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What Long Distance Parenting Is and Is Not

There are many misconceptions about what long distance parenting is and is not. Some of the stigma around long distance parenting comes from these misconceptions. Although there is a ton of information on the site about long distance parenting, I realized it might be good to back up and talk about what a long distance parent is (or is not).

What a Long Distance Parent Is

I have had the pleasure of being involved in long distance parenting community for over 15 years, and of course, have been a long distance parent myself. The parents I interact with in the long distance parenting communities all have unique stories. Some have very cooperative co-parenting situations and some have much less cooperative or even hostile co-parenting situations. Some are legally divorced or separated, some are not – or have never been married. Some are separated by cities or states – some are separated from their children by oceans and countries.

There is no cookie cutter ‘long distance parenting’ relationship. But the thing they have in common is that they all look for ways to bridge the distance between parent and child despite, what can often be, difficult circumstances.

Custodial Parent Move-Away

If a custodial parent moves away, it is hopefully with the blessing of the court – and courts don’t generally make the decision to allow a move away by the custodial parent very lightly.

Of course it also happens that custodial parents relocate out of spite or some other reason that is less than critical, away from the noncustodial parent. Although it wasn’t always the case, current laws go a great distance to protect parents and children from what amounts to parental kidnapping or parental abduction. If you’d like to better understand what parental kidnapping looks like in contrast to long distance parenting, here’s my story.

Non Custodial Parent Move-Away

This is probably the scenario that comes to mind for most people. The non-custodial parent moves away, becoming a long distance parent. The question I hear most from people who don’t understand this scenario is ‘What could be so important to move away from your kids?’.

I’ve never encountered a situation in which the long distance parent told me “I want to be away from my children, so I’m going to move.” Usually very basic life needs are at issue – like job, family, healing, recovery and rehabilitation or the desire to succeed past what is available in a given area. Long distance parents who relocate away from their children usually have a pressing need to improve their life in some way, with the end desire of making something better for their kids.

Military members are required to be away from home for months and years at a time. Luckily, the military and the surrounding communities provide resources and support for military families separated by distance but individual families often have to find techniques that work for them and the individual circumstances of the deployed military member to keep contact between the kids and their long distance mom or dad strong. In fact, here is a great page on on the subject.

Some non-military jobs require travelling and working abroad. While a particular job is ultimately optional, sometimes the alternatives to doing the job, staying with the company or travelling on the business trip are grim. Or sometimes the rewards of doing the work are good enough to make it an attractive option.

Even if they aren’t legally divorced or separated, military parents and parents who work away from home are still long distance parents and still have the same fundamental issue which is how to maintain a relationship with their child while they are apart.

What a Long Distance Parent Is Not

Every time a long distance parent explains their situation anew to a coworker, friend or family member, they brace for the assumptions that follow. Those assumptions are generally abandonment and being a dead beat mom or dad. These assumptions, unexamined, create a stigma around long distance parenting.

Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but if we’re using the definition that a long distance parent is someone who is separate from their child by distance but looks for ways to maintain a relationship and bridge the distance between themselves and their child, long distance parents are not to following things.

Long Distance Parents did not Abandon Their Kid(s)

Legally, abandonment, within the scope of child abandonment, means relinquishing one’s rights to the child with no intent of resuming or reasserting those rights. Long distance parents – parents who would use this site or look for ways to keep the relationship with their kids strong, are not abandoning their children legally.

Emotional abandonment, psychologically, is when a partner in a relationship (a parent, a lover, a spouse or otherwise) does not participate in safeguarding one’s emotional needs of being valued, nurtured and loved. To the contrary, most long distance parents have made very difficult decisions to do what’s best in the long run for their kids (or their country, in the case of military members) and go to great lengths to make sure that their kids know that they are valued and loved.

Although kids are not necessarily capable of understanding the big picture when they are little, part of the long distance parenting skillset is continuing to communicate with their kids about being apart from one another, in a way that the child can understand, as often as necessary.

Long Distance Parents are not Dead Beat Parents

There is no official definition of a dead beat dad or a dead beat mom – but in our culture, a dead beat parent is generally understood to be a parent who might exercise their parental rights to some degree but does not participate in supporting or raising their children.

Although, again, dead beat moms and dads do exist, lumping long distance parents – parents who are at a distance from their children and who support and maintain positive relationships with their children – in with parents who do not support or maintain positive relationships with their kid(s) is also mistaken.

Unwarranted Stigma

Child abandonment does happen and dead beat parents do exist. But long distance parenting is neither of these. Long distance parents go great lengths to stay involved in their child’s life and to actively parent their children.

Parenting is hard and it’s full of tough decisions from birth and even past the time that the kid(s) are adults. The decision to be at a distance from a child is a valid and sometimes necessary option and is one of the toughest decisions to make. Long distance parents are not deadbeats or abandoning their kids. In fact, the decision to be apart from a child is just the first step of a difficult road. Long distance parents work hard to be great parents.

What is a long distance parent?

A long distance parent is any parent who is not living in the same physical area as their child.   It’s not a single scenario but a variety of situations that could cause a parent to be at a distance from their child(ren) and a number of ways that the situations evolve. It’s not a single scenario but a variety of situations that could cause a parent to be at a distance from their child(ren) and a number of ways that the situations evolve.

What is long distance parenting?

Long distance parenting is using relationship tools and techniques to effectively parent at a distance.

This Post Has 137 Comments

  1. Timothy jason Dawson

    Hello, I have a 9 year old son, I left the state when he was 7, I had to get a job in Florida he lives in Arizona, I talk to him every night, I ask him how his day was?, what he ate?, what he learned in school?, What his favorite part of the day, what was his least part of the day? I get him during Summer break and we have a blast, it still kills me to not being him with everyday, his mom (my ex) makes it worse, sometimes she has him call me 15 minutes before he has to go to bed and tells me hi and bye, I pay child support and I send him money every paycheck, my son is my life.

    1. Kaj

      I’m in the throws of going through the same thing here. My ex is insisting she needs to move out of state to be with her family and take my 11yr old daughter with her. I’m at a loss for what to do. Ex says she can’t live in CA with what she makes and with no support (she’s a loner of sorts). Am I stupid or a bad father for even considering letting her move away with my daughter? Ugh…

    2. BlackMan

      Dear Jason, You are good father. Your son should be lucky to have you.
      Life is not easy and fair for some people. May the god give you the strength and to find happiness.
      I hope your son will understand about your hardship at some point of life. That matters.
      Wishing you all the best..
      – BlackMan

  2. heartbell

    I have a very different situation as my x is a covert narcissist. When He moved, he sent me an email detailing all supposedly drama that he was dealing with at his job in my state, therefore, he took a transfer out of state. I really do not believe this is the reason – they were starting to learn how to drive and I was the sole person to help him no doubt. Considering all of the struggles I had mostly because of him lieing about what 40% is on his pay and also being conned by him before and after the D, I can’t understand why someone would think it’s ok to transfer out of state. BTW, he lived at his mother’s paid off house and I rented because my house sold under a short sale before my bankruptcy due to him.

  3. Rachel Lundy

    I am glad I have found this. I have been struggling alot here lately about my relationship with my son. It has been almost 2 years and all want is for him to know that I still love him so very much and thati didn’t leave because of him. The last year I have been in recovery and still facing multiple court dates. I have miissed 9n basketball and football games. Now he us strating baseball. I hate that i miss it. He is also having trouble in school and i dont know how to help. I wish i could be there for him so bably but i cant. Not right now and i hope he comes to understand all this .

  4. msgs

    I may be a long distant parent by no fault of my own. My ex-husband moved across country 4 years ago. We had been divorced about 6 months. He had never taken full advantage of his parenting time before he moved and didn’t after he moved. He is down to seeing her once a year.
    I have done most of the parenting while we were married and all of it since he moved. My daughter is adopted and I begged him not to move. I knew it would have lasting ramifications. Well now she is 16 and she took his leaving hard. She has recently struggled with being adopted, abandonment, anxiety. She wants to move in with him thinking this will fix her problems. That his leaving messed her up so she feels she needs to live there to fix herself. I have encouraged them to facetime, call each other and for her father to use all the parenting time he has.But he doesnt. Forfeits the summer, spring break and Thanksgiving.
    So now I am not going to be able to see her, watch her finish high school and I am hurt, sad, scared, angry and worry how her not seeing me will affect her. I will let her go if she really really decides to but it is a gut wrenching situation. I didn’t have a child to not raise her. When we divorced… he was abussive and a cheater… never did I think he would move so far away.
    Her dad and her new wife have no kids and have never had her very long. I am afraid she won’t like their strict and controlling ways and they are very selfish and kids take time and money… they won’t want to devote to her. Any experience with this? Grass is greener? Will she come back?

    1. Carrie

      She might… she might not. At 16, they are basically making their own decisions, sometimes in spite of their parents. It sounds like she will have a lot to sort through in her life and she might come into and out of wanting closer or more distant relationships with either or both of you. I can relate very strongly to that, although my own history is a little different than hers. What I know is that kids always figure out the truth – so if the truth is that you love her and want the best for her, keep supporting her and loving her, even when, in her teenage haze, it seems like she isn’t hearing you. And if the truth is that her dad is controlling and abusive, she will see that too, eventually. It is really hard going through the teen years when they are pulling away and becoming independent and harder still when there is another parent at a distance that they can go to. Keep showing her you love her and cross your fingers that you’ve done a great job parenting her. What you’ve taught her will stick.

  5. Christie Morris

    I’m sure glad to see I am not alone. My ex husband and I divorced in 2013. He took everything. The house, the kids and the money. Sadly I turned to alcohol to cope and ended up losing custody of my 2 girls. I went to rehab in 2016 and the biggest thing they stress is change your people, places and things. I had lost my job to to my alcohol abuse. When I got out of rehab I went back to my apartment and back to the same people. I relapsed for about 2 months and got evicted again. At that point I had nothing. My ex landlord would not let me get my stuff. So I put my tail between my legs and moved 3 hours away to my moms. Best decision I made for myself. I have been sober for 3 years now, own a home here and have a great job. I drive down every other Friday to get my girls. A total of 6.5 hours. Lately my 17 year old keeps making plans on my weekend and her Dad doesn’t side with me and tell her she has to come here. I just texted her and said do you work next Friday? She said I work all weekend so I don’t think I’m coming with you. Every time I call her out she says it’s not my fault you moved there. But mind you she never works on her dads weekends. I’m at my wits end with her. I gave her a credit card to use. She abuses it. I told her You cancel on me every time but you’ll come to Florida with me in August. Her response was cancel my ticket. I don’t know what to do anymore. Any advice?

  6. Roxasia

    I met my fiancé online and moved from MI to be with him in AR. We have been together for 3 years and I love him very much. I have been very depressed though because I miss my family terribly in MI and I hate being here in AR. My fiancé has a 4 year old daughter from a previous relationship and I recently told him how much I miss my family and how much I want to move back with him. I asked him to come with me and he asked for time in making this very tough decision to possibly leave his child to be with me. Was it the right decision to ask him to move with me? If he makes either decision ( to break off the engagement to stay with his daughter or to move with me away from her), will he resent me or her? His daughter is his life and I made the sacrifice to live away from my family to further this relationship, but I am extremely close with my family and they need me. Should I make the decision for him to take the stress from this decision away from him and just leave? My fiancé thinks a lot of the stereotypes about parents leaving their kids because his father left him and he was abandoned very young (was not in his life to any degree) and I told him he’s nothing like his father and I know he would call his daughter, see his daughter very often, but he still feels like it’s abandonment or makes him a deadbeat dad. I know I’m not a long distance parent but I thought I would post my recent dilemma to get some insight in other parents. Be honest and let me know; am I a horrible person to ask this of a parent?

  7. Brandon

    I was just looking this up because ive been torn on what to do. Im 27 currently in IL work union contruction but always wanted to leave this state and do something better this state is the worst. I now have a 3.5 year old boy with a women thats a great mom but is one of the most toxic narcissistic person ive ever been around…. saying that we have obviously split and i want to still continue my pursuit to happiness and success and go down to texas where i planned on going to a prestige welding academy and starting my own private pipeline company. Just curious how hard it is being gone and if its the right thing to do having a boy and him being so young i dont want him to think i left him. Knowing her she will fill his head just looking for thoughts.

  8. hurtingaway

    I am really glad I read up on this. There is like one member of my family that makes me feel really bad for moving away across the country. My current boyfriend moved back home and we talked about what would be best because my hometown had nothing to offer us. At first I talked with my ex about our son living with me and that is what was gonna happen but he changed his mind right before. we sat down and both came up with an agreement that he would live there and visit with me in the summer. I pay for our son’s phone and playstation bill so that I can talk to him and play games with him. i make sure he has new clothes for school. this is the first year we have done this and flying him back was a very hard thing to do. but I call him every single day and I try my best to stay involved in the activities he is doing. I need to get my license and a better job than I had. we are trying to buy a house so my son has a stable environment as well when he is here. he made friends and we took him places. It makes me feel better knowing that trying for your children is better than staying put ina place that can not offer you guys a better life. I have made some progress since I have moved and I hope that eventually when our son is old enough, his father will let him move here instead. me and his father have had our fights but we really have worked together and we coparent very very well now. he keeps me up to date on what’s going on there as I do when he was here. I hope my plans to succeed here actually turn out good so I can give him a great life. but I cry all the time and it definitely hurts when I cant hug and kiss him. no decent parent wants to make those hard decisions but if you are actually trying to better your child’s life, they will understand later and be grateful.

  9. SadinDE

    My husband and I, along with our six year old son, were due to move 6.5 hours north where I grew up. We wanted to have a support system and I’ve always wanted to get back home after sticking it out in a state I didn’t like for 10 years. Also, my parent’s health concerns me, and my dad almost died last year. My mom has MS and is handicap. If something happened to my father, my mom would have to go in a home. She cannot leave NY, as her health benefits are only applicable in New York State. One infusion cost $30k so it’s not feasible to move.

    My husband initiated the move. Applied for and accepted a job, called the realtor to list our house. Then, suddenly, two weeks prior to moving, he has changed his mind, said he hasn’t been happy for years and he refuses to move, indicating that if I still choose to, I cannot take my son. Rent here is astronomical and I cannot afford a house in a good area. Our house is listing soon and I have no place to go. If I go home, I have my parent’s home and a support system. But I literally cannot be without my son. My son wants to go with me. I have been the caretaker of him his whole life. My husband very rarely does any parental duties, nor pays for anything (food, clothes, school supplies, extra curriculars etc). He is not able to support remote schooling should his in-person education shuts down again due to COVID. When school shut down earlier in the year, he was off for two weeks, and slept in until noon everyday as I tried to manage working from home (on meetings and calls constantly, and teaching my son). He offered no help. He has no relationship with his parents (the only ones that love remotely close to us) and a very rocky relationship with his 16 year old daughter (we’ve seen her 2x this entire year). He severs relationships with those that love him. I don’t want to take my son away from his father-it literally sickens me to think that I may have to, but I don’t want to live completely alone, in a state I hate, with 50% custody and no support. I planned on fighting for sole custody but from reading other’s posts, it sounds like that never pans out, so I’m devastated. My work is fully remote now, so I have no interaction with people. My only friend just moved away. I know that I will not be in the best state of mind here and I’m afraid it will impact the kind of mother I am. My son only wants to be outside-riding his dirtbike, climbing trees, playing with his “habitat”. If I move to an apartment, none of that is feasible any longer, which breaks my heart. My parents home, which I could afford to buy (they are moving), is on 2 acres and has trails behind it, a pool, a great school system (right now he’s in private school that I’m not sure I can continue paying once we divorce). My sons entire life will be changed. I’ve tried to plead with my husband to make some sort of agreement but he refuses, so it will be a battle. I could leave before he files custodial paperwork but literally feel like the worst person ever doing so. I know if my husband did that to me, I would die. I’m at a loss and am so sad.

  10. Hurting mom

    I have been searching for over a year to find a support group as I found myself a distance parent last year. My situation is very complicated, I divorced 4 years ago. I was awarded the primary custodian of our 4 children, with my x husband receiving 1 day a week and every other weekend visitation. Per our divorce decree I would need to sell or refinance (solely in my name) the newly built family home last year. Obviously, COVID-19 hit and I took a nosedive in my business as a salon and boutique owner. My employees quit and I was stuck with monthly businesses debts, no income for 2 months aside from receiving just $193 a week to support 4 children. Needless to say without the help of my current husband being able to refinance the house with me I would have to move. The small midwest town where I’d raised my children was all but a ghost town, 1/2 fast food restaurants closed, the heavily dependant coal mining fields were shutting down laying 100’s of people off. I knew if I wanted to keep being the independent strong woman I’d grown into after my divorce I would have to move.

    My husband and I found an opportunity in a beachside island in Florida where we could advance in our careers. He’s an engineer and received several insane job offers. The average income in our new place would be 66% higher than where we were from. So, I asked my x to mediate a new arrangement as he’s never asked for more time with the children and had suffered from prescription drug and alcohol abuse over the last several years (especially alcohol and jail time within the last 9 months prior to the intent to relocate) He refused to come to any agreement, he wanted me to take care of the kids in his home town regardless of how it affected me and the children financially. I put in my intent to relocate fully believing the move just justified, I’d never kept my children from their father, my intention was purely being able to remain financially stable.

    Boy was I in for the shock of my life. The judge denied my intent to relocate and kept me the primary custodian. Keep in mind, I had to walk away from my business and sell my home. What a TOUGH ASS PLACE TO BE, on top of it all my husband lost his job. There was no other option for us but to move to where opportunities were, not only for us but our children as well. Well testified and documented were all the opportunities the kids would have in this new place. The kids wanted to move, they even told the judge in-depth why. All of this aside she ended her ruling with “If he lets you move with the kids I have no problem with that” What this judge didn’t realize was she was dealing with a man that thrives on control. I plead with him to allow our children to live with whomever they wanted 17,12,13 & 9. To no eval I had to send them back after summer last year, it was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever done. I appealed her ruling and won a 1 part prong of a 2 part prong test. Her ruling was based on legitimacy, the court of appeals ruled that my move was legitimate and in good faith (this process took 10 months to determine) During this time I had been flying every other week away from my husband to be with my kids. This puts not only an emotional, physical and financial strain on us as a couple but, for the kids as well. They love my husband dearly, he’s been a huge influence on their lives. They only get to see him on holidays and 1/2 the summer. The kids openly talk about their father calling us names in his home, claiming abusive accusations that are baseless against my husband, and endlessly trying to thwart communication between us.

    The court of appeals still has jurisdiction on my case, so I’m still stuck in limbo. It’s a NIGHTMARE to be controlled by not only my x but by the system. My attorneys have tried to mediate with his side once again after the decision of the court of appeals… still refusal. We’ll be going back to court, it’s now his turn to prove it’s in the best interest of the kids to remain with him (although the judge knew I was moving and kept me the primary caregiver)

    I guess what I’m trying to say is I love my kids very much, this has been incredibly hard on everyone involved
    and at some point, I hope we get some peace. I never thought I’d ended up a distance parent, it’s truly the hardest part of life and I hope I’m doing the right thing.

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