-husband and his lovely new wife, and together we make a beautiful and complicated blended family. As a mom (and bonus mom) for three tween/teens, here are some helpful tips for co-parenting and surviving these interesting times
1. COVID safety.
Clarifying the COVID rules between households is a critical safety issue now. Teens (and everyone) still need steady rules, especially when moving between homes every week. Transparency is also essential, especially about what happens when someone feels sick. It has been long enough that everyone (adults and kids) should check-in to make sure all households are still following the same rules. With new variants and changing safety recommendations, it might be time for a group conversation to make sure everyone is on the same page.
2. Co-Parent Communication.
All the parenting books tell you that consistent communication is critical to stability at home. What the books don’t tell you is how to do that with a co-parenting relationship, a blended family, or both! I know that I am lucky that my partner and I have such an amicable relationship with my ex-husband and his wife. Co-parenting during the pandemic is challenging, but it is also an opportunity to make everyone feel closer by communicating regularly about your family’s changing needs, new safety precautions, and adjustments to online learning. Be open, honest, and compassionate when communicating with your co-parents (everyone is struggling during this time).
3. Parenting Styles.
Communicating with your partner can strengthen your relationship and help you grow as a parent. Since blending families three and half years ago, I have tried to stay true to my “setting limits with love” parenting style. My bonus kids were accustomed to fewer rules until I introduced more structure including cooking and regular family walks. Likewise, my new partner has influenced my parenting style to be more relaxed as we adjust to life together.
4. Time crunch.
In my household, school is starting much later this year so bedtimes are later. I used to be a stickler about early bedtimes, but I had to relax my standards as schools changed their start times. My high schoolers don’t start online school until 9:30 am, so I am the one who needs the earlier bedtime because of my job. Transitioning between households with different rules about sleep and screens can be challenging for children. As they get older, I trust they will be able to make good choices about their sleep. If teens can’t make good choices on their own, co-parents can try to help them be consistent about time management and sleep.
5. School issues.
Check-in with your teen and co-parents to make sure you are adjusting expectations to “pandemic schooling.” It’s time for everyone to re-evaluate the standards for our kids and teach them about self-care. Some kids hold themselves to higher standards than their parents do. I didn’t realize how much pressure my kid was putting himself under to succeed. These are not normal circumstances, and we cannot have the same expectations for our kids or for ourselves.
6. Bonding time.
I am always looking for ways to spend time with my teen who I only see for half of the month. Taking masked walks are one of the few things we can safely do, and it is the easiest way to keep conversations going without distractions. Some kids are hard to “drag” out of the house, and I have found it easier to make some walks mandatory (twice a week) and the rest optional after 2 walks are completed. The hardest part is usually getting outside, but then kids relish the one-on-one attention.
7. Netflix for the family win!
Watch age-appropriate movies with your family and discuss them. We’ve watched the Queen’s Gambit, Jojo Rabbit, the movie 13th, and 80’s classics like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Footloose, and The Princess Bride. Jojo Rabbit led to an interesting conversation about LGBTQ people in the military and how the characters in the film were represented. Movies and follow-up conversations have been one of the highlights of my family’s stay at home work/school days.
Parenting and co-parenting is hard enough these days, so I try to enjoy little bits of kindness where I can. Trading baked goods and fruit from backyard trees with neighbors. Celebrating my son’s birthday with my blended family and my ex-husband’s family was really meaningful. I have also been relying on Parents Place workshops to give me little parenting boosts through the pandemic. Life is hard enough out there, and Parents Place is a valuable resource that I treasure.
By Elina Koretsky
Elina Koretsky has a professional background in event planning, program development, marketing, and fundraising as well as a BA from Grinnell College. Elina establishes and maintains relationships with community partners and has supported Parents Place events on the Peninsula for many years.