The challenge of long-distance parenting can be overwhelming, no matter the age of your child or how well you get along with the non-custodial parent. Beyond the concept of holidays and special events, day-to-day living can also be strenuous on everyone involved. While every situation is unique, there are some strategies for being as close as possible, even from a distance. Below are just a few tips to ensure that this living arrangement is as easy as possible for all parties.
Focus On Communication
One of the most vital things to do in a long-distance parenting situation is to keep up with communication. Just because you are not living under the same roof does not mean that communication should disappear or dwindle. Now more than ever, it is imperative for the safety and happiness of your child to be communicative, not only about their day-to-day lives but about how they are in general. Not only is communication between you and your child important, but communication between you and the co-parent is equally as important. Some communication points to consider:
- Who are your child’s friends? How often do they see them outside of school?
- How are they performing in school?
- What activities are they participating in?
- Are there any areas of concern to which both parents should be aware of?
- What does your child need from you in terms of communication?
- If this is a new process, what can make this easier?
These are just a few of the things that should be communicated, but the list can be endless. While it is not necessary to hover or be a helicopter parent, it is crucial to not keep either parent in the dark about things, no matter how your relationship with the co-parent is. Communication shows that even though you are not physically present all the time, you still have an enormous amount of care for your child and the life that they are living. One line of questioning to avoid is asking too in-depth about how the custodial parent is doing. A high-level ask is fine, but avoid badgering your child to get “dirt” on the parent that they spend the most time with. Once you have the more serious questions out of the way, try asking more valuable questions to forge the bond you have. Asking deeper questions opens a conversation for you to learn something you didn’t know about your child!
Conversely, have your child communicate with you. In a long-distance parenting relationship, it’s not uncommon for a child to shut down in a way. Encourage your child to communicate their thoughts, feelings, and any questions they may have. If you have a younger child, they might feel that your absence is their fault, whereas an older child might not need as many phone calls as you might assume. Keeping these lines of communication open makes for an easier time for everyone and will eliminate any chance of a misunderstanding.
While you are making the efforts to reach out to your child and connect with them from a distance, it is important to remember that they are living their life. Don’t get discouraged if they miss a phone call from time-to-time or ask to change the routine. Part of understanding is being available for your child (and sometimes, the custodial parent). Being available to talk fosters a positive relationship between all parties and makes this lifestyle easy to adjust to.
Make Time For Fun
Even though it might not be possible to plan in-person activities with your child every day or week, you can plan virtual activities to still spend quality time with them. In today’s day and age, it is important to connect with your child when possible. There are several Zoom games that you and your family can play together, no matter how young or old. For example, playing a family-friendly version of “Would You Rather” can open up avenues for additional conversation and learning. For older kids, you can download phone games such as “Heads Up” for a competitive guessing game.
When you plan to visit your child, it can be easy to overdo the planning with over-the-top activities. While visiting, try to keep the focus on your time together and less about the activity you’re doing. This not only sets realistic expectations for the time that you are together but limits the possibility of your child choosing a “favorite parent” to be around.
Prepare For The Future
One of the hardest facets of long-distance parenting is not knowing what the future will bring. Not being in the same household can create stress and uncertainty, and it’s beneficial to set up preparations for any circumstance.
While it’s not the easiest thing to think about, it is beneficial to consider your child’s financial security once you’re gone. One way to think ahead is to research the cost of a life insurance policy. A life insurance policy pays out a lump sum of money in the case of your passing. While this benefit cannot replace you as a lost parent, it can provide money to help pay for the mortgage payment of where your child lives or even college tuition. It can also help the custodial parent with any lost child support. With this policy, you can designate one or multiple beneficiaries, giving your family the financial support they need.
Another way to plan ahead is to create a family emergency binder. This simple yet effective planning tool can help you organize your files and have everything located in one place if an emergency were to occur. In the case of needing to leave your home in a hurry, this one binder can provide all necessary information for not only yourself but your dependents as well. Things to have in the emergency binder include:
- Insurance Policies (homeowners, auto, life, and medical)
- Medical Information (allergies, medical conditions, medications)
- Emergency contact list (custodial parent and any near-by relatives or family friends)
- Identification Papers (copy of driver’s license, passport, social security cards, and birth certificates).
Finally, creating a rainy day fund for you and your child can prove fruitful for a few reasons. First, this can make events such as holidays or vacations easier on your budget, as this money has already been put away. This can also alleviate potential stress between you and the custodial parent in case of an emergency.
Send Snail Mail
In a world filled with technology for basically everything, it can be easy to forget about snail mail. The rush of excitement that a child gets from getting a care package or a handwritten letter is almost unmatchable. If you’re sending a letter, write down things that you can do together when you see each other next. Or, consider sending a postcard with the start of a joke, and send a follow-up one with the punchline. This small act will keep your child engaged at any age!
Care packages are also a great way to bond with your child. The great thing about these is they are completely customizable to your child’s age, interests, and hobbies. For example:
- Teenage girl: chocolate, magazines, facial mask, lip gloss
- Young boy: candy, stickers, small toys
- College student: water, energy drink, pens, chips, gum
While care packages shouldn’t be sent all the time, they can be used to make a special occasion that much more exciting. Just know that these tokens do not have to be expensive, they just have to be from the heart. Your kid will be ecstatic when they find they have something from you that’s just for them!
One of the most special things you can do with your child is to create tradition. These traditions create warmth and the continued promise of certainty. Traditions also create positive memories for your children, no matter their age, plus they are fun to look forward to! Some examples of traditions that you and your child could start:
- Going to a certain restaurant when you see each other
- Try making some family recipes, perhaps for a holiday
- Designate a certain night of the week for a game night
- Choose a community service project for you to do together
- Plan a yearly vacation
Remember that all traditions do not have to be large or extravagant. Whatever traditions you decide, the critical thing is to stick with them! Most simply put, a tradition is not a tradition if it’s not followed. Your child will be looking forward to this moment with you as a stable moment. Depending on how your relationship is with the custodial parent, you can create new traditions for all of you to do together to reinforce the family aspect, even though you live apart.
For the Custodial Parent
While most of these tips have been aimed at the parent that does not live with the child, we also need to discuss tips for the parent who does live with the child. Long-distance parenting can bring a whirlwind of emotions, and it’s important for your child to know that you are also there for them too, at any age. Do not let any negative emotions you have about the non-custodial parent impact your child. In fact, it is beneficial to all parties involved to be as positive as possible when speaking about the co-parent. Do not try to make your child choose sides between the two parents as this will only create tension between all parties, and it will put stress most of all on your child. If long-distance parenting is new to your child, remember to frame it in a way that does not emotionally hurt them. Instead of expressing any ill-will, remind your child when they will be seeing the non-custodial parent, and remind them that they can call them at any time.
Discussing financial obligations that you need is also something that needs to be done. If there is child support that is owed, it is vital that you and the non-custodial parent not only reach an agreement but stick to it. If there are any additional child financial obligations (like school and sports fees), it is important to determine who is going to pay for these or if these costs will be split. Having these considerations ahead of time will make life easier for everyone.