reposted with permission from the author – he became a distance parent in September 2011 when he moved back to his home country, England. His son is 4.
I was looking on google for a forum for long distance parents. Over the past 3 months I have been slowly adjusting to a new life thousands of miles from my son. I am English and have recently moved back to the UK from South America where my son lives with his mum.
I feel desperately sad at times. I worry a lot about my very nearly 4 year old son. From the sounds of it, he is quite depressed at times, biting his nails a lot. I am seeking a community because last night I got a quite upset email from his mum telling me that at the moment things are especially hard. My son had his last day at nursery this week – another loss for him.
I make some kind of contact with him every day, either through Skype, telephone or by sending a little email with some pictures. I find these things help me, and sometimes my son seems to like them too. Sometimes I think Skype frustrates him a lot. While reading a picture book to him the other day he said to me ‘you can’t read it properly when you’re not here’.
Generally I find reading and books to be a good way of connecting. I try to make our Skype sessions fun, if that seems to be the vibe, to get us laughing and playing like we do when we’re together. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and even though I feel sad when it doesn’t I always tell my boy that it’s ok that he didn’t feel like talking today, and that we’ll connect again soon.
The biggest challenge of long distance parenting is that it simply is not the same as real physical contact. I used to play rough and tumble, rolling in the park, kicking a ball to each other, touching the pages of a book together, running around with my son on my shoulders and back…all this tactile contact which was so wonderful and is not possible. The connection sometimes falters and we can’t hear each other well. Skype is fantastic, and makes things so much easier than if it didn’t exist, but it is no replacement for real physical contact, especially with a young child.
In my visitation rights, I get to Skype him five times a week. Luckily, his mum knows what an important bond we have and is very co-operative about organising it, as is his grandmother who sometimes looks after him.
My son was 3 and three quarters when I left for England. I really think this is not an ideal age, but what age is? He came with me to the airport, saw me crying and asked ‘why are you crying dad?’ I don’t think a three year old can understand what it means to be gone for a long time, and I think it must be very anxiety provoking for him.
One idea I had that I really like was to make a photo album before I left. I made two identical albums, one for me and one for my son. It was full of photos of us together, from him as a baby til the moment I left. There are many blank pages at the back and I told him that we’d put more photos in it when we’re together in the future. I look at it when I’m feeling sad, or missing him. Usually it makes me cry, a deep painful cry, but afterwards I feel better.
The challenges of being a long distant parent are obvious. The only solution that I have is to send and feel great love for your child (and hopefully his other parent and family too) and send it in any way you can – letters, emails, Skype sessions, and then the visits when they happen. One will always be faced with great hardships in the long distance situation– guilt, loneliness, feeling left out, feeling replaced, worrying about being forgotten, driven out , etc. These feelings can be close to unbearable at times. Denying the pain and suffering is not realistic, it needs to be acknowledged and embraced. If your child is close to your heart, the gap in physical space can melt away and become more tolerable. The only tool we have as long distance parents is love. Luckily it’s the most powerful tool in the world.