Q: I lost my Thanksgiving this year and I'm afraid I'm going to lose my time over Christmas break, as well. My son and daughter, age 5 and 7, were scheduled to be with me, but because my mother lives with me and the state suggestion is to limit visitors over the holidays, their mom and I decided that they should stay with her this year. I feel like I'm losing touch. Calling on the phone or a video call falls flat. Here I've tried to do what's right and cooperate with their mom, but I feel like I'm losing my kids. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: The first thing I want to do is congratulate you and your co-parent for deciding together to do anything — not just decide where the kids will be over the holidays. We're all making concessions during this time, but most who write me say they're just plain tired of dealing with COVID; hearing that you're using this time to work together in the best interest of your loved ones is inspiring. Just remember, you didn't "lose" anything. Your loved ones are winning because you are working together in their best interests.
Parents who live a distance away from their children have written for years asking for ways to stay close when they can't physically see their kids. You may not live far away, but what you face co-parenting through this pandemic is the same thing as a divorced parent faces when they don't live near their child. You just need a way to stay in touch and close to your children until lockdown lifts and your parenting plan gets back to normal.
An obvious answer is some sort of video conferencing, whether it's on your phone or Zoom or Skype. The downfall to using these types of communication tools is that sometimes our kids don't want to play. They get bored talking about school or what they did today. You need a "think-out-of-the-box" approach that keeps your kids engaged during a video call and makes them look forward to talking to you again.
Of course, different tactics for different age groups, but here's an example of a think-out-of-the-box approach for kids the age of your children. My daughter took her son on an around the block scavenger hunt. She prepared a list and they looked for things on the list as they walked around the block. It kept him occupied and they talked about the rocks, or pinecone, or why leaves turn brown in the fall.
Try incorporating that concept into a video call — an around the house scavenger hunt. With your co-parent's support, prepare a list of things the kids can find around the house and go on a little scavenger hunt via FaceTime. They can prepare a list for you to find, as well. I know it sounds crazy, but we have to get creative. You want your kids to be excited when they see you are on the phone. So, with your co-parent's cooperation, make it fun, and when this is over, hopefully you and Mom have laid the groundwork to work together so you can smoothly resume your court-ordered parenting plan.
At that point, since you will not have seen the kids in person for quite a while, it's important that Mom makes a special effort to find ways to support your kids' time with you. Maybe a special vacation that's not mentioned in your regular parenting plan, in the children's best interest.
Finally, for all those reading this and thinking, what is she talking about? I hate this person, I'm not going to look for ways for them to see my kids. This isn't about you, it's about your kids and putting them first. They deserve time with both of their parents — and that's good ex-etiquette.
Jann Blackstone is the founder ofbonusfamilies.com.