Reducing parental conflict: thoughts of a Family Support Worker

We all know that being a parent is the hardest job in the world, but when you have conflict with your partner or ex-partner then it can feel impossible to navigate life at times.

My name is Jude and I work for Relationships Matter North East; a DWP funded pilot programme that offers free relationship support to parents in the North East of England. Here's how parents in the North East are coping with the pandemic when there are already issues within their relationship. Read on for an insight into the programme!

Managing your relationships during lockdown

It seems like so long ago that I would jump into my car in the morning, head to my office in Newcastle and plan my home visits for the day. My work involves assessing parents for our programme and supporting parents to access various forms of relationship support when things are not going very well.

Since Covid-19 hit I have been working from home, delivering support online to parents. Some couples have found that lockdown really improved their relationships, but many of our referrals indicate it has put a lot of pressure on families that were already struggling, and referrals have increased recently.

A couple who I met with before the pandemic have four children aged between 2 and 11 and all of the children have additional needs. Despite entitlement to school places for the eldest children during lockdown due to their additional needs, Mum was really anxious about sending them to school due to the virus and so she kept them at home. This meant that having a private conversation with both parents about how things were with their relationship was impossible at first as they often didn't sit down until 10pm and had zero privacy! We worked around this by using text, email and the occasional snatched phone call to discuss strategies and support, before being able to arrange a suitable time when lockdown restrictions eased.

For separated parents the pandemic has been particularly difficult. Initially, there was confusion about contact arrangements and children moving between houses. I spoke to a number of worried parents who were not seeing their children. One parent I spoke to told me that he had not seen his child for over three months, due to lockdown.

We moved our group work for separated parents online, to support them emotionally and encourage them to communicate with their ex partners in a 'business-like' manner - politely and with respect. Parents have engaged well with this online and continue to feel the benefits of it for them and their children.

The pandemic has also affected childcare for families and this has had a big impact on the parents we work with. Nurseries and schools were inaccessible for a long time and some parents have been working from home (many of our team included!). Parents are often worried that I might be cross if their child interrupts a video call but the truth is I don't mind at all. I believe we have to show warmth and acceptance, and work in response to where families are at with their lives and their emotions. One parent I am supporting has two children under the age of 2 and her 14 week old baby has not even met his grandparents yet!

Relationships matter

I think that we are going to emerge from 2020 with a very different perspective on our relationships. Our family relationships have been some of the most important ones during lockdown - it hasn't been easy for many and where there are issues in the relationship with a partner or ex-partner it may have been extremely difficult.

Recognising that ALL relationships go through ups and downs and this is normal, is really important, but when conflict feels frequent and intense then it is likely to have an impact on the family as a unit, especially the children. There is help out there though; further information at Relate.

If the global pandemic of 2020 has taught us anything, it's that relationships really do matter.