A: The CDC defines a “household” as one or more individuals living together in a single dwelling unit and sharing common living areas, and cross-lists this definition with their definition for “family.”
But for all those divorced, separated and blended families sharing custody of children, we know it isn’t that simple.
Fewer than half of kids live in a traditional nuclear family – with two married parents, in their first marriage. About one-fifth of kids live in extended family households (with someone other than a parent or a sibling) and about 16% live in blended families (a household with a stepparent, stepsibling or half-sibling). Univ. of Michigan and Pew Research Center
The Nerdy Girls are following the emerging research on patterns of divorce, transition between homes, COVID-19 precautions beyond the nuclear family, and the many challenges of navigating these times for blended families. And we also know that retrospective research, while fascinating, doesn’t help you make decisions now. So here’s a quick primer minimizing risk while being realistic.
TL/DR: Assess your individual risk, readjust your schedules and plans as best you can, and wherever possible, communicate and compromise for the good of your family’s health, and the health of those around you. Check out the 7 C’s to guide your discussion.
1-Risks and Risks in Reality
It is important to have a sense of the risk that each individual family member may carry. For families with children moving between various locations, it is especially important to think about reducing the number of contacts that each individual has. Creating smaller groups of interaction is especially important now because community transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is high. The Atlantic
This example may help illustrate the challenge.
Sally and Bobby have one child.
They divorced in 2015.
Sally and Bobby share custody and parenting time.
Sally and her new partner follow precautions such as masking, social distancing and limiting contacts.
Bobby works in a high-risk position. Bobby is re-partnered as well, and his partner has two children from a previous relationship. Those kids also see both parents regularly. While Bobby follows precautions as best he can, his partner is not sure what precautions her ex follows.
When each person calculates how many contacts they each have, it is determined that Sally and her partner interact with 8 people total (their nuclear family and the neighbor’s family) while Bobby interacts with at least 40 people, who each have their own contacts. This highlights a challenge in the number of contacts/risk of exposure to the child and both families. As we have pointed out previously, there is the bubble you have and the one you think you have.
Early and frequent communication as to what is reasonable in terms of guidelines and risks may help to determine rules for each family. With limited guidance on creating pods/bubbles, the best approach is to have as few contacts as is necessary and to use #StaySMART guidelines to frame your behaviors for all circumstances, even if interacting with your core pod/bubble.
In an ideal situation, Sally and Bobby would discuss all this and agree on #StaySMART plans for their blended unit. If agreement isn’t possible, experts recommend seeking mediation if necessary.
The reality is that one household is very likely to have more risk than another, even if both individuals are on the same page. Why? Because community transmission varies and the reality of life may increase risk even depending on basic activities that would be considered low risk in other situations. Knowing this, there are several areas where practical decisions need to be made around children’s health and welfare, education, parenting schedule, and consideration of factors such as parents living in different states.
Readjusting with consistency can help to decrease stress for families and children.
For divorced/separated and blended families, it is important to consider these 7 C’s:
1. Consistency. Continue to adhere to visitation schedules to the extent possible as this fosters routine for the kids, which is calming when so much of life is out of whack.
2. Communicate. Even if you can only communicate on the kids’ health and education issues, agree upon a system for morning health checks, exposure updates, and schoolwork check-ins.
3. Cringe (You’re in this together). For many divorced/separated families, we know this makes you cringe, but like it or not, you and your ex are a pod. Even if the two families do not typically socialize or spend time together, if children go between two homes, it is good to think of the whole unit as a pod.
4. Compromise on holiday travel. As best you can, minimize the need to travel and the risks of travelling. Some families may consider splitting rather than sharing holidays as well as clustering travel to minimize the number of trips. If you agree on changes to the holiday parenting schedule, write it out via email to avoid drama down the line.
5. Chug along as best you can. While the advice is always for children to have a similar routine in both households, this is harder than ever right now. Now isn’t the time to nitpick about your ex’s mask choices or why the kids ate cereal and pizza for most meals. Wherever possible, reassure the kids that both families are doing the best they can.
6. Changes don’t need to be permanent. Be flexible and change visitation schedules if needed and mutually beneficial. If both families agree that risks are too high in one household (for example, if one individual is a front-line health care worker), using technology for families to be in touch may replace in person visits for some time.
7. Call for help. Seek mediation if needed if families are not able to adhere to new restrictions and guidelines.
Of course, these strategies represent an overall framework. For more specific advice from experts, we have included additional resources below. And we are waiting on important data that will help better guide risk assessment and decision making for divorced, separated, and blended families.
Stay Safe. Stay Sane.
The Nerdy Girls