In this blog, Professional Support Lawyer Carla Ditz looks at the reality of home schooling and the importance of communication between separated or separating parents.
We are living in challenging times. With lock-down now in force, families are very much immersed in home-school life. Parents will be asking themselves whether they are doing enough, are the children actually learning anything and how long will this go on for. The task can seem immense in itself and when we also factor in the time required for our own work commitments, the pressures mount up. What’s more, this challenge will be all the more difficult for separating and separated parents who are trying to co-parent in these truly unusual circumstances. What is clear is that both parents have a role to play.
Will contact arrangements with my children continue as usual?
At the time of writing (March 2020), the government has issued the ‘Stay at Home Rules’ which specifically state:
“Where parents do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ homes.”
(Note that it does not say that children must move between homes. Parents must take a sensible approach to this and keep their children in one home if appropriate eg. where there is a risk of transmission of the virus or where the child lives with a recognised vulnerable person). See our blog: Can children move between separated parents now?
This is crucial, not only as it sets out that contact between children and separated parents can still take place during this public health crisis, but also, it enables both parents to play their part in home-schooling and, of course, keeping the children occupied throughout the day.
Some parents may have to be ready to look after the children more than usual if, for example, one parent is a key worker or indeed if one parent becomes unwell and has to self-isolate. Ultimately, it may be necessary to vary the terms of any existing Child Arrangements Order so as to accommodate the current situation (and any such changes should be recorded in writing). See our blog: How to implement a Child Arrangements Order during the Coronavirus Crisis. Where the usual contact arrangements need to be put on hold, it will be important to make sure indirect contact still takes place and there are of course a number of ways in which this can happen eg) phone calls, video calls, emails with photos including drawings and any work the children have done to share with the other parent etc.
Home-schooling: the new normal
When considering the particular aspect of home-schooling, there is a balance to be had and perspective is important. We are in new territory and there are no right or wrong answers about how to go about structuring your day. It may seem like an obvious thing to say but maintaining good communication between parents will help during this time.
Some things to think about:
- Routine: whilst a routine need not be prescriptive, you should at least have an idea of what you would like the day to look like. Don’t be overly ambitious and don’t worry if the day doesn’t go to plan. Some days you will get more ‘buy-in’ than others. Figure out what works and what doesn’t work. You know your children best so work with them and get them involved in planning the day. The input and contribution of each parent will be necessary – everyone will have their own ideas to bring to the table and everyone has their strengths.
- Physical activity: It goes without saying that both parents and children should make sure physical activity is part of their day. One parent may enjoy taking control of the ‘P.E.’ lesson for the kids whilst the other takes charge of other subjects for example.
- Emotional well-being: This surely has to be at the top of the list. If parents are visibly upset and frustrated (and understandably stressed), children will pick up on this. The effects of lock-down at home may feel like a pressure-cooker for any household but particularly for separating parents who are still living under the same roof. The need to look after yourself for the sake of your children is vital so, where possible, you should try and find some time for yourself during the day.
- Other family members: Don’t forget to use Skype/Facetime/Zoom to include other family members (particularly grandparents) in the daily activities. Maybe ask the grandparents to read a story to the children or ask them to talk about a particular subject. Scheduling this into the daily routine will be something for both grandparents and children to look forward to. For younger children, you could have regular video calls with their friends so they can stay in touch as well.
- Maintain contact with the absent parent: If the children are required to self-isolate, try to ensure that regular phone calls and skype/facetime calls take place between the absent parent and children. This is particularly important where there is a Child Arrangements Order in place. Where any shared care arrangements are forced to change as a result of the current situation, indirect forms of contact will be key. There is no reason why some elements of home-schooling cannot still take place over the phone or via Facetime or Skype etc for example. Also, there are games which can be played online against the other parent as a way of encouraging some form of indirect contact – now being a good time to relax the ‘screen time’ rules you may have put in place. There are options to be explored and parents will need to be creative so as to preserve and promote the relationship children have with each parent.
- Use of family calendar apps: Whilst parents will start to become familiar with the many educational apps out there, there are also some useful parenting apps. ‘Our Family Wizard’ is one such app which can help organise your day with each parent having access to a shared calendar. This will be useful for example to set out which parent will take charge of which ‘lessons’ or activities.
One of the most obvious points to make is ‘are your children happy?’ This is arguably the most important thing. This situation is of course hard for children as well as parents. They are used to being at school with their friends and having a very structured but varied week. Like parents, they have a familiar routine and weekly activities, all of which has been taken away from them and for how long? Both parents whether living together or apart can help to explain to the children the significance of the current state of affairs and importantly, that it will pass. Sharing the responsibility of home-schooling between parents and respecting each other’s need for space will help to alleviate some of the pressure and ultimately add some variety to the children’s day.
Help is at hand
Remember that help is still at hand if you and your former partner are experiencing any difficulties in co-parenting or if issues are arising in observing court orders. A mediator, for example, can help to facilitate any difficult discussions via conference call facilities. Speaking to a counsellor or family consultant may also help and give you the support you need to co-parent effectively. At Family Law In Partnership, we have put in place measures to ensure we are able to continue to support our clients at this difficult time.
To learn more about our mediation and in-house counselling services, or if you would like to speak with one of our experienced lawyers about other process options, you can contact at E: firstname.lastname@example.org or T: 020 7420 5000.
Additional psychotherapy and counselling services are also available through Rafan House.