Sharing care of your children as restrictions change: when you are divorced or separated

Every family will be facing big challenges right now, as Scotland and the rest of the UK come out of lockdown. If you are separated or divorced from your child’s other parent, these challenges may feel even bigger.

The Government has said that children under the age of 18 can see both of their parents but that movement between family homes should happen as little as possible.

Following this advice as well as trying to manage things like work, homeschooling and money worries may all be placing you and your family under additional stress and strain.

Concentrate on what’s happening now

If you and your child’s other parent are in the middle of trying to resolve some issues – like finance or contact, or feeling hurt or angry – it can make it difficult to work together. Trying to do the best for your children while facing the challenges and anxiety caused by coronavirus may be really hard.

At Parentline we help parents to concentrate on what they can control right now. Try to put aside your bigger differences and focus on what you need to do now to manage through this period as best as you all can.

Making decisions about what is best for your children

With coronavirus restrictions changing and easing, you may need to change the way you and your ex are caring for your children. You might have different ideas about things like how much schoolwork is possible for your children to do right now, or about what is or isn’t safe for them.

Lots of parents tell us they have seen changes in their children’s behaviour, as they continue to stay at home and spend more time away from school, friends and their usual activity. If your child feels overwhelmed or anxious, they might express their emotions in lots of different ways. They may be more tearful or angry, or more quiet than usual. Their development may go a bit backwards, or if they are older, they may be sleeping more or experimenting with risky behaviours.

Trying to manage all of this with an ex-partner can feel really challenging. The most important thing to think about it is what's in the children’s best interests, what would keep them safe, and help them to feel calm and loved.

It's natural to feel anxious or overwhelmed at the thought of trying to reach new arrangements with your ex. It might have felt easier when things were more black and white in lockdown. Every family’s situation will be different so focus on what will work best for your children, you and your ex.

It can help to talk over your ideas about arrangements and any worries or concerns you have about changes with another trusted adult, before you talk to your ex. They can help you think it through and understand what might upset you, so you can stay calm when you talk to your child’s other parent. Parentline is also here for you.

Many families are telling Parentline that changes to when and how they or their child’s other parent see their children is creating tensions for their family. Read more support and advice about managing contact arrangements or talk to Parentline.

Find ways to keep your child in touch with their other parent

Through this anxious time, it's more important than ever for your children to stay connected with both parents if possible. If your children are seeing less of their other parent than usual, find other ways to keep in touch. Even if the amount of time your children see both parents is the same, they might want to be in touch more with the parent they aren’t at home with. More phone calls, video calls, emails or letters or cards will help them feel connected.

If you need help to get access to technology to stay in touch during this crisis, lots of organisations can help, including Children 1st Parentline.

Looking after your children on your own

Being on your own with children, during the coronavirus crisis, is likely to create additional challenges.

Look after yourself

It’s more important than ever to look after yourself, so you can look after your children during this difficult time. You need to make space for rest, exercise and to keep in touch with your friends and family, to stay strong and look after your own wellbeing.

If you are on your own with the children for long periods, try to be realistic about what you can or can’t manage.

Help with childcare

Before coronavirus, you may have had help from your parents, brother, sister or family friend to look after your children. The Government’s advice is still that people living in different homes should social distance from others. Try and think about new ways you could still get support - by phone, video call or from the bottom of the garden if you have one!

Things that families have told us have helped are grandparents reading stories to their grandchildren by video and aunties joining their family by phone at stressful times, like teatime or bedtime.

If you are a key worker the Government has said that where it is essential, and there are no other options, children can be cared for at home by someone else from another household (as long as they are not at higher risk of catching the virus). Where possible this should be the same person and could be a relative, friend, nanny or babysitter.

If you are not a key worker and are struggling to look after your children at home, talk to Parentline for support.

Help with shopping and other support

The First Minister has made it clear that if families need to take their children to get essential shopping to keep them safe, they can. Across the country local communities are coming together to offer support - getting help with shopping, or other errands may ease the pressure on you. Reach out for safe ways of getting support, wherever you can.

Remember what is important

The most important thing right now is that your children feel loved, calm and safe. There is lots of pressure on social media right now, about teaching your children, learning new skills, or improving your house. Nobody expects you to be a teacher, keep a perfect home and be the employee of the month. Don’t try and keep up with what everybody else is doing, do what works for you and your family.

Remember Parentline can provide practical and emotional support to help you cope through coronavirus as a single parent.