At this time of Covid 19, we need to practice social distancing. Information is dynamic and messages about how to stay safe are conflicting. The goalposts keep shifting and we’re learning to manage and navigate as we go. There is a risk of feeling isolated, stressed in a new world that feels uncertain, unclear, frightening. Parents may find themselves navigating the blurring boundaries between their worlds (work/life/leisure), and their sense of self (professional/personal/work/parent/remote distance teacher/other life roles). These shifting sands have an impact on how one can manage and engage with others and the world.
At separation, the intimate adult relationship is severed. For those who have ongoing, unresolved emotional connections and children together, this can interfere with parental capacity and co-parenting. For their children’s best interests, parents need to build their post-separation adult parental relationship.
How does grief and loss feature in family disputes?
Separation and the relationship ending can signify a loss of dreams, expectations, trust, and an experience of grief that can be similar to a death.
At separation, parents can be vulnerable with a web of emotions that is complex and dynamic. These emotions often include fear, anger, grief, embarrassment, shame, guilt, betrayal, loss, and relief. Each parent has a different experience of these, as does each unique child. These can be further complicated by mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues, availability and helpfulness of supports, the behaviour of others (including the other parent), other motivations (new partner, work commitments), financial well-being, etc. These emotions can overcome rational thinking. Neurological evidence demonstrates the primacy of emotions over cognitions (thoughts) as separation can be experienced as a threat to a person’s wellbeing and even survival of self (including economic, social security, support systems, etc.). The primal impact of the potential experience of losing children (or time with children or control over children), can have a fundamental impact on one’s sense of identity. Often at a time when they are most raw, parents need to put these emotions aside.
When there are children, parents may have no sense of closure as they need to repeatedly engage with the other parent and co-operate to work in their children’s best interests. This can be tricky as their conflict and their separation story can continue to have an impact on their ongoing interactions.
Parental conflict has a profound impact on children. The degree of parental conflict is a major risk factor associated with children’s adjustment to parental separation. It is the ongoing unresolved parental conflict, not separation, that has adverse effects on children and can have developmental impacts. Children’s adjustment improves when conflict declines.
Now add Covid 19 and all its impacts; the uncertainty, fear, stresses and stressors to this already complex mix.
So, tips for parents are to consider their own willingness to negotiate and make decisions, their capacity to negotiate, voluntariness, and degree of authority to make decisions at this time. In the current Covid 19 climate, these considerations are far more complex. Parents may feel less able, more worried, more fearful. Being aware of how you feel and think, enables a parent to identify how to build their own capacity to support co-operative post-separation parenting and ensure their parental capacity is not diminished but remains ‘good enough’. This does not mean you get it right all of the time.
Selecting appropriate and helpful language in these conversations is vitally important.
Self-awareness, acting in good faith, giving the other parent the benefit of the doubt, being interest-based rather than adversarial, remaining accountable, allowing for flexibility and patience, is even more important than ever particularly when you can feel and be, stressed and wanting to fight/flight/freeze, feeling easily provoked and triggered. Parents need to manage the pathway between rigidity and chaos in their parenting, creating space and time to decompress and de-stress, therefore building capacity to focus on their child/ren.
Finally, particularly at this time, developing and maintaining strategies to support self-care and mindfulness, good mental health, nutrition, physical wellbeing and safety, building toleration of stress, are of paramount importance for parents and children.
Building upon Social Work foundations, today Jodie Grant is a highly skilled and knowledgeable Family Dispute Resolution Practitioner (FDRP) and Mediator. Commencing work in the Family Law field nearly 20 years ago, Jodie has maintained clinical practice whilst fulfilling education and training roles, leading and supporting professional best practice. Jodie also works as a coach, FDR clinical supervisor, and Restorative Engagement Facilitator/ Direct Personal Response Facilitator. www.shiftingsands.net.au
image by vijendra singh – usplash.com