With many parents working from home what are we to do when one suddenly becomes ill, or contracts COVID-19?
During this unprecedented time in our history many families are struggling to balance working from home, while helping children cope with the loss of their social networks and attempting to keep them engaged in distance learning. We are all also facing fear of the unknown. When will the shelter at home end? When will the children be able to return to school and see their friends? What will this new normal look like? And who would take care of my children if I became ill? Co-parenting is going to be extremely important during this time; even if it's been near impossible in the past. You will need to be the bigger person. You will need to be more patient, and more kind, and more forgiving of the other parent. And most importantly you will both need to continue to put the health, safety, and welfare of the children above all else.
Hallie Levine wrote an article published by the New York Times earlier this month, entitled "When Parents Get Sick, Who Cares for the Kids?" (link below)
The article details the experiences of several single-parents who face this fear every day. Hallie writes:
"With 160 million to 214 million Americans projected to become infected with the new coronavirus — and up to 21 million of them potentially requiring hospitalization — Kylstra’s dilemma is a frightening one that is playing out in households across the country. The disease resulting from infection with the new coronavirus, called Covid-19, is most dangerous for those at highest risk — older adults and those with pre-existing health conditions. But it has also been impacting younger, healthier adults who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. 'We’re seeing situations where entire families are sickened with Covid-19, because it’s so contagious when you have prolonged close contact,' said Dr. Thomas Murray, M.D., Ph.D., associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. While most parents will only show mild to moderate symptoms, he added, the reality is some will require hospitalization, and 'it’s impossible to predict who,' he said.This reality is a particularly disturbing one for single parents, who not only have to shoulder the sole responsibility of their child’s care, but who also have to worry what will happen to their kids if they end up in the hospital. 'When I got sick, it was my worst nightmare,' said Lesley Enston, 39, a single mother who lives in Brooklyn. Enston developed Covid-like symptoms in mid-March, including a loss of taste and smell, fatigue and mild shortness of breath. At first, she considered sending her daughter, age 1, to her father’s house, but eventually she was reluctant to do so since her dad has pre-existing heart and lung conditions. One night in late March, she struggled to breathe. 'I panicked, not knowing who would be able to take Desslyn if I required an ambulance,' she said.
Whether you’re high-risk or not, partnered or single, legal experts say it’s essential that all parents devise a backup plan now, even if you aren’t sick. 'You need to have an A, B and C list of friends and family members that would be willing to step in, knowing that they will most likely be exposed to the virus,' said Lauren Wolven, a trusts and estates attorney at Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC in Chicago. It’s a tough ask, and family members and friends may need some time to mull over their comfort level with it.
In an ideal world, the best caregivers would be any friends or relatives who have already been infected with the virus and have since recovered, Dr. Murray said, since theoretically they would already have at least some immunity. But that, of course, may not be realistic for many parents. Ideally, you’d choose someone who lives nearby, or at least within a few hours driving distance. 'You don’t want to pick someone who needs to fly across the country or drive several days if it’s an emergency,' Wolven noted.
Once you identify a temporary guardian, it’s important to put that agreement in writing. If your child gets sick and you’re unable to consent to their medical care (if you’re on a ventilator, for instance), you’ll want someone else to have the power to authorize their care, explained Greta Solomon, a trusts and estates attorney at Cohen and Wolf in Westport, Conn.
The requirements and necessary forms (called “standby guardianship” forms) for doing this will vary by state. If you already have a will, the easiest and quickest way to formally draft these documents would be to ask your attorney who drafted your will to do it for you. If you don’t have a will, you can often find these forms on your state’s government or judicial websites (the National Center for State Courts is a good place to start.) You and your standby guardian will then need to sign these forms, usually in the presence of two witnesses, Solomon added.
If you do become hospitalized or are otherwise unable to care for your child, it’s important to make sure that you have a care plan in place for your children. This should include essential information such as the names of their physicians, the medications they take and instructions on how to care for any pets, but it should also include a snapshot of your child’s daily routine, Wolven said. Is there a favorite book you typically read to your child in the morning? Are there any foods that she likes and dislikes? What about certain rituals she needs at night to help her wind down? Any favorite dolls and blankets?
"This way, if something does happen to a child’s parents, it’s less traumatic for them,' she explained.
Even if you don’t require hospitalization, you’ll still need to figure out how to recover while effectively caring for your kids. Denise Rice, 54, who lives in Brookfield, Conn., contracted the new coronavirus in March, along with her husband and their 5-year-old son. (Rice also has two other sons, ages 8 and 14, who have not yet gotten sick.) All three children were adopted and have special needs, Rice said, so she had to keep an eye on them at all times. Because Rice’s symptoms were much milder than her husband’s, she opted to remain the primary caretaker for their boys. “One of them is always up every three hours at night, so I’m getting more and more run down,” Rice said. 'I’m just kind of trying to chug through and make believe it’s a cold until my husband feels better.'
If two parents are ill, Dr. Murray said that it makes sense that the one less affected should pick up the parenting slack. But be prepared for the roles to be reversed later on.
If you’re parenting solo, focus on doing the bare minimum needed to care for your child. If you have friends who can help, consider asking them to drop off groceries or cooked meals, or even ask if they’ll video chat with your kids (if they’re older) so you can nap in peace. While you may be tempted to do chores like a load of laundry or vacuuming as you recover, don’t. 'It’s important for parents themselves to rest, so that they can focus on getting well for their children,' said Dr. Kristin Englund, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Also keep in mind that social distancing and disinfection practices are still important, even at home. If you have someone coming to your house to help while you’re ill, or if you’re sick and your partner is not, Dr. Murray said it’s best to try and quarantine yourself as much as possible. If you have more than one bathroom, designate one for anyone who’s infected. Ask any caretakers to regularly disinfect all high touch surfaces like kitchen counters, tables, doorknobs and light switches (ideally while wearing a mask).
If you do have masks around your house, wear them when you’re with your little ones to avoid getting them sick (if your kids are ill too, try to get them to wear a mask, though this isn’t necessary if you know that everyone in the house is infected). If your children are scared and want to sleep in your bedroom, resist letting them do so. This will not only ensure that you get a better night’s rest, but will help reduce the chances of you infecting them, Dr. Englund added.
If your kids are older, you might also think about teaching them certain helpful skills. When she was sick with Covid-19 for two weeks in March, Jaime Wagner, 42, a sales executive in Harrisburg, Pa., taught her 7-year-old daughter how to make basic meals like pasta, and how to put her 2-year-old sister down for naps. 'I sent her links of how to make meals via YouTube while her dad was working,' Wagner said. When her youngest turned 2, Wagner talked her daughter through making her little sister a birthday cake via video chat while isolated in her bedroom.
In the end, Kylstra said that she wished that she and her husband had already thought through these contingency plans before they got sick. 'Trust me,' she said, 'you don’t want to be having these conversations in the middle of the night when you’re both up battling fever and chills.' For years, she added, she and her husband had talked about creating a will. Now, she plans to do just that. 'When you’re young and healthy you think you can wait,' she said. 'But this pandemic has made clear that can change in an instant.' "
We, at the Law Offices of Maria E. Crabtree, can help you do just that. Even if the Courts are closed and limited to emergency hearings we are still able to help you reach temporary custody/visitation agreements and turn those agreements into Court orders until a full hearing can be set or the pandemic subsides.
If you've always thought drafting a will or creating a trust could wait for a later time but now realize that the time is now, give us a call, we can have your estate documents drafted to give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Stay safe, stay healthy; from all of us here at the Law Offices of Maria E. Crabtree.
Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS