Family forms an integral part of our lives. The dynamics shared in those relationships shape the soul of every individual. Over the last 50 years, the family structure has changed dramatically and the nuclear or traditional family - mother, father, and children in the same household - is no longer the norm. The single-parent family and the notion of co-parenting has become more common and has its own challenges, particularly when one parent lives too far away to see the children frequently. This is known as long-distance parenting.
Whether separated due to divorce, employment, or immigration obstacles, many adults nowadays find themselves engaged in long-distance parenting. Sometimes that is a temporary predicament; other times it is a more permanent arrangement. Either way, it is important to understand several difficulties associated with the phenomenon and to provide support to these families.
Difficulties of Long Distance Parenting
Children do better when they have healthy relationships with both of their parents. Relationships with children are much like plants, they need constant nourishing. This type of nourishment comes naturally at home through the activities and time spent with your children. However, when you are away this becomes more difficult to accomplish. According to a study by Kelly and Lamb (2003), living more than one hour away from a parent can disrupt parent-child relationships. Maintaining a healthy parent-child relationship might prove difficult but is extremely crucial to both parties.
Long-distance parent-child relationships challenge even the most resilient of family relationships. Adults may be better equipped to handle some of the emotional trials of long-distance parenting. Most kids, however, may have difficulty being separated from one of their parents for great lengths of time and with fewer opportunities for spontaneous moments of closeness during routine, normal daily activities. Furthermore, the distant parent is not usually present to support school events or extracurricular activities.
Making Long-Distance Parenting Work
The key to successful and healthy long-distance parent-child relationships is preparation. Long-distance relationships require more planning, flexibility, and creativity than other parenting arrangements. Here are four areas that will require increased attention:
A long-distance parenting plan can help both parents ensure that your children have access to two caring parents, even though one lives far away. Distance parenting requires the cooperation of both the local parent and the distant parent to positively influence the children. Use a means of communication that both parents are comfortable with and discuss what information to share about the child/ren and how to do so.
Parents and children have a variety of options to stay connected around the world. Having several methods of communication can prevent monotony, accommodate your child's mood, and add opportunity to attend important events from a distance. There are several options including:
- Calling one another on the phone
- Video messaging, such as through FaceTime or Skype
- Interactive text messaging, such as iMessage or WhatsApp
- Instant messaging over social media, such as Instagram or Facebook messenger
- Sending one another letters through e-mail or traditional mail
Structure and clear expectations can help children adapt to long-distance parenting. Having a regularly scheduled phone call or video chat, for example, can give children something to look forward to while also providing them with a clear expectation of when they will next connect with their long-distance parent. The strain of being apart can be lessened for both children and parents know when they’ll be able to get in touch with each other routinely.
Consistency in planning must be coupled with consistency in execution, however. Both parents must strive to make these regularly-scheduled conversations happen without incident. Last-minute changes may be necessary, by either parent, but should always be kept to an absolute minimum.
Reminding your children that they are always on your mind can be healing for both them and you. Be sure to be sensitive to school and work schedules, time differences, and ensuring that your choices are age-appropriate. Here are a few creative ways touch their hearts:
- Record a video message for them to enjoy later
- Send them a spur-of-the-moment gift
- Play games or watch movies or sporting events online
- Read a story together (virtually or recorded)
- Sing silly songs
As a parent, you should make every moment with your child count. Whether across town or the globe, your child needs to feel your presence, receive your love, and enjoy your attention. Long-distance parent-child relationships are far from ideal. They require work and preparation to be successful and to foster strong bonds between parents and children. No matter the hard work that is required, however, the time and attention parents pay to solve the issues of long-distance parenting are more than worth it.
Miriam Mohamed is a mother to seven children and a granny to two cats! She loves trying new things and learning cool facts. She has taught in an Islamic school setting, has experience assisting children with special needs, and enjoys volunteering and being a part of the community. Miriam lives in Chicago with her beautiful flowering cherry tree and big family.