Life under COVID-19 house arrest has its obvious logistical challenges for all families. An unprecedented wave of job losses means less money for food and rent in many households, as well as a loss of health insurance right at the moment when a global sickness descends. Child-care help has become a vague and distant memory. Parents lucky enough to still have jobs can’t seem to find the hours in which to do them, what with this child needing the computer for school, that one crying over missing friends, the baby screaming to be fed, or a toddler who likes to jump off the couch straight onto a skateboard the minute you turn your back.
But combine the rules of pandemic quarantine, which require every person to stay put in one household, with the laws of joint custody, which require the exact opposite, and you’ve entered into unprecedented family territory, legal and otherwise. Co-parents are now having to renegotiate hard-won agreements and routines as they try to keep their families safe.
From 2016 to 2019 B.C. (“before coronavirus”), my former husband and I had become almost smug about how well we were co-parenting our youngest child after a three-year separation during which I was the solo parent. We’d been significantly less than adept at compromising during our 20-year marriage, but once we had to figure out how to shoehorn the logistics of our work responsibilities into the too-tight slippers of shared custody, we became unusually kind to each other, even rational. Every time he asked, “Can you take him on Thursday night? I have a work thing,” I answered swiftly in the affirmative, and vice versa. Each last-minute change of schedule was treated as par for the parenting course, not as an opportunity to attack the other person.