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 and Job related Traveling
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 military.org 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.
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.
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.
Long distance parenting is using relationship tools and techniques to effectively parent at a distance.