Life during a pandemic is really hard to plan, and so much of what I do with my clients is support them as they make plans. Couples planning to marry, parents planning for children, families planning how to manage family properties and businesses, all those plans relate to known information— salaries, mortgages, property values, business forecasts—and all that information is much more flexible, or simply unknown, today. That is really challenging and can make mediation more difficult. However, I was reading an article in this weekend’s NYT about how for some couples Covid has changed the conversation about money, and it reminded me of what has been so positive about Covid-19 for many of my clients- being forced to share information and having the time to really delve into the issues we usually brush aside in normal, hectic everyday life.
Crisis forces families, and businesses, to gather and share information, it also forces frequent communication. Sadly it is very often only after a death or a divorce that families gain any kind of understanding about the family's finances. A global pandemic and a weakened economy have prompted many of us to review our assets and debts, and take a hard look at our spending. For many months we have not been able to eat out, go to the gym, travel, commute to work and so on, many people have lost jobs and have cut back on expenses. It is a time of reckoning, and a great time to use the crisis to talk about hard subjects. For families this is a moment to assess assets and debts, careers and income. How are you weathering the pandemic financially? How are you weathering it emotionally?
For separated parents struggling to work on parenting plans before the pandemic, Covid-19 was a big reality check. The challenges that caused separated parents to argue before, weekend plans, lack of clarity around soccer schedules, summer vacation schedules. suddenly seemed simple compared to figuring out how to co parent while sheltering in place, working at home and supporting distance learning. Parents who were accustomed to talking through professionals (judges, grand masters, lawyers, therapists, mediators etc) suddenly had no choice but to speak to each other since no one was available. Some estranged parents moved back in together so they can be a bubble with their children. Parents who were frontline workers had to make plans, and fast. The traditional networks of support suddenly shrank. What I saw time and again with my clients is that this tremendously disruptive event actually allowed parents to focus on what made sense for their kids, what was practically possible, and to let go of some of anger that had fueled tensions in the past.
The pandemic has brought forced us to scrutinize our social networks and support structures, some families with young children have decided to move closer to grandparents --during the pandemic the grandparents became the babysitters. Some adults have moved closer to elderly parents because the pandemic has made is apparent the grandparents need more support. When planes stop flying, or it feels unsafe to travel, suddenly the geographic choices we have made, to move across the country, or across the world, have major implications. We live in a a dynamic world, and this forced pause gives us time to think about the real impacts our choices have, and are an opportunity to have conversations about the issues no one really wants to talk about-- like how to care for aging parents. Sadly so many friends and colleagues have already lost parents to Covid-19. It is so hard to bring up end of life planning with parents, or ask about basic things like whether the house has a mortgage and who holds the mortgage, or whether there is a will, and if so where is it, but this is the time to do it.
So much about the pandemic is sad and depressing, but having a good reason to start these hard conversations is an opportunity to build understanding and connection within families, and make better choices for yourself and others in the future. To get those conversations started, here are some prompts you can ask yourself, or pose to the family members, like a spouse, an ex spouse or a parent.
What do you miss most about life pre-covid?
What do you miss the least?
What positive changes have you made since the pandemic started?
Who has been a source of support?
What has the impact been on your relationship with your partner or ex-partner?
What has the impact been on your children?
How have your finances been impacted?
What changes have you made in your spending?
How has your work been impacted?
How has your health been impacted?
What financial planning have you done, if any, during Covid?
Have you done any estate planning during the pandemic? Are your documents up to date?
What do you want life to look like after pandemic?