Parenting is challenging for anyone and that challenge is compounded when long distance parenting is part of the family dynamic. It is possible to have a healthy relationship with a child even if you must be far away. These 4 ways to stay connected long distance focus on maximizing your time together, even while apart.
When you are a long distance parent, you don’t have 24 hours a day 7 days a week with your child. You have phone calls or video chats or days and weeks together at a time. At the end of the day, you want your child to see you as a support and a person they can lean on.
1. Consistency is Key in Staying Connected
One of the issues facing children who have a parent that is at a distance is that the parent can’t be seen and touched at the moment that it occurs to the child. Kids can have a hard time just ‘knowing’ that someone they can’t see and touch is accessible to them, depending upon what age they are.
Being consistent with a communication and visitation schedule can help build trust in the child that even if they cannot see or touch the parent right now, the parent is there and will be there. They can count on that parent being there, like clockwork.
Further, and more to the long game, keep showing up. Always. Consistently. Sometimes, it’s hard, with life things going on, disagreements with your co-parent, or having a hard time connecting with your child. It can feel like “what’s the use”. I have, in fact, seen that sentiment often among long distance parents that are having a rough patch.
Keep in mind that even when a parent is the custodial parent and in physical space with a child, the child doesn’t always want to engage. Further, sometimes, like maybe ALL OF THE TEENAGE YEARS, those periods might be extended periods of time. Just because a child doesn’t want to engage once or repeatedly is not license to give up. Keep showing up, always, consistently.
2. Positivity, Authenticity and Enthusiasm in Long Distance Parenting
You get limited time with your child so show up to it authentically, enthusiastically and with a positive mindset. During that time, the only focus is your child and your relationship with your child.
The biggest down side of long distance parenting is not being able to be there for the tears and the laughter that a child goes through on a daily basis. It can be a bummer and sometimes it’s easy to get stuck there. No one looks forward to meetings in which every time they attend, it’s a downer. Spoiler alert : neither do kids. In your time together, focus on the things you want to spend your limited time on rather than difficult things you can hash through without your child’s participation.
No matter their age, ask them questions about their life, the things they are involved in. Listen to them in a way that makes it clear you are listening. Never assume you know what’s going on because you’ve talked to your co-parent or your child’s teacher.
When not so great things happen that you need to talk about either in their life or yours, be real about it. Use language they understand wherever they are age-wise but be honest about what is going on. Model how to talk about difficult things and respect their ability to understand and ask their own questions.
Don’t forget to share about your life too! If you were living with them, they would know what your work is like, what your home is like, and what you do on your free time. You don’t live together though so even though you might not usually talk about that sort of thing on a phone call, share those details with them.
3. Incorporate Technology to Bridge the Distance
One great advantage to being a long distance parent in today‚Äôs world is that video chat is darn near ubiquitous and there are SO MANY apps that allow for easy communication.
Though it is great to be able to talk and hear each other’s voice over the phone, video chatting is just a screen away these days on almost every device. It’s not as good as being in person but it’s just a hop skip and a jump away.
Text messaging, even if sparse and full of emojis is still a way of staying connected long distance. When I get misspelled ridiculous texts from my young nephew, I still know he’s on the other end with his fingers on the keyboard. When my son gets a text from me, he still knows I was thinking of him, even if he never responds, as older kids are wont to do.
Try games that you can play together at a distance. Game consoles have multiplayer games, as do phones. Some phone games you can play together in your own time, rather than real time, making it a fun ongoing thing in the background.
4. Don’t forget snail mail
So much is done electronically now, that we often forget about good old snail mail. The feel of touching something that someone else put time and effort into writing or creating. It is a great feeling to get a care package or even a card in the mail! Make good use of your mail kit, and regularly send your child cards, letters and postcards.
Encourage your child to send you letters, artwork or even schoolwork. Consider sending them their own mail kit so that they have what they need to do it on their own.
I sometimes order things for my son and have them shipped to him directly. He’s older now so it’s mostly stuff for his apartment but it could just as easily be a toy or a game. When he was little, I kept stashes of little toys and games and sent them periodically.
Staying Connected Long Distance
At the end of the day, the right approach to long distance parenting is different for everyone as no two situations are the same. You will always know your child best and thus you can make your interactions with your child ones that meet their emotional needs and make both you and your child feel connected, and in tune with one another. Regardless of how you go about it, staying connected as a long distance parent is the single most important thing you can do.
4 ways to Stay Connected Long Distance, as a parent
- Be Consistent
Keep a consistent visitation and call schedule if possible. But long term, consistently show up, always. Relentlessly.
- Stay Positive, Authentic and Enthusiastic
Even when not so great things are happening, spend your limited time with your child on the things you want to spend it on. Show up for that time as if nothing else in the world is happening. Share openly, honestly and authentically and show enthusiasm for your time together.
- Incorporate Technology
Use consoles, computers and phones to stay in touch face to face, via text or to play games together.
- Don’t forget snail mail
Use your mail kit frequently to send your child letters, cards and packages and encourage your child to mail you things too!