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

Posted November 21, 2013 by

 

Let’s face it; it’s never easy being a parent. We constantly 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 really be a parent when they are living far away, and they can only see their kids on summer vacations and holidays?

It’s not the ideal situation, but it doesn’t mean that as parents we have no influence in the lives of our children. 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 keep 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 he/she comes 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. She may avoid telling you she is 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…

Technology is your friend! Today more than ever, people are able to stay connected from a distance. In addition to telephones, there are many ways to reach out that are not that costly. If you have internet access in your home, it can be a great way to have regular contact with your child. There are so many ways to communicate: texting, email, instant messaging, and Skype, 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 Skype 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 absolutely 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, just to let them know that you’re thinking of them and that you love them.

A word of warning: Don’t expect that your child will automatically respond with the same frequency that you’re contacting him. It doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate what you’re doing, or that they don’t care. They just 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, 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.

Make some new traditions and keep some favorite old ones: If your child is going to 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 even video if you can. 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 on a consistent basis and keep your own expectations realistic, you still have the ability to be an important and meaningful part of your child’s life.

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.

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  1. Dan Report

    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??

    Reply
    • Empowering Parents Coach Rebecca Wolfenden, 1-on-1 Coach Report

      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 of 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.

      Reply
  2. HM2217 Report

    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…

    Reply
  3. jennnny Report

    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.

    Reply
    • rwolfenden Report

      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 can 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.

      Reply
  4. Lara Report

    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!

    Reply
    • rwolfenden Report

      @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.

      Reply
  5. DesiMay Report

    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 phone 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?

    Reply
  6. catfederline Report

    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 text 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?

    Reply
  7. Lisa Report

    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. 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?

    Reply
    • Empowering Parents Coach drowden Report

      @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.

      Reply
      • Lisa Report

        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 other advice and makes me feel like one of those mothers who puts barriers up for fathers.

        Reply

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