10 Tips To Make Long-Distance Parenting Work
At times, after parents divorce, one parent may need to relocate to a distance, whether hours away or to a different county, that makes a typical co-parenting schedule difficult or even impossible. Whether this relocation is due to a better employment opportunity, or to be closer to extended family, or to return to that parent’s country of origin, or some other reason, the same challenges arise, whether the children relocate with that parent or remain with the parent in the area in which they have been residing.
If you are the parent who is geographically distant from your child, how do you maintain a positive parent-child relationship? And if you are the parent who resides with the children, how do you encourage the relationship between your children and their other parent?
No matter the situation, the bottom line is that children need and deserve a relationship with both parents, except for in extreme cases of abuse and/or neglect, which for the purpose of this article we are assuming is not the case. The good news is that it is possible to have a positive parent-child relationship with both parents no matter geography.
1. Never talk disparagingly of the other parent. Ever. It is always important to remember that no matter your feelings regarding your co-parent, they are still your child’s parent yet if your child’s other parent resides distantly, you child needs you even more to foster a positive relationship between them and their other parent. And ensure that extended family and new significant others understand and follow this as well.
2. Ensure that both homes have photos of the other parent. Your child has two homes, no matter the geographical distance. You and your co-parent may no longer be married yet you are still your child’s family. And who doesn’t have photos of family in their home?
3. Have a place in your child’s rooms at both homes where they are able to place items from the other parent to remind them of how much their other parent loves and supports them. A special shelf or a corkboard behind the bedroom door work well.
4. Send letters, postcards, and care packages. Technology is great yet there is nothing like a nice handwritten note or special delivery. It can be something simple such as a favorite candy or a magnet from an outing. If you are the long-distance parent, send such items to your child. If you are the resident parent, encourage your child to send such items to their other parent. For example, if you and your child go to the zoo, purchase a postcard and say to your child, “I know mom/dad would have loved to be here today. Let’s send them this postcard and tell them how much you loved the bears.”
5. Send text messages and photos regularly. You want each parent, particularly the long-distance parent, to have constant “touch contact” with your child. If you are the long-distance parent, a simple text that you are thinking of your child helps them to remember that you love and support them no matter geography. If you are the residential parent, sending a text of your child playing with friends or enjoying ice cream keeps your child’s other parent involved in day-to-day activities.
6. Ensure that each parent knows your child’s activities and interests. Did your child recently develop a love for trains then let the other parent know. This helps facilitate dialogue. Children will engage in more discussion if their other parent says, “So I heard you’ve gotten into trains, tell me about it.” rather than, “How was your day?” And during events such as baseball games or dance recitals, use video-conferencing for the parent who is not present to view and if that parent is not available, ensure that events are recorded.
7. Use transition objects recognizing that transitions may be difficult. Children like to have things from their parents to remind them. So when your child is with their other parent, have them hang on to your favorite scarf or t-shirt or have them take their favorite toy. These things help them to feel comfortable and close to their other parent.
8. Create special traditions. If you are the residential parent, it is possible that most holidays and vacations your child will spend with their other parent. Whether for holidays or just on a daily basis, traditions are important for a sense of connection. So, you might have to celebrate a holiday earlier or later than the actual day. Remember, it is about the traditions and not the actual calendar day. Or create other traditions such as Friday sushi night or Sunday board game time.
9. Make sure both parents are involved in rewards and discipline, at least on a larger scale. Often times it can feel that this falls only on the residential parent yet it not need be so. If you have to set a consequence for misbehavior, let your child know that you are going to talk to their other parent and then you and your co-parent can together let your child know your decision. This allows for both parents to be involved in rewarding and disciplining behavior, which is important for parenting.
10. Normalize your family. Let your child know that families come in all shapes and sizes and their family just happens to have mom and dad living far apart. This does not mean that mom and dad love them less.
If relocation may be in your future, contemplate a Collaborative Process as a means to reach agreements and create solutions that work for your unique family structure.
Paulette Janus, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and founder of Janus Behavioral Health Services. Paulette has over 15 years experience providing individual, couples, and family psychotherapy, specializing in children, teens, and families. She is also trained in and provides alternative dispute resolution interventions including family/divorce mediation, collaborative divorce coaching and child specialist services, and co-parent coaching. Paulette received her Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Northwestern University and her Master of Social Work degree from the University of Illinois Chicago. www.janusbhs.com.