The most common question I see long distance parents ask is ‘How do I make the decision?’. That question is usually actually two questions :
- The more emotional question of ‘if I make this decision to move away from my child, what does that mean about me as a parent’.
- The practical question of ‘how do I know which decision is right?’
Every long distance parenting situation is different, with it’s own unique intricacies. The Decision is perhaps the one thing that all long distance parents have in common.
Emotional aspects of The Decision
It’s never ideal
No one ever thinks they will be a long distance parent until it happens. Being long distance from our child isn’t how we envisioned being a parent. When we are faced with this decision, no matter how we came to it, it’s always a bit of a gut punch.
Make sure you are caring well for yourself through the process of making the decision, regardless of where you land.
Stigma of Long Distance Parenting
Part of what makes the decision so hard to make is the social stigma attached to not living with your child. We are afraid of what others will think and how they will judge us. It’s normal to fear that because we are social animals.
But social norms change. They aren’t carved in stone. In many places, in many classes, in many circumstances, living apart from a child is accepted. Even in places, classes or circumstances where it is not, there is often a past time when it was.
We believe we will be judged because of our own idea of what social norms are and our knowledge of the social norms of those around us.
So, my first piece of advice is to try to back away from ideas of what ‘normal’ is. Rebuild ‘normal’ by getting involved in long distance parenting community, and reading books about parenting and long distance parenting. Ask questions and soak up stories. Understand a new normal.
Secondly, people see what you show them. You owe no one but your child and your co-parent an explanation. People will always judge you based upon things they really have no idea about and this is just one of them. If you are sure of your decision and sure you are benefiting your child and being the best possible parent by making this decision, show that when you talk about your child.
Fear of being a bad parent
Good and bad parenting, in part, also seems to fall under the head of social norms. You may be surprised to know that the idea of a ‘good parent’ differs between people. What parents considering a move are afraid of most often, is that they are making a mistake that will adversely affect their child. They are taking a risk on an unpopular lifestyle change. What if, in hindsight, it was selfish?
Good parenting, to me, is about being loving, attentive and supportive, and raising a child into a successful adult. My experience, and that of other long distance parents with grown kids, is that is possible at a distance.
Long distance parenting is a new skill set. It will challenge you in ways living near your child will not. It’s not easy. However, it’s absolutely possible.
The Practical Part of The Decision
It is true that there is only one good reason to make this decision – and that is if the benefits outweigh the risks. However, what those risks and benefits are will differ from case to case. To make the decision to be away from your child, the first place to start is to get clear on the risks and benefits. Start by asking yourself these questions :
- Why do I feel like I need to move?
- Where I intend to go, what is there that I can’t have/do where I am?
- What else will I be leaving behind or missing if I move?
- Is it possible the move would also benefit my child?
- Would gaining the things I would gain from moving benefit my child?
Pros and Cons List
Next, make a pros and cons list. The answer to the first two questions above will populate your first few slots on your pros list. The items on your ‘pro’ list might be career and livelihood, housing, family and support, or safety related. Add the answer to #3 to your cons list. If your answer to #5 is yes, add the benefits your child will get to the pros list. If the answer is no, add that your child will not benefit to the cons list.
On the cons list, add these :
- Parenting your child and maintaining your relationship will be more difficult. You will need a new long distance parenting skill set.
- It will take time to emotionally adjust, and heartache is part of that. The initial adjustment is the hardest.
- Custody and court cases can get more complicated.
- You will need to work twice as hard to keep your relationship with your child strong and to remain a positive parenting influence in their life.
- Parenting long distance will add additional expense for travel, shipping, online subscriptions, cell phones etc.
Exhaust all of your fears, thoughts and excitements by adding them to either pros or cons. Then put it away and go about your life for a few days and don’t make any permanent decisions or changes yet.
Make the decision
After a few days have passed, look at your list again, make adjustments, if anything new has occurred to you. When you look at your list now, what feels like the right decision? Sometimes staying put can be the difficult decision, maybe even more-so than moving. The difficult decision, whichever direction yours leans, is not necessarily the wrong decision.
How to Cope With the Decision
Once you’ve made your decision, those reasons you made the decision will be the thing you come back to over and over again. Keep that pros and cons list. Although it is not always easy, practically, you can always make a different decision later. But for now, as long as your pros list won out, and your decision is firmly based upon those reasons, there is some peace in reminding yourself of that.
Once you’ve made the decision, one of the best ways to put your fears at ease is to start planning how to be an amazing parent even at a distance. Start boning up on the basic long distance parenting tools and putting a plan together that will allow you and your child to feel empowered and offer a more seamless transition.
It isn’t easy to stand up under the stigma, to learn a new parenting skill set, to learn to be at a distance from your kids and to make the decision to do all that. Find people who support you, both in your current friends and family circles, or new online friends who have dealt with what you’re experiencing. Here on the site, you’ll find comments and forum posts from many other parents who have made this decision. Read, respond or join the group!
Although this differs from situation to situation, a good place to start is a pros and cons list to weigh the risk of consequences versus reward of moving versus not moving. Include how the move will positively or negatively affect you, your child and your relationship with your child.
This is typically the process of aligning the deep emotional connection the parent has with the child with the practical constraints in the situation. I say it’s a ‘process of aligning’ rather than something as simple as a pros and cons list because it’s typically an answer that comes more slowly than the practical constraints allow time for.