All families are trying their best to protect each member during these tricky times caused by the spread of COVID 19. Parents in the same home can control their own kids’ exposure—with whom their children come in contact and who enters their homes on a daily basis. They can even control their family’s newly acquired habits of constant hand washing, surface cleaning, hand sanitizing, and cough/sneeze covering. This protection is tedious, but it can be done when you remain pretty much under the same roof.
But what about bi-nuclear families—families that are not intact, families in which the children spend time with their family with Mom and with their family with Dad? It’s not so easy to control your child’s exposure when s/he is not with you, right?
I just finished a phone conversation with a mom whose young son had to be tested for CORVID 19. It is likely that the boy picked up the illness while traveling to Europe to visit his father, who insisted that he come to stay with him every 10 days. Back and forth. Dad did not take the precautions—no masks, no child size gloves—that Mom packed in his suitcase. Dad did not implement the precautions that mom urged. And now the boy has all the symptoms. The whole family had to be tested. That family is Mom, 4 year old son, and mom’s boyfriend. This is a bi-nuclear family.
In the bi- nuclear families in which the mom and dad get along, agree to “behave” in the best interest of the children, and are aligned in their beliefs, being on the same page isn’t necessarily problematic. But in bi-nuclear families whose beliefs are not aligned, it can be highly problematic, to say nothing of risky and dangerous. What do you do if you believe your ex is putting your child at risk?
If this is you in a bi nuclear family, I offer you these thoughts and tips:
- Who is this about? When separated parents have differing views, it is critical that each parent ask, “Who is this really about?” This is not the time to stand firm on winning. It is not a power play. This is not about Mom or Dad. It is about both your child’s well-being. Period.
- You may need a mediator. Sounds extreme, I know. Typically, I ask, “Is this a hill you want to die on?” when there is disagreement between parents in a bi-nuclear situation. But in this case, you may have no choice. It just might be a hill on which someone could die. So, the extreme may be in order. A mediator may be able to cut through the stuff and help you come to a decision that IS in the child’s best interest.
- “No” wins. When I help parents (in intact families) with how to come to a decision in a healthy way, I teach the concept that “No wins.” NO can be more powerful that YES. It is easy to say yes. It’s much more difficult to say no. Usually when a parent feels strongly about something (No, he cannot see that PG rated movie), it is for a reason that has deep roots; there is something going on. Perhaps there is a fear; perhaps there is some history; perhaps it is in response to an old script or upbringing. That is not usually the case with YES. While you may not agree with the NO, it is usually prudent to go with the NO parent’s desire. In doing so, you will create a less loaded environment for your child. Children have enough to endure without having to absorb the parents’ disagreement. Don’t make them take sides. And you can say, “Mommy feels strongly about this, so I am going with her decision.”
In the case of the bi-nuclear family, NO refers to the parent who feels strongly about something. In the case of Coronavirus cautiousness, it is taking the necessary steps to protect the child and the family, the steps that may be a real bother or with which you just don’t agree. The more lax parent may need to go with the take precautions parent.
- Is there RISK involved? This is the most important question of all. In the case of protecting our families from contracting COVID 19, we are trying to remove the risk. Yes, our children or we might be exposed, but it should not be because you put them at risk.
If the experts and professionals in the field have advised not to travel internationally, or not to travel at all, if they have said only to be with people who could not have been exposed to others, then do it! If they are urging social distance, etc… you are doing your best to take away the risk.
There are naysayers who simply do not believe what we are being told about the Coronavirus and protection from it. You will never convince a naysayer of otherwise. But no one can deny that there is a risk. And no one wants to put a child at risk.
When risk is involved, that is the deciding factor. Err on the side of caution.
- Agree to disagree. Sometimes you are more likely to achieve what is best for the child if you agree to disagree. In others words, you might say to your spouse, “We really don’t agree on this issue. But we do agree that our child is the most important thing we share. Let’s do what removes the most risk from him/her at this time.”
- There is no one-size-fits-all answer. There is no perfect answer for this difficult situation. Every person is different; every family is different. Therefore, there is not answer that solves this problem. But when parents can behave like adults and genuinely put the child’s well-being in the forefront, it will be in everyone’s best interest.