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How Having a Distance Parent Affects a Child

I stopped doing my happy dance just to write this post. Finally, at long last, I found it! There is some real scientific evidence on how having a long distance parent affects a child. And it’s good news!

In 2011, I posted about the effects of long distance parenting on children. I offered anecdotal evidence to offer how it affects my son. Anecdotal evidence is fine, in some cases. In long distance parenting, it’s what we’ve had.

Each time I’d update that post, I’d do some more searching. Long distance parenting simply hasn’t been a subject of interest for researchers. The effects of divorced and absent parents are the subject of many studies. However, children with an active, long distance parent don’t fall into either of those camps cleanly.

This year, I landed on gold. I found a research paper that brought together semi-related data and one study into a cohesive conclusion. Finally, some scientific clarity on how long distance parenting affects our kids!

IZA Research Paper on how being long distance affects our kids

In 2012, Astrid Würtz Rasmussen and Leslie S. Stratton wrote a paper for the IZA Institute of Labor and Economics called How Distance to a Non-Residential Parent Relates to Child Outcomes. The IZA is a non-profit research organization affiliated with the University of Bonn.

In the paper, Rasmussen and Stratton use all of those related but different studies and pull the data together into a conclusion relevant to long distance parenting.

They say :

Similar to Kalil et. al. (2011), but contrary to popular belief, we find no evidence that children who live a greater distance from their non-residential parent experience worse outcomes.

That is to say :

In summary, our results show that policy efforts to keep separated parents geographically closer together for the sake of the children may, in fact, not be advantageous.

It’s dense with data and worth a read. Their work removed much of the bias inherent in studying families. I felt like it treated long distance parenting in a balanced way.

2009 Study on the how distance from a parent affects a child

One of the studies they used was Divorced fathers’ proximity and children’s long-run outcomes: evidence from Norwegian registry data. It was written in 2009 by Ariel Kalil et al. Another study I wasn’t familiar with. This stuff takes time to surface, I guess.

They used Norwegian population data and followed almost 16,000 kids. Of those whos parents divorced, some fathers lived at a distance. They compared outcomes between kids whose fathers lived at a distance and those that didn’t. They even got as granular as comparing outcomes between kids with fathers at differing distances and characteristics of the parents.

It’s here that I need to caveat this paper in context with this site. This website tries very hard not to veer into mothers versus fathers. That said, a father’s role in parenting has been culturally underestimated, historically. Laws have been created and modified to remove such assumptions from the US legal system. The paper refers to move away case law from California.

This study sought to explore those assumptions so it is based solely on fathers. Of course, there are mothers who are at a distance from their children as well. It was that cultural bias against fathers that the researchers were investigating though. Thus the focus on fathers.

And the study found exactly the opposite of what most folks expect. That the outcomes of children were worse when non-custodial fathers lived closer. However, first they clarified :

These findings should not be interpreted as suggesting that the quality of father’s relationships with children following divorce does not matter to child development, nor that fathers are unimportant in children’s lives.

Then they said the important part :

The findings do suggest however, that living in close proximity to a nonresident father following a divorce does not, in and of itself, promote good child outcomes.

How long distance parenting affects the child

The paper and study above affirm that simply having a long distance parent does not adversely affect a child. That there are many things that go into the success of a child and having a long distance parent is not a deal breaking circumstance. This is a great scientific touch-stone for long distance parenting.

We need more visibility and studies of the vast diversity of long distance parenting situations to better understand the specifics. I’d love to see research that includes both mothers and fathers, for instance. Or what elements of a long distance parenting relationship have the most impact on outcome. But this is a great start.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. Christina S.

    I am a mother about to embark on a long distance parenting journey and my ex husband will have the kids most of the time. I’m glad to have found this site and I can relate to the misunderstandings about the choice to move away from my children.

    1. Jenny

      Hi Christina, I am in a situation where I am highly contemplating leaving to be with my partner who’s work was transferred to another state, but I am having the hardest time fully making this decision because of my son’s age and how I think he is going to feel about me if I actually do this. How old are your children if you don’t mind me asking. How are things going? This is the first site where I have seen other moms making this decision, and I appreciate you being honest about your decison.

  2. GeeAng

    Hi i’m glad I found this place. I loved in Los Angeles and moved to Kansas city 3 years ago when I divorced my ex husband. I met a woman here and we are engaged. I moved here with her and wanted to take all three of my children to live here with me, but my two girls didn’t want to move here because understandably they have their friends there and one is a high school junior and the other one an 8th grader. My son who’s 4 came with me. Since then i’ve been good at going to visit my girls during holidays and summers even some weekends. They come here for the summer as well. I sometimes feel so guilty and feel horrible cuz they are girls abs they need their mom. We co parent great but theirs times that he makes remarks about how much my girls need me and I should move back. I don’t know what to do because my fiancé has three kids of her own and she can’t move with me to cali. besides I wouldn’t be able to afford it there because it’s too expensive. I do miss my family there and my girls so much and it does come to mind to move back, but I own a home here and I would never own one there, because it’s too expensive, mind you I don’t like the weather here but I love the cost of living. I just feel like i’m in limbo not knowing what to do. I feel so guilty and feel like my daughters hate me, which they say they don’t. We talk on facetime, text and I have them talk to their brother on the phone with his dad whenever his dad wants to. Sometimes I feel depressed because I wish I had the money to travel more or move back there. My fiancé and I wouldn’t be able to afford it there even if we moved so it’s been so hard. I will be there for their graduation and I do my part to be in contact with them. Any advice, is anyone been in this situation, as a mother I feel like i’m a bad mom.

  3. Liza

    I’ve been looking at research on this.. I moved with my then 12 yr old to a different city to his dad( not that far 10 miles) He would visit his dad at wkends.. He’s now 28 & says it was difficult at that age.. I’m now contemplating moving back to that city and visiting my now 13 yr old regularly 3/4 times a wk. His dad would put up a massive fight to not let him move & his friends are here.. My parents split my dad moved to another town , and I was much more secure staying in same house , not going between two.. My dad just visited for the day , but obv all not too far from one another .. As a mother it’s a very hard decision , whether to stay in a financially abusive relationship , for the child or to get out. I have same issue as couldn’t afford to stay in separate flat & Will Ned to fight for my rights financially.. For now I want security for my son., For now I’m in a separate room of same house.. It’s v tricky.. as I may have to wait 3-5 yrs before can move , until son is 16-18..

    1. Carrie

      It is always a really really difficult decision to make. In general, if parents aren’t set up for success, we are limited in what we can provide for our kids. In many cases, the support we can provide a child in a more ideal circumstance but at a distance is better than what we can provide while living near them in a less advantageous circumstance. But that decision and the pros and cons of it is always uniquely personal to the people involved and the situations they are in. This post talks a little more about that :

      It was really great to find this paper that collated other research in a way that is meaningful to long distance parenting. But of course, research is only as good as the sample and the biases involved and an individual case may not conform with the statistics. Each parent and child and situation are different. Best of luck in your journey.

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