parent opinion

'I'm a single mum and I refuse to let my 5yo daughter see her Dad during the pandemic.' 


At my five-year-old’s request, I sent her father a picture I took when she tried to do her own hair earlier in the week. He LOL’d and called it cute. Then he asked how she’s been doing with her school being closed.

My kid, so proud of those hair bows.

That was on Monday. Today, it’s Friday, and her dad still hasn’t bothered to read my response on Google Hangouts to actually find out how his daughter is doing. I’m not surprised or even disappointed.

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It mostly just serves as a reminder that I was right to quit waiting, prodding, or hoping for him to become some “father of the year.” Dealing with my daughter’s dad over these last six years has taught me how important it is to believe a person when they show you who they are.

All of this reminds me, however, that I’m lucky. I am a single mum with full custody of my only child. I was never married to her dad. Although my daughter’s father filled out his information for the birth certificate right alongside me, the (coincidentally Catholic) hospital omitted him and he never filed for paternity to fix their mistake.


Furthermore, he never wanted to go through the courts to handle child support. He feared they would make him pay “too much,” and threatened to completely cut off if I ever legally filed. Although I initially complied out of fear, it’s left me in a better position in the long run. I have full custody, and ultimately get to decide when or if she sees her dad.

It’s useful when I don’t particularly trust her father to hold her best interests at heart. And on those few occasions where he’s suggested splitting custody, it’s been easy enough to remind him that we would then have to go through the courts and do it legally.

He’s not about to inconvenience himself like that, and he’s not the kind of dad to go without whatever he wants in order to give one of his kids something they might want or need.

Frankly, he’s more like that irresponsible family member whom you trust to keep your kid alive if you have to rely upon them to babysit in a pinch. But not to help your child thrive. His mum is the first choice caregiver in the event that I am unwell and need real help.

But social distancing and the coronavirus has changed even that. I’m sick, and scheduled to get a rapid COVID-19 test next week, but my daughter is staying put at home with me. We’re not visiting grandparents because we want them to stay safe and uninfected. And my daughter won’t be going to her dad’s house again until the threat of coronavirus has died.

Whenever that might be.


I am fully committed to not being yet another match that spreads the flame. I don’t want to risk spreading the virus to anyone, including her dad’s family, but I also don’t have a great deal of faith in the choices made at his house.

My ex is a self-described sex addict, in a supposedly open marriage. He and his current wife live in a house with their baby boy, plus another couple and their six-year-old boy. Just a few weeks ago, his wife’s ex-husband and their two young daughters moved in temporarily from out-of-state. That’s nine people under one roof.

On top of everything I know about my ex as a parent and a person, there’s the extra worry that he won’t be able to practice restraint or social distancing despite now working from home.

This is a man who had more than a dozen affairs during his first marriage, and he couldn’t remain faithful during our engagement and pregnancy either. Is it possible that he’s keeping his social hobbies online?

Anything is possible, but he’s lied too much in the past to trust many of his decisions today.

It’s just easier to keep my daughter home and let us each do our parts.

Other families aren’t so lucky, however. They may have had very messy, nasty separations which have morphed into even more volatile custody arrangements today. The decision to keep those children at home with one parent might be hotly contested and seen as parent alienation.

Or, it might be a logistical nightmare with their work and a sudden lack of adequate child care.


And for others, who’ve actually had amicable arrangements, it’s possible that the coronavirus has added new layers of stress and pressure to the family dynamic.

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Who should get to keep the kids?

In my family, this is an easy decision. It’s not just my choice as the legal parent and guardian. As her primary caregiver, my daughter is most comfortable with me. It’s not a competition, obviously, but during any global crisis, I’d want my child to be wherever she’s the most comfortable and secure.

Fortunately for us, that choice is a clear cut one. We wait. Every so often, my daughter will want to send a picture to her dad, Nana, or grandma. The other night, she asked if we could call my mum, so we did. Anytime my daughter wants to reach out to a loved one, we will do that over the phone or on video.

But every time we face a relatively easy question about how to connect, I remember that this peace of mind is a luxury. Even a few years ago, when my daughter’s dad and I still had a dysfunctional relationship, this quiet peace would have been impossible.

It’s very likely that he and his wife would have been sending me angry text messages, accusing me of using our daughter like some pawn if I kept her with me. Back in the day when my ex and I had daily communication, we also had daily fights where I railed at him for being so disengaged and he accused me of purposefully keeping his daughter away from him.


Our fights only stopped when I finally accepted that I couldn’t make him be the involved dad that our kid deserves. Once I grasped that, fully grasped it, I began setting boundaries and quit letting him walk all over me by refusing to argue with him or his wife.

Those seemingly small changes changed everything. We quit “communicating” daily since I realised it wasn’t doing us any good. Stepping back worked like magic.

There was no longer anything for us to fight about.

Many schools have been closed for a couple of weeks now. Most will likely be closed for another month. At least.

It’s only a matter of time before families and co-parents face really difficult questions, if they haven’t already. Who gets the kids when there are shelter-at-home orders in place? What happens when families live in different states (or countries) and it’s time for the seasonal hand-off?

After another month of virtual visits, how high might those tensions run?

This time is going to be especially difficult for families with poor communication skills or murky boundaries. And for dysfunctional or abusive relationships, it’s likely that some folks will feel extraordinary pressure to make reckless or irresponsible choices just to please a bully.

As we talk about the mental health impacts of social distancing and quarantines, it’s important that we don’t leave our families behind. Family mediation and counselling are more important than ever. Many children and parents not only have to face the standard worries about coronavirus, but also increased pain that comes from toxic relationships too.


My daughter and I get to count ourselves as fortunate to pass the time peacefully at home. Other families are not so lucky if more time at home means more time with an abuser or dysfunctional family dynamics.

When we talk about what families need to get through this crisis, that help can’t stop at financial burdens or physical goods. We also need to put plans in place to better protect the mental health and wellness of our families. Not to mention protection from domestic violence and abuse.

Sadly, there are no easy, broad brush answers when we are talking about situations that vary from family to family. But the worst thing we could do right now is pretend that families aren’t in a crisis, and that they don’t need help.

If we don’t talk about it, if we turn a blind eye and do nothing, I’m afraid of what kind of society we’ll uncover years down the line.

There will be life after coronavirus, but the choices we make during the pandemic will echo through the generations to come.

Feature Image: Getty.

This post originally appeared on Medium and has been republished here with full permission.

You can read more from Shannon Ashley on Medium, or follow her on Twitter