This is a common question from new long distance parents. How do I talk to my child about moving away? There is no one size fits all answer or conversation template but these steps should get you moving in the right direction.
Plan Your Conversation
First, make a list with three columns : the positives, negatives and remedies. For each negative, write something in the remedies column… a few things that you can make it a little better. The remedies will NOT completely solve every negative but they will go a long way towards making it better – so do make sure there is a remedy for each and every negative. Try to get past the very basic ‘more time with dad, less time with mom’ aspect.
Next up, put together a plan for how you will stay involved in the child’s school, support the other parent on discipline and school issues, support the child in events or even financially. Go crazy researching long distance parenting ideas. Research internet visitation, letter writing kits, family plan cell phones, things to do together online like neopets or club penguin, scavenger hunts that can be done in his location or online. Enroll in frequent flyer programs, and explore webcam or video chat app options.
Consider you child’s age and how they communicate best. Are they visual or do they prefer verbal communication? How can you express this in a way that works best for them? There are some great children’s books available about moving.
And finally, consider some of the questions they might ask like : Why are you moving away? Will I still see you? When will I see you? Where are you going? Other questions might depend upon their age and understanding or your personal circumstances.
Get Your Co-Parent On Board
The other party in all of this is your co-parent. Although not all co-parents are cooperative, it is imperative that you take the initiative to make it as constructive as possible. When you have your ducks in a row, before you talk to your child, talk to your co-parent.
To prepare for that conversation, put together a statement of intent for how you would like to see the two of you work together. What is your vision for how you will co-parent? What would you like your co-parenting relationship to be like?
And finally, have the conversation with your co-parent. Talk to them about what kind of co-parenting relationship you hope to have and explain that you’d like to take a positive approach in explaining this to your child(ren). Most of all, listen. Your co-parent might not have had the benefit of planning for this conversation so they might speak off the cuff about their fears or feelings. Hear them out. If you’ve considered those fears and feelings, offer ideas or suggestions for how you might move forward consciously and cooperatively.
Many co-parents of long distance parents feel abandoned in parenting. Do your best to make sure that the other parent doesn’t feel abandoned and they will be less likely to pass that idea on to your child through their actions, moods and other non-verbal communication.
Kids are smart and they read more between the lines than they actually listen to the lines themselves. If you’ve decided to move, you HAVE to be able to see it as a positive yourself or you are not going to be able to convince your child to see the positives. If you see it as a horrible thing, your child will pick up on that and see it as a horrible thing, no matter what comes out of your mouth or how real your fake smile seems. So don’t have the conversation with your kids until you have your game face on, completely.
Talk to your child together, with your co-parent, if possible. If not, go it alone – you’ll be fine! Show your child the fun sides and the positives and your commitment to making it work. Be honest about the down sides. Don’t hide them – and seek out questions and feedback from your child. Your child needs to know that s/he can talk about the bad stuff without being shoo-shooed. End the conversation on high note, and shower your child with all of the reassurance you can.
If you are a total team cheerleader on behalf your child AND the other parent, YOU can make it work.