Coronavirus creates challenges for students with divorced parents


Yesh Nikam , Staff Writer

During the school year, Alexander Cox (11) normally alternates his weeks between his mother’s home in New Jersey and his father’s in New York City. However, school closure since early March and the imminent threat of COVID-19 has disrupted that routine.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Cox’s parents are one of the 790,000 divorced couples in the United States who are attempting to navigate co-parenting amid the unfamiliar circumstances.
Only 46% of children in America live with two married parents in the same household, according to the Pew Research Center. That means that many children have grown accustomed to shuffling between their parent’s homes. However, the travel restrictions and shutdowns across the nation due to the COVID-19 outbreak have forced many families to alter their normal routines.
A New York Times article entitled “For Divorced Parents, Navigating Coronavirus Is a Balancing Act” highlights the issues that the COVID-19 outbreak poses for families with separated parents. Locations that co-parents have used for custody exchanges—libraries, restaurants, and movie theaters—are either closed or present the possibility of contracting the virus.
The COIVD-19 outbreak poses different challenges for each family, and families with divorced parents can face extra complications, Upper Division Director for Guidance and Counseling Dr. Daniel Rothstein said. “Students isolated in one home because of safety concerns may find themselves missing the other parent and their normal routine. This can create an extra level of stress all around,” he said.
To handle the strange circumstances, Cox’s parents coordinated a plan that they thought worked best for him, Cox said. They agreed that they did not want him to stay in the city, which has become an epicenter of the virus. Instead, he has been living with his mother in New Jersey since the school closed the week before spring break.
Catherine Zhang (11) usually stays with her mother year-round and sees her father on vacations or during dinners, she said. However, since both of her parents are doctors volunteering to fight the COVID-19 outbreak, Zhang has not seen either of them to ensure she is not exposed to the virus. She is living alone while her mom lives in an apartment nearby.
“Being separated from my dad is not that much different for me,” Zhang said. “But knowing the fact that I can’t see him is different and strange.”
Due to the new living arrangements, Cox has not seen his father in person in a month. “My dad sometimes wants me to come into the city, but my mom does not want me to enter a potentially dangerous area,” he said. “It’s been strange not to see him every other week like we used to.”
Alexis Fry (11) normally lives with her mother during the week and alternates her weekends between her mom and dad’s homes. During the first week of spring break, she was staying with her father when another resident in his building contracted the virus. She immediately moved back to her mom’s apartment while her father left the city to stay in Long Island. Fry has not seen her dad in person since.
Fry still communicates with her father daily over FaceTime so she can have a personal conversation with him, she said. “It’s been weird not seeing my dad so much, but it hasn’t been a traumatic experience because I can talk to him every day.”
Helena Kopans-Johnson (12) has stayed with her father since school closed in March. Her mom is with her older sister, and she will not be able to see either of them until social distancing is over, she said. “Since I normally spend most of my time at my mom’s house, this has been a big shift in my routine, but it is nice to get so much quality time with my dad.”
At times, Cox’s new routine can get a bit irritating, he said. “It’s kind of annoying not to be able to leave the house. Especially for someone who’s been used to a change of scenery every week, it has been frustrating to be in the same place for the past month,” he said.
Despite the physical separation, students are finding alternate methods to contact their parents. Cox still communicates frequently with his father over the phone. “I’ll call him every other day and we text each other articles and things like that even if there is not much to talk about just to keep in touch,” he said.
Similarly, Zhang uses technology to contact her parents who are able to provide her with details surrounding their experiences fighting the virus. “It’s cool to get a first-hand account of what’s going on,” she said.
Communicating with her father digitally has allowed Fry to maintain the close relationship she has with him, she said. “We’ve always had personalities that get along really well and common interests, and that relationship has always been a constant in my life,” Fry said. “Even though he’s not here right now, we’ve been able to maintain that strong bond.”
Dylan Chin (12) used to split time between his parents’ homes, but for the past few years, he’s lost touch with his father and has stayed with his mom, stepdad, and sister. However, he’s close to his relatives on his father’s side of the family whom he cannot see. “It sucks. I think everyone’s dealing with having to stay at home and not see people they love.”
While Zhang is disappointed that she cannot spend time with her parents, she is proud of them for helping the country overcome a difficult period. “Even if I’m away from them, I’m proud of them for making sacrifices to help us get over difficult times,” she said.
Chin still finds ways to bond with his family members even if he cannot spend time with them in person. He enjoys playing board games online with friends and family. “In these tough times, it’s about focusing on the things you love and doing them with the people you love,” he said.
Kopans-Johnson talks to her mom every day to check in with each other, but these conversations rarely last more than a few minutes because there is not much to catch up on, she said. “It’s nice to hear my mom’s voice, but talking on the phone a few minutes each day doesn’t compare to actually seeing each other.”
Hearing the banging pots and clapping every day at 7 pm as part of the tribute to local health workers has also helped Zhang appreciate her parent’s work and stay positive. “It’s a really nice way for my community to connect with those who are trying to defeat this global pandemic, and knowing that my parents are part of these people that have the ability to help others is special,” she said.
Cox believes that if the current restrictions continue for an extended period of time, he will find a way to see his father. “Either he’ll come to stay with us or I’ll go into the city to see him,” he said. “He’s used to seeing me every other week so I’m sure it’s tough for him too.”
Zhang’s advice to others who cannot see their parents is to maintain contact with them digitally and recognize that the sacrifices they are currently making are important for the future. “It’s important to remember that we’re going through doing this so we can play our part in overcoming the virus,” she said.
In precarious circumstances, it’s also important to be grateful for the luxuries you do have, Fry said. “It’s not the usual situation, but you kind of have to take a step back and realize that they’re so many different things that you can be grateful for during these times that a lot of people don’t have.”
Cox believes that children of divorced parents should maintain contact with the parent they cannot see in order to maintain a sense of structure. “Talk to them as much as you can so you don’t lose that routine,” he said.
The Department of Counseling & Guidance is always available to talk to students experiencing these unique challenges, Rothstein said. “If anyone is interested in being part of a discussion group about having a family with divorced parents, they can email me to let me know if they would be interested.”