Long Distance Parenting: How to Stay Connected When Your Child Lives Far Away

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Let’s face it: parenting is hard. We often struggle, wondering if we’re doing the best we can for our kids. It’s so much pressure knowing that you only get a short window of time to prepare them to become responsible, healthy, and emotionally balanced adults.

For some parents, there is an extra challenge of being geographically distant from their children. How can a parent be a parent when they live far away and only see their kids on summer vacations and holidays?

It’s not the ideal situation, but it doesn’t mean we don’t influence our children’s lives. In fact, with some effort and planning, it’s possible to have a close relationship with your child even from many miles away.

Keep the Lines of Communication Open With the Other Parent

One of the most important ways to ensure you have a strong connection to your kids is to do everything possible to keep the lines of communication open with the parent who has primary custody. This is not always easy, but it’s one of the best ways to stay abreast of what’s happening in your child’s life. 

Find out from them when a good time is to contact your child during the week and on weekends. If your visitation schedule is not predetermined through a court order, give them plenty of notice when you’re planning a visit. Try to be accommodating and fair around transportation for your child when they come to visit you.

Remember, to that parent, you have it easy. They’re shouldering most of the burden of getting your child to school on time, keeping up with homework, going to after school activities, and all the other mundane day-to-day stuff.

There is another reason you want to make every effort to have good communication with the custodial parent. They are aware of any struggles that your child may be having in school or at home.

Just as you want your short time with them to be as perfect as possible, your child does, too. Your child may not be eager to share any news that could cause conflict. They may avoid telling you they are failing a subject in school or being disrespectful or destructive at home. 

Staying in contact with the custodial parent affords you a greater chance of getting a full picture of your child’s life when you can’t be there every day.

Now, on to the fun stuff.

Take Advantage of Today’s Technology

Today more than ever, people can stay connected from a distance. There are so many ways to communicate: email, texting, video, to name a few.

One dad I know works very long hours at his office and travels frequently. Although he lives with his child, he realizes that his two-year-old son does not see him very much during the week. So, a few times a week, they video call each other (with Mom’s help, of course).

Even at the young age of two, his toddler knows that’s his dad on the computer, and his face lights up when he sees him.

Send a Care Package

Let’s not forget the good old U.S. Mail, either. Children love to get mail. (They don’t get inundated with bills and junk mail like we do.)

Consider sending small care packages every so often. They need not be expensive items. Small items like Legos, flavored lip gloss, action figures, and art supplies are easy to mail and inexpensive.

Children of any age would love to get some homemade cookies or other treats. Of course, you can always send a note or a card to let them know that you love them and are thinking of them.

A Word of Warning: Don’t Expect Your Child to Respond Regularly

Don’t expect that your child will automatically respond with the same frequency that you’re contacting them. It doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what you’re doing, or that they don’t care. Rather, they don’t have the maturity yet to be that socially aware.

Make the Most of Your Time—but Don’t Forget Structure

When those special days finally arrive, and you’re enjoying a visit together, make the most of that time. Don’t pressure them with questions or comments about the other parent. Keep the focus on your child and enjoy every precious moment as much as possible.

That being said, don’t let structure go out the window. Kids need structure, so keep some order in the day. Keep a regular bedtime schedule and let them help out around the house. You can still make it enjoyable by working together as a family.

For instance, get your child involved with you in some yard work, and then kick back after it’s done and order some take-out. Or you can cook dinner together in the kitchen. Including your child in these tasks is a great way to teach them practical skills and improve their self-esteem.

Create Traditions

Make some new traditions and keep some favorite old ones. If your child will be with you for the holidays, talk to them about some things they’d like to do. They might be interested in going to a specific music event, going window shopping, or just watching a beloved movie together.

Don’t forget to introduce some of your family’s traditions, too, like making your Grandma’s potato latkes together or hiding a Christmas pickle on the tree.

Record Your Memories

Don’t forget to take lots of pictures and video. Later on, you can send them a small album of your time together.

So, if you are a parent who is living far away from your child, don’t despair. If you communicate with them consistently and keep your expectations realistic, you still can be an important and meaningful part of your child’s life.

Related content:
Divorce and Kids: Managing Your Child’s Behavior When the Family Breaks Up

About

Jacqueline McDowell formerly worked as an Empowering Parents 1-on-1 Coach. Prior to coming to Empowering Parents, she has worked in a diverse range of residential care settings with people who have been impacted by mental illness, cognitive and physical disabilities, as well as pregnant and parenting teens. She has a Bachelor's degree in Social Work from the University of Southern Maine. She is the proud parent of an adult son, Jeremy.

Comments (19)
  • Brett
    Hi, thanks for this article. Just the kind of material I need more access to.My story (v. short version). I'm 20 year sober alcoholic. Had been diagnosed Bipolar II (the kind without major manic episodes) years ago in grad school. Was on meds and all was well. Made theMore mistake of asking family doc for something for my ADD (I'm an academic and ADD makes research very hard). He prescribed Ritalin at what I later learned was 5-6 x normal adult dosage and also learned one NEVER prescribes Ritalin to a Bipolar (even BPII). It sparked a two year manic episode and since I had never had one I didn't realize just how unwell and how insane my reprehensible behavior was. During that phase I violated all my deeply held humanitarian and moral values - all the while in my mind thinking I was exploring a particular underworld about which I would write a serious piece of human rights-based scholarship. Wife, appropriately, kicked me to the curb, lost my university faculty position, only job I could find near my now 11 year-old daughter was selling cars. I was terrible at it and was soon facing foreclosure. I sent out around 50 job apps in the area and many more around the country and heard from no one (either a PhD is not all that marketable or HR at my university was killing me with prospective employer inquiries). The choice finally became homelessness or take the one job offer that came my way - faculty position in Thailand. Not a choice really. I've been here 8 months -- and it feels like my beloved daughter, the greatest gift of my life -- is slipping away. We first skyped a few times a week, texted almost daily. Months ago it started becoming harder and harder to reach her on skype despite her mom's efforts to encourage her. (Despite her mother's perfectly legitimate reasons to loathe me for my behavior during that major manic episode, she's the person I loved and still love - she's never let her feelings about me influence the relationship between my daughter and me.) Eventually my daughter explained to her mom and school counselor that skyping was fun while we talked, but afterward left her very sad and missing me more than before. So I can no longer skype her. And her texts are reducing to those yes/no; good/bad kinds of answers you mentioned. I sent a postcard and it never arrived so I send e-cards. Eventually she gets around to opening them. She recently told her school counselor her relationship with mommy and daddy both were "10s" on a 1-10 scale. But I can't help but feel I'm already fading away and will soon be but someone she remembers (fondly) as a father she had for what turned out to be an insignificantly brief period in her life. Though I understand I was a very unwell person, I still must own my transgressions during that period. So it is just that I have paid a high price for my wrongs and the pain I caused my ex-wife. So losing my wife, a prestigious professorship, my standing in the community, etc. -- I've accepted those as legitimate costs for my offenses. But losing my daughter too? That feels like receiving the death penalty for shoplifting. To be frank, It's a price for my sins I'm not entirely certain I can bear to pay. Any further insights, advice, suggestions for further reading - anything will be greatly appreciated. thank you.
  • Monika
    I have a newborn daughter and I can't wrap my mind around how her father is able to be away. How often should he be reaching out so she can hear his voice and see his face? What is "regular contact" so she will grow to know himMore even though he's on the other side of the country?
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      I hear you. The bond between parent and child is quite special, and begins to develop early on. You might find some helpful information on developing your relationship with your child on the Zero to Three website. If you are worried about your child’s relationshipMore with her father, given the distance between them, you might also check in with her doctor. S/he might have some tips and advice on how they can form a connection, even if he lives far away. Congratulations on your new baby, and I wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.
  • Cassia
    Can you send things to child's school like a card or cookies for class if the other parent cut off visitation phone calls etc..Go through school to stay in contact ..being long distant and dad doesn't allow you to talk to her or see her
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      Thank you for your question. It is difficult for me to answer that for you, as policies and rules can vary so much. If you are curious, you might consider contacting your child’s school directly to find out if you can send in gifts to her class. More You might also refer to your custody agreement for more information about your rights and responsibilities as your child’s noncustodial parent. If you need further assistance with this, I encourage you to contact a lawyer who can further explain this aspect to you. If you are not currently working with anyone, you can contact the 211 Helpline at 1-800-273-6222. 211 is a service which connects people with resources available in their community, like legal assistance as well as things like support groups and counseling. I can only imagine how difficult this must be for you, and I wish you all the best moving forward. Take care.
  • Dan
    Great article. I happened upon it searching for safe chat for my kids and I. I live 1300 miles away, I see them once a month, but that's not enough. Any ideas on a safe way to share chat and pics/videos??
    • Rebecca Wolfenden, Parent Coach
      Thank you for your question, and I hear how much you want to stay connected with your kids despite the distance between you. Because technology changes so quickly, I do not know of any specific apps or methods which might be better than others. I hope that some ofMore our other readers will share their recommendations. In the meantime, I encourage you to continue doing your research on secure, safe messaging apps or software which you might be able to use with your children. Take care.
  • HM2217

    Hi,

    My story is a bit of a long one... I'm just trying to find some kind of comfort. I've been a single mother to a beautiful little boy for over two years (he is now 3). His father abandoned me almost my whole pregnancy, and then wasn't there for us after. He was constantly mentally abusive until just recently when it became physical. We separated in 2014 when my son was 8 months old, and tried on 2 separate accounts to make it work (we are still legally married unfortunately until custody is determined). He is $11,000 overdue in child support. The last time we tried to make it work was the end of last year. On December 10, 2015 he told me he wanted to agree on a mutual divorce. He was no longer happy and he knew I wasn't, and he wanted to "nip it on the butt while we still could". Soon after that was when he first put his hands on me. Began throwing things around the house and breaking things in front of my son. Kicked me out of the apartment and called me nasty degrading names. I was left with no place to go.

    I went to go stay with a friend for 2 weeks in Indiana until my income tax check came in and I could get an apartment for my son and I (Rhode Island is pretty expensive for rent). He went and filed for full custody of my son, told the court and his lawyer I was moving out of state and that he wasn't going to allow me to take my son.

    I hadn't planned on moving while I was away, and then months later I got offered an amazing job in Indiana, I could afford to live and provide a stable living environment for my son better than I could in Rhode Island (I was forced to live with my parents due to a court order placed as a restriction on me by his lawyer), and the friendship I had with my friend Scott turned into something more and I had been happy for the first time in 5 years.

    Now the courts won't allow me to take him out of state without his fathers consent, even after he's been convicted and charged with domestic abuse. I'm pregnant and on bedrest at this point... and my son will have a new baby brother come February. I've done nothing but go to court repeatedly for this divorce and custody case, and fought like HELL to get my son. I know I can provide a better life for him here, with his brother.

    I'm trying to keep telling myself that my son is going to see that mommy isn't giving up on him. I'm going to do everything I can to bring him home to where he belongs. It just really hurts every day. The courts put a restraining order against his father for me once he was arrested, and won't lift it because he cannot be trusted to not be abusive... but they don't feel he's a danger to my son even though the abuse happened in front of my child. And I can't say he would ever hurt my son because I just don't know...

  • jennnny

    hi, thanks for the article 

    i and currently 13 yrs old and live with my mum but my father lives just about 10 minutes away and both are not dating anyone but suddenly things that happened in the past were undercoevred recently which  forces my dad to leave the country and is not allowed to return here and im wondering how i can deal with this or if you have any advise of how i should contact im and how often i should visit him and what i should do in general.

    thanks.

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport
      jennnny We appreciate you writing in to Empowering Parents and sharing your story. I am sorry to hear about the situation you are facing with your dad.  Because we are a website aimed at helping people become more effective parents, we are limited in the advice and suggestions we canMore give to those outside of a direct parenting role.  Another resource which might be more useful to you is the Kids Helpline, which you can reach by calling 1800 55 1800, 24/7. They have trained counselors who talk with teens and young adults everyday about issues they are facing, and they can help you to look at your options and come up with a plan.  They also have options to communicate via email and live chat which you can find on their https://kidshelpline.com.au/. We wish you the best going forward. Take care.
  • Lara

    Hi, thanks for the very informative article above.

    My kids are currently living with me and my husband overseas. We are starting to think of sending them back home to have access to better education and be closer to cousins and friends.

    However, my husband and I still need to work overseas. Do you have any words of advice if this is something that will work? We are very undecisive at the moment as all of our kids have never been separated from us.

    Thanks!

    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      @Lara 

      Thank you for your question, and your kind words.  I

      hear how much you still want to be connected with your children while working

      overseas, and at the same time, you do not want to deprive them of the benefits

      of being back home.  This is a highly personal decision, and in the end,

      only one that you can make.  Some factors to consider might be the age of

      your children, their temperaments, and options for staying connected and

      engaged with them if you decide to send them back home, like phone calls, Skype

      and/or in-person visits.  You might also seek out a group of expats in

      your current country, or talk with local friends and coworkers, in order to

      work through the benefits and drawbacks of both options.  I hope this has

      been helpful, and I wish you all the best as you make your decision.  Take

      care.

  • DesiMay
    I raised my stepsons for six years from diapers. Now I have lived 19 hours drive from them for almost 4 years now. My oldest is 13 and entering that confusing time. He is distant and quiet on the phone with me but still wants to be on the phoneMore with me consistently! I love the attn from him, so I am not complaining. But I'm also not a psychologists,  how can I make better use of my conversations with my distant teen? What conversations should I concentrate on to benefit him and be a better influence in his life?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      DesiMay

      You ask a great question. However, I’m not sure there’s one

      concrete answer as a lot depends upon what may be going on for your son at any

      given time. We do have several articles that offer insight into how to talk

      with teens in a productive way. Two in particular you may find helpful are https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/how-to-talk-to-teens-3-ways-to-get-your-teen-to-listen/ & https://www.empoweringparents.com/article/good-behavior-is-not-magic-its-a-skill-the-3-skills-every-child-needs-for-good-behavior/. I hope you find the information in these articles useful for your

      situation. Be sure to check back if you have any further questions. Take care.

  • parentsintexas
    My fiancee has a 15 yr old daughter whom we have been very involved in her life until almost 3 years ago when we moved across the country to be able to have a better life for us and her.  We talk to her on the phone and via textMore message often the first 2 yrs.  It has been the last year that we have become distant from her.  Her father was embarrassed because we couldn't afford to pay for her cell phone anymore and haven't been able to afford to visit her like we want to.  I have made sure that we still text her and call but we do not get a response back for a long time if at all.  We have called and left messages on her cell phone and the home phone.  My fiancee was just laid off and he and his employer contacted domestics.  Now he is behind in child support and domestics said to contact his ex to have it suspended his child support.  Mind you this isn't the issue.  The issue is that my fiancee send his daughter a text just saying I miss you and that I sent your mom a message.  His daughter comes back saying you are a dead beat father and the only reason you contacted me was so that you do not end up in jail.  How would she even know this!  The way his daughter was talking sounded just like her mother.  Not a 15 yr old child.  So my fiancee thought it was his ex-wife and blew up.  How do we handle this?
    • RebeccaW_ParentalSupport

      parentsintexas 

      It’s difficult

      for most parents to figure out how to move forward following an argument with

      their child, and it’s even more challenging when the parent and child do not

      live together.  In this type of situation, it can be useful for the parent

      to take the first step toward reconciliation by http://www.empoweringparents.com/blog/accountability-and-responsibility/should-you-admit-you-are-wrong-to-your-child/ in the argument.  While many parents are reluctant to

      take this step for fear it will diminish their authority, it is actually

      helpful in role-modeling accountability for one’s actions, and in keeping the

      lines of communication open between parent and child.  You might find some

      more useful tips in Debbie Pincus’ article, http://www.empoweringparents.com/fighting-with-your-teen-what-to-do-after-the-argument.php. 

      I recognize what a difficult spot you are in, and I hope that you will check in

      about how things are going in the future.  Take care.

  • Lisa
    Hi, I have two sons 6 and 7 who live with me in England.  There dad lives in Canada. They have never really known him as they were babies when we separated. We used to Skype once a week, last year he came to visit and we went to Canada.More This coursed a lot of upset for my one son especially. After visiting, we upped the Skype calls hoping that now they had met him a couple of times the children could start building a relationship with him.  He has recently been to visit for a week and they no longer wish to speak to him.  I have always had to push them a little to speak to him but now it is getting harder. I don't know if its because it upsets them too much or what. I asked him last night if we could just go back to a once a week Skype just for a while till things settled down but it caused a massive rift. I think he thinks I'm trying to push him out of their lives to make mine easier which is definitely not the case, I just don't want the kids upset which is my main priority but equally I don't want him to feel pushed out because it must be very hard. What do you think?
    • DeniseR_ParentalSupport

      @Lisa

      What a distressing situation this must be for you. On the

      one hand, you want your children to have a relationship with their father. On

      the other hand, you don’t want to upset them further by trying to force them to

      interact with him when it seems clear to you they don’t want to. I’m not sure

      we can offer any specific suggestions for this situation since it really isn’t

      about your children’s behavior as much as it has to do with visitation and

      interaction with their father. It may be helpful to talk with someone who

      specializes in helping children who’s parents are no longer together, such as a

      counselor or therapist. You may also consider talking with legal counsel to

      determine what the laws are around continued visitation when the child doesn’t

      wish to take part. There is a service in the UK that may be able to give you

      information on what types of services are available in your area. FamilyLives

      (formerly ParentlinePlus) is a great support for parents who are facing

      challenges. You can find them online at http://www.familylives.org.uk/.

      They also have a call in service at 0808 800 2222. I encourage you to reach out

      to see what types of support services are available to help you and your sons.

      We appreciate you writing in and sharing your story. Be sure to check back and

      let us know how things are going. Take care.

      • Lisa
        DeniseR_ParentalSupport I have been seeing a child phycotherapist and she advised me to stand up for my children and if they don't want to speak or see them then don't make them, and reassess later if it continues. I just wanted a second opinion as this goes against all otherMore advice and makes me feel like one of those mothers who puts barriers up for fathers.
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