How to Be a Better Long Distance Parent – Part 1

In my practice, I often see couples who divorce and then one parent moves to another city or state. Obviously, that makes parenting a challenge, particularly with younger children. It’s not an ideal situation, but if parents make an effort, and use sensitivity, such parenting plans can work.

In general, when one parent relocates (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) the “left behind” parent is forced to be the long-distance parent. Your relationship with your children becomes much more formal.  This is particularly true when it is necessary to fly to visit your children. Statistically, children often lose contact with the long distance parent’s extended family, which for children is another significant loss.

Below are some questions I commonly hear when a long-distance parenting relationship is imminent.

Q: My ex “picked up” and moved without discussing it with me.  I am very angry.  What should I do?

It is important to remember (even if you have to write it on a sticky note and put it on your mirror) that you are the adult.  No matter how angry you are with your child’s parent, you need to give your children unconditional love.  Your child did not initiate the move.  If you are having trouble dealing with your anger toward your ex – get therapy.  It will not only make your relationship better with your children, it will help your children adjust better to their new home.

Q:  How can I work together with my ex to help the children adjust to the move and ensure that the relationship with my child’s non-custodial parent continues?

Children will adjust to the move when both parents work together and are committed to the notion that the relationship between the children and the long-distance parent continues.  Unfortunately, in an acrimonious divorce it is hard to focus on the child and commit to fostering the relationship your children have with your ex.  If you are unable to talk to each other, write an email or a letter.  If you are the custodial parent, make sure that you are writing to your ex at least weekly and giving them information about your children.  Also, make the process easier – suggest visiting times and recommend where to stay, and possible activities during the visit.

Q: What are some suggestions for helping long distance parents with babies up to about 2 ½  years old?

Here are some things you can send your child to help them remember you:

  • Cards:  (either e-cards or snail mail) cards at holidays and special occasions.  Snail mail is better, if possible.

Video clips of you singing their favorite songs and stories, using their names and special attributes

  • Send colorful, fun stickers, paper cut-outs.
  • Send a lot of photos of you, your family and friends.

Q: I am the relocating parent, and I want to encourage our children to have a good relationship with my ex, but my ex is very angry at me for moving and remarrying.  What can I do?

Sometimes, there is nothing that you can do to please your ex.  However, make sure that you are never badmouthing your ex, even when you may be furious at something they did.  This includes talking to your friends and complaining when your children are within hearing distance.  Save your complaints for a time when your children are not around.

Be available when your ex wants to speak with your children.  Of course, if your ex is calling at inconvenient times, it would be best to give him “windows of opportunity” for calling.  Work with your ex around his schedule.

Consider using an on-line program like “Our Family Wizard” (www.ourfamilywizard)  to share information about the children. It is not advisable to send your ex a request for his/her share of a doctor visit, if you have not communicated with your ex the reason for the visit and the follow-up.

It is important for your children to have pictures of your ex in their room.  They see you all the time!

When your ex is visiting your children or they will be visiting him/her make sure that the kids are prepared for the visit with appropriate clothes.  If they have a homework project resist the urge to “save it” for their visit.

When your ex leaves or the children return home from a visit, be prepared for them to have some “down-time” for the transition.

Do you have legal questions? We’re here to help your family. Call us at 770-333-1620.

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