When one thinks of a long-distance relationship, the first thing that typically comes to mind is a romantic relationship with a partner. But in the world of family law, a long-distance relationship often means the parent-child relationship of a parent who lives in one state and their child/children who live in another. When family units are spread across multiple households, sometimes the best decision for one house can create a great deal of unplanned-for space in the other home. Long-distance relationships are extremely difficult to manage in the best of circumstances, but when you add in the dynamic of co-parenting with a partner that may have different priorities when it comes to raising the kid(s) and growing children who are developing away from your physical presence and vigilance, it becomes an opened Pandora’s box to navigate. After all, many long-distance romantic relationships end with the parties growing apart and going their separate ways. But you can’t afford to allow your relationship with your child or children to become stagnant. Here are 10 suggestions to help be a present parent in their lives.
- Create a regular routine for speaking with your kids.
It is of utmost importance that you keep the lines of communication open with your children when you live far away from them. For your kid(s), knowing when and how they can get in touch with Mom or Dad provides them with a level of security and comfort that will help take the distance away. Use technology like FaceTime or Zoom so that you can see each other’s faces during the conversation and show any new changes. Nothing is going to beat in-person interaction, but this is the next best thing and being consistent will help you feel a part of their regular day.
- Stay engaged with any extracurricular activities they may have.
You should be interested in what your child has going on outside of school. Showing interest in your child’s interests help them feel validated and special. Being proactive in asking them about how their piano recital or tennis match went demonstrates to them that they are still a priority in your life. You should also try when possible to align your visits with attending their activities so you get the benefit and joy of seeing them do what they love firsthand.
- Respect your Co-Parent’s rules, even if you don’t agree with them.
This one is far easier said than done. But it is critical to not only the co-parenting relationship, but also your relationship with your children, that they see two parents who can respect each other and on the same page as far as how the child or children get treated. Things may vary between the two households, but you cannot undercut or devalue your co-parent’s rules for their house the same way they shouldn’t do that to your house. When your son or daughter complains to you about having to abide by some rule you don’t necessarily enforce, you should remind them that they are to respect that parent’s rules just like they do your own.
- Be open, honest and transparent with them on when they can expect to see you.
We’ve all seen THAT parent in the movies or on TV; the parent who always promises to pick the child up first thing this weekend and is nowhere to be found Saturday morning. Don’t be that parent who sets their children up for disappointment unnecessarily. Plans can change, sometimes even at the last minute, but you owe it to your children to keep them up to date so they aren’t left feeling abandoned.
- Make plans for them (and you) to look forward to.
Giving your child something to look forward to the next time you are reunited can instill some joy and adventure in both of your lives to help the time pass that much quicker. Whether it’s a camping excursion or a trip to the local amusement park, having a set date and activity to mark on the calendar can keep your child engaged and excited to see you.
- Be active with their education.
Just because you are not there to check homework every night does not excuse you from your responsibilities as a parent. Ask about their grades, check on if they are struggling or excelling in any area, and be engaged with their school as much as possible. You can request parent-teacher conferences be held via Zoom or some other app so that you can build a relationship with your child’s teachers. You can work through questions over FaceTime with your child to help them with their homework. Whatever you do, let your child know their education is important to you, not just through your words, but your actions.
- Don’t feel like your role is in any way diminished by the distance.
You can’t control the distance between you and your child, or else you would have already moved to be closer to them. But that distance by no means makes you any less their parent and is just another hurdle to clear in your journey as their provider and caretaker. They only have you in the role you play in their life, and it’s your decision whether that is a starring role or a part-time position.
- Don’t let your kids minimize your impact in their lives.
Children can say the most hurtful things as a defense mechanism. “Why do you care? You’re not around anyways.” If this sounds like something you may have heard before recognize that this is a cry for attention. As the adult in the situation, it is your responsibility to reassure them that no amount of distance could ever change the way you feel about them. “I care because you are mine and I love you no matter where you are.” Draw the line in the sand and let them know that no matter where they are, your line includes them as well.
- Stay on top of all their medical issues.
You need to be aware of your child’s current medical condition. You should be familiar with their primary-care physician and any other medical providers they are seeing. Just because your child doesn’t live with you at the moment, doesn’t mean they won’t live with you in the next moment and you need to be prepared to provide them with the treatment they need to be well-taken care of.
- Keep track of how they are adjusting to their new living situation.
Moving can be difficult on children, especially when they are leaving behind something as important as a parent. Talk to your child about how they are adjusting to life in their new environment, what they like and don’t like, and constantly evaluate if living there is actually in their best interest. If it is not in their best interest, you might need to file a modification and get a Guardian ad Litem involved to have your child’s living situation change to where they can be best-provided for.
If you need help with filing that modification, or creating a parenting plan that allows you the access you need to be a present long-distance parent please consider working with The Manely Firm, P.C. for your legal representation. The Manely Firm, P.C. is experienced with custody issues spanning from state to state to multinational arrangements. We are here to best meet your needs.
Now go out there and be an active, involved parent in your children’s lives, no matter where they are.