There are a lot of terrifying elements about the COVID-19 pandemic we’re living through, but for me as a mom who has been divorced, one of the scariest parts is not knowing how my custody arrangement with my ex-husband will ultimately be affected. I have no issue staying home and avoiding the public- in fact, I wish more people were taking this seriously and doing the same- but I’m afraid of what a stricter shelter-in-place order could look like when you have kids who live in two different homes.
My ex-husband and I are on good terms, and I know that he cares as much about the safety of our children as I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable going an extended period of time without seeing my kids. We are already in a guaranteed quarantine lasting thirty days. What if that turns into two months or three months or even longer? What if the rules have to get more rigid?
Selfishly, I want my kids to stay with me, but I recognize that my ex-husband is naturally going to want them to be with him in his home. I hate the idea of keeping our boys (Gavin, age 11 and Rhett, age 6) away from their father, but I just can’t imagine not having them in my sight during this hectic, scary time (and by "in my sight" I mean hanging out upstairs obsessively playing Fortnite and fighting over the last of the Doritos).
FaceTime and phone calls won’t be enough. I need to be able to hug them, to make sure they’re eating enough, to give them vitamins, to play board games and watch TV, to do my part to make sure they’re distracted and that their own fears are being alleviated.
I need to be able to personally put my hand on their foreheads and make sure they don’t have a fever. The first sign of a cough or a tickle in their throat, I need to be able to witness it and deal with it. While half the country was greedily stockpiling toilet paper and canned goods, I was researching whether I should buy a stethoscope online and watching YouTube tutorials on how to do lung assessments. That could be my anxiety taking over, but honestly, it just feels like me being a mom. (Sometimes it's hard to know where that line is.)
What if my children manage to stay safe from the coronavirus, but they get seriously ill or injured in some other way? What if they’re with their father when this hypothetical situation happens? Will I be able to go to the hospital to visit them, if I wasn’t the one who brought them in? The answer is no. Some hospitals aren't even allowing fathers in when their wives go in labor. And worse, there are people who are dying alone in hospitals because it's just too risky to allow visitors in.
That is fucking terrifying.
Ideally, I want my kids to have physical access to both parents, but I’m just not confident that it will be possible for much longer. If enough people don't start taking this situation seriously and following the guidelines, it feels inevitable that a more severe lockdown will happen for the entire country, and I don’t know what that looks like for joint-custody families. Will we be allowed to transport our kids back and forth? Will gas stations be open, allowing us to get the fuel we need to travel?
The good ol' days, when it wasn't scary to travel or go in public
Realistically, I think this is something the government will think of and take care of. Maybe there will be stricter curfews and only a limited window of time for travelers on the road, but I can't see them realistically keeping parents from sharing time with their kids. But these are pretty un-fucking-certain times, so I can't rule anything out. And honestly, I can't blame them if it comes to that. Better to go all summer without seeing your kids than risk losing them forever.
Because here's the deeper truth. There’s another valid concern that is niggling at me now. Just because we are allowed to continue our current custody arrangement at the moment, is it a smart decision to do so? Isn’t it more dangerous to let the kids be exposed to two different households? Seeing both of their families increases their risk of coming in contact with the virus, after all. And travel in general isn't the best idea either, if you can avoid it.
But how the hell would we decide which parent should have sole custody during the coronavirus pandemic? We can’t ask our children to choose. And it’s not as simple as, “Hey, it’s Mother’s Day weekend, so I don’t mind if you keep them an extra couple of days.”
This is an unprecedented time. Recently, I was thinking back on the first year after our divorce. It was so hard back then. Emotions were heightened. There was still a lot of hurt and anger. At times, we each struggled to properly focus on our children and what was right for them, because our own pain and issues would cloud our judgment. We’ve come so far since then, I never imagined we’d be facing a much different and yet equally difficult circumstance.
The good news is we are a united front this time around. I don’t want to go back to those days, the days of selfishness and sabotaging and arguing- I feel confident we won't let that happen- but I'm scared. I don’t want to lose time with my kids. My natural instinct is to fight, to do whatever it takes to make sure they end up in my home as much as possible.
The thing is, being a good mom sometimes means putting aside your own desires. It means putting the safety and needs of your children first. In my case, because my ex-husband lives in a wholesome neighborhood in a rural town, while I live in a super crowded city that has a much larger inclination to participate in activities such as looting in addition to the increased chances of coming in contact with the virus, it might very well mean allowing my children to stay with their father.
I honestly don’t know what the right decision is, and that scares the hell out of me.
COVID-19 is changing everything about life as we know it. It’s not just about giving up the gym, coming up with creative options for toilet paper, or missing out on having drinks with friends. Businesses, big and small, are going under. There are people who are losing jobs and families who are losing members. And there are parents, like me, who are staring into a future that may mean not being with their own children.
I’m trying to remain calm and to provide comfort and security for my family. Like most people, I’m even posting lighthearted memes and jokes on my social media accounts. It may seem like I’m holding it together, but beneath the surface, my anxiety is destroying me. There are so many unknowns, so much that is out of my control, which is particularly hard when you’re supposed to be the leader, the protector.
Motherhood is the most important role I have in life. It's also the hardest. Even though I’m not infected with it, the coronavirus is seriously one of the scariest things that has ever happened to me.
Jennifer Scott Pickett is a freelance writer for hire who specializes in parenting and lifestyle content. She is half of the comedy duo that makes up Salty Mermaid Entertainment based in Atlanta, GA. In her free time - Wait. She's a mom of three. She doesn't have any free time. Learn more by clicking here.