Divorce presents families with many challenges, and long-distance parenting is one of the most difficult to cope with for both parents and children. It’s never easy for children to be separated from their parents, whether it’s because of a brief business trip or a move across the country due to a job or personal reason. Likewise, many parents miss their kids when they don’t see them on a weekly basis.
After divorce, it’s crucial for parents to make the utmost effort to keep in touch with their children when they live in a different state or country. Parents need to make the additional effort because children often experience loyalty conflicts that may make it hard for them to reach out to their non-custodial parent. They may feel stuck in the middle between their parents – especially if their mom and dad don’t get along.
It’s also normal for children and young adults whose parents have separated or divorced to experience feelings of loss and rejection when one of their parents moves away. Likewise, children raised by a stepparent may experience some of these same emotions if they are close to their stepparent and they move out or lose contact with them after divorce.
One 17-year-old posted this message on my blog: “Can I have a good relationship with my dad from a 300-mile distance?” Another teenager asked: “Is it possible for me to stay close to my mom now that she lives half-way across the country?” Inherent in both of these questions is the child-of-divorce’s desire to maintain a loving connection with his or her parent.
While it’s probably more common for fathers to live at a distance from their children after a divorce or breakup, some mothers may need to move due to career or personal reasons and may be separated from their children at times. Consequently, the following long-distance parenting tips were written in a gender-neutral manner.
6 Ways to Make and Keep a Connection While Long-Distance Parenting
1. Email or mail your child or teenager funny or interesting postcards once a month.
If you have more than one child, some group cards are acceptable. Make sure to make the messages positive, such as “I can’t wait until our visit next month!” or “Good luck on your spelling test.”
2. Call your child at various times.
While it’s a good idea to have a regular time to call your child, spontaneous phone calls can be a nice surprise and help your child know that you are thinking of him/her.
3. Be creative and use text, Skype or other video chat, e-mail, and Instagram in addition to regular phone calls.
Be sure to send photos and ask questions about their week, such as: “How was the sleepover at Shana’s house?”
4. Get acquainted with your children’s friends and try to include one or more “BFFs” on vacations and outings.
Meeting the parents of your children’s friends can be a big plus because they will feel more comfortable if you invite them on a weekend excursion such as a camping trip or a stay at a hotel.
5. Show that you are attuned to your child’s interests and engage in small talk about them.
Research on-line and in-person ways to engage with him or her about their favorite sports, hobbies, and other special interests.
6. Spend quality time with your children when they visit.
If you have a new partner in your life, don’t introduce them unless you’re fairly sure it’s a permanent relationship.
Don’t Let Guilt Get in Your Way
It often comes down to a matter of quantity versus quality time when you’re parenting after divorce. Try not to let guilt get in the way and make the best of the situation by focusing on the quality of contact and not the amount of time you are together.
In the years to come, your adult child won’t remember the exact hours you spend with him or her, but they’ll remember the love, care, and concern you showed them. So be sure to make the most of the time you have when you’re with your kids and make those moments count.
What About Introducing Your Child to a New Partner?
One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is introducing their children to a new love-interest too soon after divorce. Be sure to have special time with your children, apart from your new partner, and give them time to adjust to the divorce before you introduce them to your love interest. This is especially important for long-distance parents who have less time with their kids.
Your child or teenager may show interest in your new partner – girls particularly tend to do this – but later feel rejected if they believe they are missing out on quality time with you. What’s the hurry? There’s no such thing as an instant family, and healing takes place over the course of many years.
It’s great if you meet someone you care about, but hopefully you’ll wait to introduce them to your child once the relationship seems permanent. It’s important to assure your kids that your new partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them.
Experts agree that most young children find their parents’ dating behaviors confusing after divorce – they may even feel threatened or resentful about having to share their parent with another person. So tread lightly and consult a counselor or divorce coach if you need more in-depth information about how to help your young child to feel more secure.
If you have a new partner, adopt realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of him/her. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm.
When you see your children, be sure to focus on your relationship and develop new rituals and traditions – such as movie nights – that can help to solidify your bond.
It’s normal to miss your children when you don’t see them every day, and letting them know this can be healing. On the other hand, if you stay connected with their kids after divorce, you need not be overwhelmed with guilt or self-blame. It’s best to focus on things you can control such as maintaining regular communication and staying tuned into their interests and passions.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter, Facebook, and movingpastdivorce.com. Terry and her daughter are co-authors of of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-Lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).