A common challenge for long distance parents is how to get others to see them as ‘a valid parent’ and how to stay a part of their child’s life. Nothing could demonstrate that more than the effort involved in getting and staying involved in a child’s school life. No one will pull you into your child’s day to day school experience. The school is overwhelmed. Your co-parent has their own stuff going on. Your child either forgets or doesn’t want to talk about it. At the end of the day, you get lost in the shuffle and ‘school’ becomes a nebulous thing that you know is happening only at a high level.
The long distance parent has to become their own best self advocate to stay involved in their child’s school. Self advocacy for a long distance parent means proactively looking for opportunities to be involved.
If you haven’t already:
- Write a letter to your child’s school clearing up any questions about custody and rights as well as requesting exactly what access and communication you would like.
- Get organized for the school year which includes getting all of the basic information about the school year down. This is critical to staying involved.
First Day of School
It has been a minute since I’ve had a first day of school and I still remember that precipice of newness, anxiety and excitement. It never changed, and odds are, your kid has it too.
Celebrate the day and help ease their anxiety by sending them a back to school care package. Talk to your co-parent about what supplies or clothes you can help with and pack those into the package. Write a card or a letter to your child and include that. Consider some small non-necessities that might just give them a smile. None of this need be super expensive, just thoughtful.
Consider calling them the morning of their first day to wish them luck. Or, if that would be too disruptive, give them a call after school to check in with them on how it went.
Back to School / Parent Nights
Often times, a school will have back to school nights, which are a parent’s chance to see the classrooms and meet the teachers. The goal of these nights is to get comfortable with what your child will be doing during the school year. This is a key place to stay involved with your child’s school. If you are not able to be in town for that, there is a work around!
Look in the parent portal for a syllabus or parent primer for their classes. Organized teachers will offer this in writing. If you don’t have any questions about the class, you can drop a quick note of introduction to the teacher. Tell them you won’t be able to meet them in person but you’re excited about the class and are available should they need you.
If the syllabus isn’t offered in the portal, drop a line to the teacher and ask if they have any handouts for parents they can send you. Sometimes they have these printed out for parent’s night. If they don’t, you can ask them for a quick summary of what kinds of stuff the kids will do this year. Combine this with your introduction to keep it tidy.
If you have questions or concerns about a class, you can always ask a teacher to chat for 15 or 30 minutes. Use sparingly – teachers don’t have a ton of time. But they are generally happy to talk about what they are doing during the year.
The same generally goes for most parent nights. Even if you can’t be there for parent night, take the opportunity to look through your child’s grades and schoolwork and flag questions for the teacher. Look in the portal for information that might answer your questions or reach out to the teacher.
Participating in School Events
Just because you are at a distance doesn’t mean you can’t participate. School events are an often overlooked place to stay involved in your child’s school for long distance parents. The assumption is events are local and I’m not. So.
But often times, an event can use some extra cash and if you have means, that’s an easy way to participate. Sometimes an event might need something like 500 paper flowers folded. That’s something you can do anywhere and ship to them. You may have to get creative, or there may be opportunities that jump out to you.
You may even be able to coordinate your visitation around a school event. This would take some pre-planning and beginning of the school year organization. It could be pretty epic to be there for a parent-child school event though.
Field trips are a great opportunity to participate with your co-parent and child. If you have the means, offer to pay for part or all of the field trip. This will be borderline heroic to your co-parent. Ask your child to take pictures, if they have a phone. Send them fun stuff to try or cool facts about where they are going ahead of time. Here’s a thing you know your kid is doing that you won’t have to pry out of them!
Sports and Clubs
Again, offering to pay part or all of the expenses related to extracurriculars has you coming out a hero in your co-parent’s eyes.
If your child is competitive, consider tracking their scores in an app made for their event type. You can include talking about how they did and dreaming about their future in the sport or event together in your conversations.
When they come to visit you, play together – even if you suck at it!
Every Grading Period
This is kind of the low hanging fruit to stay involved with your child’s school. Make sure to log into the portal and check your child’s grades when they come out. This gives you an important touchstone in how your child is doing. Often the teacher will include comments about how your child is doing.
If you didn’t get enough information about how your child is doing, reach out to the teacher.
If the grades aren’t great, it might not be reason to freak out. Sometimes your child had an off period or didn’t particularly like the teacher or the subject matter. But, if you see something concerning, bring it up with your co-parent first. If you are still concerned after talking to the co-parent, you can always talk to the teacher.
When Something Not Great Happens
There comes a time in every human’s life when they do something ill advised. Thus is also the case with small humans. When your kid inevitably does something that the school needs to chat about, it is also maybe not necessarily a time to freak out.
Again, talk to your co-parent first. Context is key. If that leaves you unsatisfied though, you can also call the school directly.
Be persistent to stay involved in your child’s school
Maybe most of all, repeat, repeat, repeat and insist. Sometimes no one will reach out and invite you. Often times, coaches or teachers might not think of it. Your child might forget to mention it and your co-parent assumes you’re in the loop.
Stay organized, know what’s happening when and persist. Keep inviting yourself, keep asking questions and keep participating. Insist… politely, perhaps, but insist none the less.