Two weekends ago when everyone was heeding advice from local and federal authorities to stay home- including myself and my husband- my stepdaughter went to a convention in Asheville. Because of our concerns about COVID exposure, my husband reached out to his ex about the trip. He was told she felt safe taking her and discussed with his daughter they would not hug anyone while they were there. The week following the convention my husband was on the phone with his kids and his daughter volunteered that Mom “has fevers and body aches”. Of course we were concerned so my husband reached out again to his ex-wife via email and she responded days later with a less than reassuring response.
This comes in stark contrast to the message I received from my ex. He has been texting me for weeks now with article links about COVID and is on Fort Knox isolated lockdown, complete with an insta-greenhouse and food delivery trucks. He believes my occupation places him and his step kids at risk and he has asked for our kids to stay with him until COVID is eradicated.
As you can imagine, step and co-parenting can be challenging, especially if communications from the other households are sparse, and beliefs about what is best for each household are conflicting. As a stepmom of almost eight years, I’m used to not being able to control what happens in the other parents’ homes. I’m also used to unintentionally sharing socks, lunchboxes, attitudes and the flu. I am fully aware that each decision made by one household can potentially affect the other three.
Especially now, both parents and families need to be on the same page. They need to discuss the plans for custody right now, but also need to have a plan in place if someone becomes ill. I talked to LoginClinics’ Therapist Sarah Harris, LMFT about my dilemma this weekend. She offered some steps to take when considering custodial time changes during the COVID pandemic.
Remove your emotions and stick to the facts.
Calm yourself and find a way to stay grounded amidst all of the chaos and uncertainty that is going on. If you get caught up in just the emotional component of things, you lose clarity of thought and end up choosing unhealthy responses and plans that do not put the children first. If you do not know how to stay grounded, or need help with mindfulness-based stress reduction, call us 😉
Stay rational about the situation.
Make sure you are making the kids your utmost priority. Use clear and open communication with each other about the situation and your concerns with the children. This is not about you, this is about what’s best for your kids. You need to love your kids more than you love yourself.
Put all of the possible options out on the table.
Let the other parent know which one of these options you are comfortable with, and which you are not. It’s also important to be realistic and practical when considering what these options are. You cannot control every possible risk, so be mindful to not go to extremes when offering solutions.
Pick the resolution that both of you agree on.
Out of all of the possible (rational) options, there is bound to be a middle ground that the both of you can agree on. If you have concerns about the other partner- what they might be doing- keep these discussions away from the children. The last thing our kids need is our anxiety projected on them and making them feel like they need to choose sides.
From a medical perspective you also need to consider what will be done if anyone in either household becomes ill. Currently Wake County is under Governor Cooper’s “Stay at Home” order so presumably there should not be much in the way of exposure, but given the odd carrier status and long incubation of this virus you just never know. You may think it’s safe to have a drink on your back porch with your neighbor or go to the grocery store without a mask, but it may not be. None of us have a crystal ball. Here are some ways that you can protect yourself and your family as well as providing reassurance for your children:
Make a plan and put it in writing.
If you don’t have participation or agreement from the other household, that’s okay. You can still actively communicate your status and symptoms to them even if they don’t respond. In your plan, specifically mention what you will do if you or your children develop any upper respiratory infection symptoms. A good way to instill trust and show you are keeping communication channels open is to report your status to the other household on the exchange day via text or email. This will be easy for me because I always give a “report” to my kids’ Father on exchange day but now I also include health status updates. Here’s a text I sent before they tracked out:
“VV and I studied tonight for her science test friday- quiz code is 3441420 she still is getting a 70%. Also, David has decided he wants to practice driving so we have been doing that as well. He’s actually pretty good and even drove to school this morning. He’s a little unclear as to who has the right of way when it comes to intersections and turning. Additionally, I just purchased some Airborne gummies and Elderberry gummies to help keep their immune systems strong.”
Implement health-boosting measures.
Sleep: I’m always on a health tirade with my kids, but now even more so. They are out of school and thrive with more structure and routine (as does my sanity). Both structure and routine help the body and the brain to operate optimally. Even though we are tracked out my kids still have a routine bedtime. It’s two hours later than when they are in school and they also get to sleep in an extra two hours. Wake up times are consistent however, so no one sleeps past 10 or 11 am.
Supplements: My kids are taking Elderberry, Vitamin C and Airborne supplements daily, along with a multivitamin. I generally am not a promoter of vitamins if one eats a healthy diet and has no nutritional deficiencies, however we know that these immune systems boosters do just that.
Exercise: Scientific studies has proven over and over that moderate exercise most days of the week actually boosts and strengthens your immune system. It improves immune system regulation as well as delaying the onset of age-related dysfunction. Exercise also stimulates various pathways in the body to promote a decrease in inflammation. I’ve recently found the practice of Yoga and find it to be perfect for a mind and body workout.
Brain Games and Reading : We know that mental and physical health go hand-in-hand. If your brain is filled with anxious or depressing thoughts, your body and immune system can be weakened. Taking time to focus on a good book or playing cards or board games with family members you love can release those healthy brain neurotransmitters and keep your immune system strong.
This is an unprecedented time for the majority of us with the threat of anxiety and depression lurking around every corner. In my four decades of life I have never seen anything like this. I have anecdotally heard about the devastation caused by polio, smallpox and measles but have not experienced it first-hand. I was born after these diseases were eradicated.
I’ve been a nurse for twenty-two years and a nurse practitioner for fifteen. I’ve taken care of tuberculosis patients on respiratory isolation and patients in cholera camps in Haiti. I’ve been stuck by needles used on patients and have witnessed some really scary medical situations in both the trauma center and ICUs I have worked in. I am trained in sterile procedures and how to maintain said sterility. I worked in interventional radiology for a decade placing chest ports for chemotherapy utilizing the utmost of sterile conditions. I know how to put on and take off PPE (personal protective equipment) with the best of them. I am not a fearful person and I do not live in a state of fear. During this time I continue to live my life and enjoy the time with my kids and husband making the most out of the days that I have- life is short and not guaranteed.
The last thing any of us need right now is more added stress and speculation about things that may never come to pass. The best we can do is put our children first. Communicate openly and honestly with our co-parent. Stay focused on the good. Promote physical and mental health and wellness in your immediate household. Do not focus on the activities (or lack thereof) in the other household your kids live in. Practice good eating and sleep practices. Exercise. Meditate. Do Yoga. PRAY.
Extend love and kindness to your immediate family and to those outside it.
About LoginClinics- Founded by Jaclyn Qualter, a nurse practitioner and health care mentor, in September 2019, LoginClinics provides its fee schedule on its website at www.LoginClinics.com along with FAQs on how to use the online service. More information can be found on its social media www.facebook.com/TelemedicineNC or @loginclinics on Instagram.
Author: Jaclyn Qualter, Founder, Nurse Practitioner and Healthcare Mentor