Is long-distance parenting making you feel like a guest in your child’s life?
The most common challenge for a physically distant parent is to keep track of what is happening in their kid’s life. It may feel unfair to miss so many important moments, but it shouldn’t define your relationship with your child(ren).
Even if you’re not physically present, you can employ plenty of activities and interactions to enhance the communication that will help you connect with your child emotionally. Maintaining this kind of bond requires smart timing decisions, effort, and sacrifice, but it’s not impossible.
To help you find the right direction, we’ll talk about the challenges of distant parenting and how to cope with them.
Long-Distance Parenting Effects on a Child
You might often hear that frequent contact with both parents contributes to a child’s emotional well-being. For this reason, parents who live far away from their kids due to work or divorce feel guilty and concerned about how their absence will affect their child(ren).
A 2012 survey confirmed that long-distance itself has no significant effect on a child’s behavior or education. Surprisingly, some children even performed better at school. It was probably the result of less conflict and friction between the parents that may have had a positive effect on a child’s emotional health.
Thus, contrary to popular belief, the parent’s physical absence doesn’t harm a child as much as infrequent communication.
You need to remember that the child will grow up healthy and happy if they receive your support and care. And it doesn’t matter if you’re supporting them from afar as long as the interaction is consistent.
What Long-Distance Parenting Activities Can You Try?
Naturally, the variety of activities is somewhat smaller when you can’t physically be together with your child(ren). But don’t get frustrated just yet. You still have many options of fun stuff you can do.
But before you start planning bonding sessions together, consider your child’s age and don’t expect them to engage in every activity with enthusiasm.
For example, a toddler won’t likely sit for a long time in front of a screen or retell you their day because they’re not good communicators just yet.
So, what are some options to improve long-distance parenting?
- Scheduled and frequent contact with your kid using video conferences, phone calls, and visiting in person as often as you can.
- Sending gifts, cards, balloons, etc., on important events if you can’t be there physically.
- Playing games together via the internet when speaking online, e.g., puzzles or video games if they’re age-appropriate.
If you focus on your kids’ interests and things they can accomplish at each age, you can establish a good relationship with them and earn their trust.
Creating a Parenting Plan for a Physically Absent Parent
A parenting plan is usually a legal document. For example, it has a child visitation schedule that you and your ex-spouse both agree upon, making interactions with kids easier.
But even if you’re still married and live far away because of a job transfer or military service, you should create a similar plan to maintain consistency in communication.
What should this plan include?
- A breakdown of the frequency of contact and in-person visitation whenever possible
- The means of communication, such as via phone, live chats, email, and other methods
- The way and frequency of exchanging information about the child’s education, health, and various activities
- Schedule for holidays and summer vacation
- Transportation costs for when a child goes to visit a distant non-residential parent
A clear and workable parenting plan contributes to healthy and regular parent-child communication and a more civilized relationship with the other parent.
In addition, when everyone knows what to expect, the entire situation becomes more predictable, which reduces stress and uncertainty.
Dealing With the Challenges of Long-Distance Parenting
Here’s how to cope with common issues a distant parent experiences.
1. What If the Other Parent Isn’t Cooperating?
One of the challenges that long-distance parents state pretty often is an uncooperative co-parent. But since the other parent is the key to maintaining stable contact with the child, you need to get on their good side.
So, be nice and don’t fire back. Remember that you’re doing it for your child(ren).
2. What If Your Child Does Not Recognize Your Authority?
Another danger of being away from the child is losing control over their actions. Many parents complain that their children do not perceive them as authority figures since they’re far away and can’t influence their lives like the residential parent.
Again, if you have a civilized relationship with the other parent, it will be more manageable to correct this situation by establishing rules and the other parent enforcing them.
3. What If Communication Becomes Boring to Your Child?
The quality of communication depends primarily on you as a responsible adult. Therefore, you need to constantly be creative and invent new ways to keep the child’s attention and make your conversations interesting.
For one, communication with teachers can help. The child spends most of the time at school, so teachers are well aware of their interests and difficulties and can advise you on how to talk to them.
How can you co-parent more efficiently? There are two things you can start with.
1. Agree on a Communication Schedule
Most of the time, parents try to build their communication slots around school and work hours. If you have a court-approved parenting plan, you will probably stick to it closely.
But at the same time, our hectic life doesn’t allow us to plan every little thing. For example, older children usually have more action-packed days than kindergarteners.
Be ready to be flexible at trading weekends and rescheduling a chat time on Skype.
2. Synchronize Calendars With Another Parent
A shared calendar is an excellent way for both parents to keep track of their child’s activities. You can use Google Calendar (a free option) or choose other software and apps. Add as many details as you want, including time for calls and your meetings, so that the other person knows when you’re unavailable.
On the other hand, you can hide some events if you want more privacy. And don’t forget to update the calendar frequently and ask the other parent to do the same.
As you can see, long-distance co-parenting has two fundamental components – regular communication with a child and cooperation with the other parent. As long as you take care of both, you’ll be fine.
Long-Distance Parenting Tips for Better Communication
Maintaining a long-distance relationship can be tricky, but it’s not impossible if you put in enough effort. If you want your kids to remember the time spent with you with gratitude, follow these few rules described below.
1. Always Initiate the Communication
Proactive communication is the core of long-distance parenting. Don’t rely on anybody else (e.g., your ex or your child) to facilitate contact. You’re in charge of that.
You need to reach out first and pretty much constantly. It’s your job to create and maintain a continuous connection with your kid.
And don’t take it personally if the child stops talking after a couple of minutes or doesn’t know what to say. Contact will improve after a while, and regular communication will become a habit.
2. Use Age-Appropriate Ways to Engage Children in Communication
Study and research how children behave at different ages and build a communication strategy accordingly. For instance, if you have a toddler, be prepared to be in charge of communication when using video conferencing.
Ask them to show their favorite toy and speak about it for a while (e.g., admire its color or shape, ask how it works, etc.). Also, don’t expect your little one to stay engaged for 30 minutes since young kids don’t have a long attention span.
Talking to teens is a little easier, but this age also has peculiarities. So, do your research.
3. Be Consistent
Stick to a set schedule of calls and video chats to earn your child’s trust and respect, and make sure it’s not a once-in-three months call.
For example, little kids tend to forget you more quickly if they don’t see you every other day. So, your child should see your face as frequently as possible—at least once in two-three days.
Even if you have a co-parent that doesn’t facilitate or support your interaction with the child, you need to be persistent. Schedule calls, video chats, and do face-to-face visits as often as possible.
4. Don’t Use Social Media as the Sole Way of Bonding
Social media posts and comments cannot replace real-life interactions because they are not personal enough. Video chats and messaging are fine but don’t rely too much on public content, such as comments or “likes,” if it’s not your normal behavior.
On the one hand, being there with your kids on social media is good because you’re reminding them about yourself and seeing what they are up to. But on the other hand, your kids might feel uncomfortable sharing everything with you.
So, it’s your task to find a healthy balance and maybe talk with your child about your presence among their Facebook friends.
Undoubtedly, long-distance makes co-parenting even more challenging than it already is. But don’t let it be your deal-breaker and the source of negative emotions if you want to create and maintain a thriving relationship with your kids.
Instead, take every opportunity to show how much you love and cherish them. As your children get older, they will appreciate your effort and respect you for it.