Covid-19 certainly does exasperate the challenge of co-parenting post-separation. Co-parents regularly face a number of stressors related to their interpersonal interaction, but also to their individual circumstances and life. Before them, is a unique stressor that is amply called Omicron, the name indicative of how ominous this particular stress can be. And while Omicron may appear to be the final tear in the co-parenting curtain, I will suggest that Omicron adds nothing new to the challenges co-parents face, related to agency. The old adage rings true: while a parent can control their own thoughts, behaviors, and ideas in the presence of stress, they can not control those of the other parent. Specific to Covid-19, they cannot control the degree to which the other parent accepts Covid-19 peer-reviewed research and follows public health measures, such as wearing masks, vaccinating, and social distancing. Of course, the court and other restrictive processes exist where an action or outcome can be compelled. In this article, the focus is on how agency once again takes center stage in discussions between parents about Covid-19.
Here is the dilemma: it is true that the correct response to Covid-19 is one that is based on health science and includes measures such as vaccinations, social-distancing, masks, and other precautions. However, the other parent may disagree with the above statement in a number of ways. They may argue that Covid-19 is a fabrication. Or, that the virus is real but not harmful, only as severe as the common cold. Some parents may be willing to take some precautions but not others, or are “fed-up” entirely with precautions (and the word “precautions”). Others, on the extreme end, may suggest that measures put in place by many governments in response to Covid-19, pre-empt medical fascism and are a “gateway vaccination” to authoritarianism (it’s a slippery slope out there). All of these aforementioned arguments can be easily debunked with a little energy put into peer-reviewed research. Let me ask parents, however, if “debunking” has ever amounted to an agreement between you and the other parent? Further, I’ll ask: Have you ever successfully convinced the other parent of your perspective using a well thought out argument with bullet-points and sound reasoning? For many, the “mental no’s” are stacking up—and I’ll push further: Why is it that, although the health-science is compelling, when presented to the other parent they are not convinced of your perspective?
I’ll suggest, a co-parenting argument is rarely won by mere convincing. Resistance in such cases may be less about Covid-19, and more about how individual “agency” factors into decision-making. Agency I’ll define simply: the ability to have individual thoughts and make individual choices, in the context of a relationship. There are a few ways to work with agency in a co-parenting relationship, and I’ll mention six that stand out to me. First, highlight areas of agreement on parenting issues (even around Covid), and solicit the advice of the other parent on how to tackle those issues. Perhaps, follow their lead in both the decision and corresponding action. Second, identify areas of co-parenting choices that are moot, one’s that are of no consequence in your perspective. If you have insisted on making those decisions in the past, let the other parent make some of them. Third, ensure that you are flexible to requests of a reasonable nature when they have been made to you by the other parent. Say “yes” sometimes and note if there is a pattern of “no’s,” and be curious about it. Fourth, if you have never admitted to any mistakes in this co-parenting exercise, admit them sometimes. You are modeling that it is okay and very human to make mistakes—and even be completely wrong—at times. To be wrong without recrimination is essential to reaching an outcome in co-parenting discussions about Covid-19. Fifth, ask for a specific outcome even though you disagree. This is the most crucial point: do not try to change their perspective, and instead ask for a specific outcome and offer your tolerance of their perspective. Ask for vaccinations, boosters, and limited-gatherings; but refrain from asking for agreement on the nature of Covid-19. Finally, if you have added moral language or judgments to their adoption of anti-medical views, you have some work to do. Try again, this time using observations. That is, talk about Covid-19 as if you were talking about a wobbly old table. Notice it’s gritty texture, light-brown and scuffed polish, and two legs that shake incessantly— with no added commentary on how this table may be “deficient” or “useless.” The implied message is clear: calling someone ignorant will never convince them they are, and instead embolden a defensive stance and harden any resistance to change. For parents, if you do win this argument, remember there is no parade for winning, only the practical benefit of individual and public health safety.