Lockdown for Co-Parents and 5 Ways to Cope
Updated: Jun 8, 2020
My world is now contained in four rooms. When lockdown threw the already-uneasy routine with my daughter and ex-partner into disarray, I steeled myself into project planning our living space, keeping my normal anxiety about my already-precarious situation at bay. Even though money is always limited, I treated myself to cleaning supplies that smell nice and art supplies for the duration. Clutter was exiled and the back patio was cleaned--and after, I waited for the panic attack I was sure I was merely distracting myself away from.
Single parents are masters of waiting. We wait for the child support. We wait for the day we don't have to deal with our ex-partners. We wait for the flared tempers or the damage control or the alienation. We wait for the small emergencies that can pitch us over the cliff at any moment, because we know that there is no safety net and the only plan B is the one we invent as we’re free falling.
But this time? That panic attack never came. Instead of being pitied as the only single parent in my daughter's friend group, mothers complained about the unrewarding chore of turning inadequate partners into equal ones. Just like my entire parenting life to date, parents were having to get used to childcare without an extensive entourage of grandparents, nannies, and daycare. Instead of having to lobby to work remotely, sparing the daily stress of rushing from homelife to work and back again, the world literally changed overnight. A world previously built for extroverts and dual-family incomes finally began to resemble a life I had long practiced. I already had the tools that made it possible to survive in these times: other parents were blindsided.
The rules of the system that fails single parents, time and time again, changed. And now the world finally understands--what we’ve built cannot sustain the lives of mothers, workers, or children. Finally, we’re questioning the rules of this broken system, which have forced single parents like me to live in cramped, uncomfortable, and ostracized corners for years. For perhaps the first time, I am not alone. While the vast majority find themselves terrified of the new normal, I am terrified of things going back.
However, amidst all of the unexpected serenity I’ve found in our new daily routine, there is my ex-partner. While he and his fiancé have trouble respecting boundaries and honoring agreements, the current pandemic has forced us to forge new paths for trust. The system used to work for them, and now it does not. For once, I have more resources and experience--I know how to juggle time, school, and work. I know how to distract my daughter when she's bored and when to let her be bored. I know how to work with her. The oasis I created for her in our home is holding firm, and we are growing together every day. Unfortunately, my former partner and his fiancé are struggling to find a foothold in this new world. Having lived with the anxiety and stress of the world being against us for years, I find myself easily able to anticipate the panic they must feel. Ironically, chaos is my strength. I know exactly when to stand firm or be flexible.
For the first time, my world map is the correct one. Those I envied are ill equipped--their maps devoid of the roadblocks and potholes I knew were there all along. I may yet get to the other side, perhaps helping others less prepared (my ex included) along the way. Once we're all together again, maybe we can find a way to make the journey better for everyone who comes after us. In the meantime, my daughter and I will fill our new (smaller) world with light, art, and good clean smells.
BY: Kathrine Fluke
Kathrine’s Top 5 Coping Strategies During Quarantine:
A Sim-Free Smartphone:
I gave my daughter an old, sim-free smartphone to keep in touch with friends. If you don’t have one on hand, look on neighborhood websites for free or very inexpensive options. The additional phone has allowed me to continue to work without interruption, while also allowing her access to her friends. Better still, it gave her a sense of privacy and empowerment. We’ve used this opportunity to talk about how to be careful online, while establishing healthy family boundaries as she enters into her teenage years.
2. Specific Support for Friends:
I am only as good as my network and community. Before the pandemic, I offered vague support: “If you ever need something...” Now, I make sure to offer specifics: “Teaching and remote work are stressful. Do you want me to take the kids on a Zoom call for an hour so you can listen to a podcast?” Or “I can drop off some sourdough starter for the cooking lesson later.” Even just dropping in with a video call makes a difference, and means that I can listen for the people who are struggling.
3. A Clutter-Free Environment:
I cannot stress enough how much clutter taxes me. Making sure all surfaces are clear and all things have a place means that my daughter and I can use any surface for art, homework, a meal, or an hour at the pretend beauty salon. When I do have to work, all the supplies she needs to entertain herself are easily within reach, allowing her autonomy, while I’m able to work undisturbed.
4. Cheap Activities:
We paint rocks and leave them in the park, inventing stories of the people who find them. I listen to the shows she loves and we draw comic book fan fiction of them, with my daughter as the hero. We experiment with food--curating all purple dinners of potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and blueberries and acting perplexed at its appearance. 5. Find Fun in Silly Things
We ambush each other with surprise dance parties. I ask her how to do cartwheels and purposefully fail hilariously. Eating on the floor like we’re camping or sitting on the kitchen counter, pretending to be mountain goats. She does my makeup and I wear it to my next Zoom meeting (I do not wear makeup, so this is always good fun for both of us). I keep an eye out for small treats when I have to go to the supermarket, which I know will bring a modicum of joy for us both. Ultimately, find the fun in all you do--it’s a rare situation that can’t be diffused with a joke and laughter.