In what feels like the blink of an eye, life has changed dramatically for families in Massachusetts in a way that none of us could have predicted. Bars and restaurants are closed until further notice. Schools across the state have been closed by order of the Governor until at least April 6, 2020. Our children’s activities and recreation areas are closed/cancelled.
People are advised to socially distance themselves and to limit interactions with others wherever possible. This may make it difficult to follow your parenting plan, especially if you have a child who may have medical needs, or you live with an elderly family member. It may be especially difficult to exercise parenting time right now where parents live far apart and parenting time requires trains, buses or airplanes.
However, it is very important that children remain in contact with both parents even if they cannot physically be with each other. It is important to remember – parenting time CAN take place virtually.
What is virtual parenting time?
Virtual parenting time is parenting time that happens other than in person – such as by phone or video chat (FaceTime, Skype, Facebook video Messenger, etc.).
What are the benefits of virtual parenting time?
The benefits are many, but flexibility is top of the list right now. The research tells us that, particularly for young children, frequent contact is important for creating and maintaining a bond. Going several weeks (or more) without having contact with each of her parents is not good for your child. Calls can be arranged to fit the needs of the child and your work schedule. Especially where kids are at home right now, there may be more time or opportunity to connect. There are many benefits to virtual parenting time in general as an add on to traditional parenting time. To learn more about the benefits, please read this wonderful blog written by Attorney Nielson found here.
What are some tips for making virtual parenting time work?
Virtual parenting time requires a plan. Every now and then, it might be ok to just call and have a chat – but most parents know – our odds of having a meaningful interaction with our kids if we just call them up and ask how their day was are probably pretty low.
In a typical in person interaction, you may be relying on someone else to provide the entertainment – maybe you’re going to a playground, or playing miniature golf – in virtual parenting time you are much more an actor than a participant. You need to show up with your supplies, and be ready to go. You may also need to plan ahead with your co-parent, so that your child is prepared for visit in the same way he/she would be prepared for an in-person visit.
Some ideas might include reading a bedtime story to your child, singing songs together, playing a game together, building Legos or doing an art project together. Find other great tips here.
What about with teens and tweens?
The older your kids get, the more you should expect that they will be part of the planning process.
In terms of ideas to brainstorm with your child – maybe you and your son both play guitar, and you can practice together. Or maybe your daughter loves those “Try not to laugh” youtube videos, and you can watch together. You can play online games together. You can even just “hang out” virtually in the same room together, just like you might if you were home together.
The options are endless and really depend on activities that both you and your child find fun.
Are there any pitfalls I need to look out for?
It is important not to think of virtual visits as “less than” in person visits. They serve a different purpose, but they can be just as meaningful.
It’s also important not to get hung up on the visit lasting a particular length of time. The most important thing is the quality of the connection, not how long it lasts.
With a toddler, it might take you 3 minutes to read a story, and that’s ok. You want to say goodnight and end the call with the child happy and looking forward to the next one.
Right now we are all adapting and learning how to cope with our new reality while keeping those around us safe. There will be a learning curve.
If you should have any questions regarding how COVID19 will affect your parenting plan, or virtual parenting, please feel free to contact the experienced family law attorneys at Wilchins Cosentino & Novins LLP 781-235-5500 or send us a note here.