Step-Families in a Pandemic – Coping with Covid-19

This article was first published in at the beginning of the pandemic.

Covid-19, or the Corona virus, is big news around the world. Schools are closing, borders are closing, toilet paper stocks are at all time lows. This is the perfect storm for step-family conflict. The support groups I am part of our blowing up with stories of parents wanting trips cancelled and being called unreasonable and parents bitterly disappointed at being asked to cancel plans and interpreting this as scaremongering and ways to create disconnects with the children.

So let’s set aside the emotions and get practical.

This is not a drill.

This is not a hoax.

This is not some political ploy created to make lots of money or get anyone voted out of office.

This is the real deal.

A pandemic.

The World Health Organisation, who are not known for being panicked, have declared this is a world wide problem that needs proactive handling. The measures with which it will be handled are up to each country, so if countries are struggling to find approaches that work, how are families split over several houses going to manage?

Here are some tips and guidelines:

Follow the official directives.

Crazy as it sounds, the official directives are there for a reason. It’s not about protecting your family, or whether you will be safe. It’s about the entire population and trying to ‘flatten the curve’. Without these measures the health system will be inundated with Covid-19 cases requiring hospitalisations. Think about how much stress the health systems are under just coping with existing health conditions, so imagine how impossible it will be if demand for services doubles, triples, quadruples. If you’re sceptical – have a read of this and check out the information about how the health system in Italy has been overrun.

Be smart about resources.

Yes, I know everyone is worried about running out of toilet paper and hand sanitiser, but these things will not keep you safe or your family fed if you are quarantined for 14 days. Money is also a factor for some families. If you are struggling to put food on the table at the best of times, trying to shop for an extra week or two can be mission impossible. Check out budget meal planners, make a menu and a list. Don’t buy more than you will need, I have heard of stores in the US being stripped bare.

We think of being quarantined, but how many of us think about if we are sick while in the quarantine. Tins of beans and tomatoes are a great pantry filler, but are they something you will be able to manage to prepare if you are ill? I’ve stocked up on some packet pancake mix because I know the kids can make those. I’m usually a from scratch cook, but I’ve bought some risotto and other things that are heat and eat.

What about medication? Have you got meds in stock for you and the children? What about paracetamol? Vitamins, chest rub etc? The time to get those things is now, before you need them.

Be smart about the schedule.

Now is not the time to be rigid about custody schedules. Lots of kids are off school. Some workplaces are closed and there are parents working from home. I know there are a load of work from home/at home stepmums right now terrified they are going to be landed with home schooling a load of kids because they are supposedly available.

So what do families do when kids are sick or need to go into quarantine? Do the kids go from home to home, and therefore put 2 or more homes into quarantine as well? Or do they stay in the home they were quarantined to? Each family will have to work this out. It needs to be something that all adult family members, including stepparents are consulted about.

Some possible discussion points are: who has vulnerable people in their home? Should the people in that home be exposed to people who have been exposed to risk of the virus? Who still needs to be able to go out to work? Should kids go and put the people in that home under quarantine, or does it make sense to restrict the risk?

These are unusual times. The world won’t end if the kids spend 2 weeks in a row in one home. School work is not the end of the world. Be understanding if the tasks set aren’t done in the other home, you don’t know what pressures they are trying to handle right now.

The universal advice so far…

Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.

That means wash them with soap. Wash them for about 20 seconds. Dry them.

Wash them before preparing food. Wash them before eating. Wash them on coming into the house. Wash them after using the bathroom. Wash them after blowing your nose or sneezing.

Wear a mask.

Stay away from other people if you feel unwell, and get a test.

Sneeze into your elbow.

Limit physical contact – stop hugging/shaking hands etc with people outside your immediate family.

Stop unnecessary travel – pretty much all travel now is unnecessary.

Don’t flush wet wipes down the drain – it creates blockages and sanitary issues.

Be kind – to yourself, people out and about, and damnit yes, even your difficult ex!

Postscript: We are now over 18 months into this pandemic. New Zealand is experiencing it’s first nationwide level 4 (strictest) lockdown for over a year. We have been incredibly lucky till now.

People in other countries are not doing so well. They are fatigued from dealing with Covid stress. It’s wearing people down and taking a toll. Old anxiety and depression foes are ramping up, relationships are bearing a toll.

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. I can guarantee you that it’s not your lack of coping skills, it’s incredibly difficult coping with the pandemic.

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