As the custodial parent, sometimes it’s tempting to feel like punitive consequences should be delivered to the long distance parent for a thing they did or didn’t do. However, this is rarely in the best interest of the kids, in my experience. Long distance parenting, just like regular parenting is a two person job, that takes cooperation and compassion to be successful.
Recently, in a conversation with a friend, she said, “She asked the judge if she could keep the kids from him if he didn’t pay child support”, my friend told me. I’m sure my cheeks blanched. “Personally, I don’t think he should get to see them. If he can’t pay child support, he can’t see them”, she continued.
I almost felt rage. I replied very carefully. “You’re STUPID!” haha… just kidding. I didn’t say that. I actually said something to the tune of “That would never be in the best interest of the kids. She might be mad when he doesn’t pay. It might even put her in a really tough spot financially. But the kids need both parents no matter how pissed off they are at each other.”
I was shocked to hear someone I consider a friend say something like this. In a moment, every argument I’ve ever had with my son’s father and every argument my ex husband ever had with my stepdaughter’s mother came flashing back. It’s a good thing that we have courts and judges. Sure, some judges are a pain in the rear and we might not like what they have to say sometimes – but if child support and custody cases were left up to the parents, I think keeping the kids away from the other parent would be far more popular. As would not paying child support, I’m sure.
As someone who has been on both sides of the coin… having been the long distance parent as well as the custodial parent, and as someone who was kept from my father by my mother as a child, I can safely say that the single most helpful thing you can do for your kid(s) is encourage their relationship with their long distance parent by encouraging them AND the long distance parent to stay in communication.
I might not like my son’s father very much sometimes, and we sure are fighting it out in court right now over child support, but damned if I’d be so callus as to assume, based upon my feelings about the man that my son doesn’t want or need him just as much as he wants and needs me. The time they get on the phone or over the computer is priceless for him. His dad is in his life.
In a long distance parenting situation, I would imagine that the custodial parent would be tempted to be content. They got the kids… the other parent is off somewhere and they don’t matter. Now lets move on with life without them. As long as they pay child support. I know that as a long distance parent, that was certainly the treatment that I got from my son’s father and step mother.
And while that might be comfortable because there is so much vindication in being able to act that way, that is NOT in the best interest of the child. Being a good parent means thinking about what your kid needs, not what you need or what makes you feel good. Being a good custodial parent in a long distance parenting situation means learning new skills and new ways of dealing with the other parent.
As the custodial parent, it is now your responsibility to stand up for your kids, who are not old enough to stand up for themselves yet and who, although they may not realize it now, will look back and wish they had had both parents in their lives. It is your job to make sure that happens. Yes, it takes some effort on the other side too, but contrary to what you thought might have been the case, long distance parenting is a two person job.
It’s actually quite easy. A long distance parent can very easily feel defeated and like ‘it’s no use’. That causes them to not try.. to not be vigilant. Show them that there is a use. That every little bit counts. That you will support their efforts to communicate with the kids and that you will help them MAKE every little bit count.
If the non custodial parent isn’t so great at long distance parenting, rather than raking them over the coals about being a deadbeat, help them… support them!
- Send them a book about long distance parenting.
- Email them skype tips.
- Encourage your child to call them more often.
- Encourage the parent to call, write and email the child more often.
- When something special or noteworthy happens in your child’s life, include a phone call to the long distance parent in the celebration plans.
Most people don’t KNOW how to be a parent when they have kids… let alone a long distance one. Be tolerant of that and learn to be a good custodial parent while they learn to be a long distance one.