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Co-Parenting Children with Disabilities During a Pandemic

Co-parenting a child with a disability is difficult enough. Constant communication, double, sometimes-triple ordering supplies, and a lot of extra effort on both sides is needed. These interventions do more than make for a smooth transition between households. Advanced planning reduces the risk of illness exacerbation and improves safety outcomes for the child. Co-parents need to be in lockstep with each other so the most important ingredient, in the successful parenting recipe, doesn’t get left out. Just when you think you’ve got a system in place; a crisis snags a loop unraveling your quilted matrix of a plan. Whether it’s an acute resurgence of their chronic illness, new school requirements, or another unplanned event, moms and dads have to assess and adjust to meet the new need. Now, in 2020, we can add national pandemic to that list of extenuating factors interfering with a child’s shared parenting schedule. During these times, the door of communication should be flung wide open, but some parents see it as an opportunity to seal it shut.

Fear makes insecure people do irrational things. Pandemics, unfortunately, lend themselves to the overwhelming distress category of life. Reactionary parenting can cause even those with the best of intentions to lose sight of their children’s holistic needs. Unfortunately, the alienating parent often capitalizes on the situational unpredictability and uses it as coercive control over the child. Rather than empowering their son or daughter with trust and compassion, the controlling parent undermines the child’s security by convincing them the other parent is incapable of mitigating the threat. These individuals go out of their way to skew routines in effort to present themselves as the lantern holding leader during the storm.

Parents of children, with or without special needs, should expect an extra layer of chaos during these times and embrace the opportunity to combine their efforts for an optimal outcome. Collaboration, creative problem solving, and integration are the most effective skills to employ during a crisis. Isolating the child and prohibiting them from engaging with the other parent only limits their development. We have an obligation to allow them to see both parents’ reactions during joyful and stressful times. Their ability to make decisions as adults depends on their ability to mimic the skills their parents employ. Removing that opportunity from them minimizes the critical thinking skills and limits their abilities to react positively in times of need. Shouldn’t our future leaders be more prepared than us, when the time comes for them to navigate their own unprecedented experiences?

Communicable diseases have been around long before the concept of co-parenting. The integration of thoughtfulness, good hygiene, and common sense have been successful predictors for billions of years. Nowhere in the mix is the need to isolate routine family members, impose fearful consequences, or frighten children further by disrupting their routines. Stripping children of valuable parenting time, due to one parent’s fear provoked control tactics, only increases emotional stress for the child and could possibly compromise their medical stability. Parents should base their pace of travel, through unchartered territory, on the all-inclusive needs of the child, not on their own limited perceptions.

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