7 Tips To Make Long-Distance Parenting Work After Divorce

By Terry Gaspard, MSW, LICSW

Recently, I’ve had several dads write to me about their challenges related to creating a close bond with their children from a distance. These parents didn’t move away to escape their responsibility as parents and they clearly want to stay connected to their kids.

One Father wrote: “Can I have a good father-daughter relationship from a 200 mile distance?” Another dad asked: “Is it possible to create a close bond with my son from a distance?” Inherent in both of these parent’s questions is the desire to maintain a loving connection with their children.

It’s never easy for children to be separated from their parents, whether it’s because of a brief business trip or a move across the country due to a job or personal reason. However, after divorce the stakes get higher because children of divorce often feel the sting of rejection after one of their parents move out.

It’s also normal for children and young adults whose parents never marry to experience feelings of loss and rejection when one of their parents moves away. Likewise, children raised by a stepparent may experience some of these same emotions if they are close to their stepparent and they move away or lose contact with them after they divorce.

While it’s probably more common for fathers to live at a distance from their children after a divorce or breakup, some mothers may need to move due to career or personal reasons and may be separated from their children at times. Consequently, the following tips were written in a gender neutral manner.

7 tips to make and keep a connection with your kids long-distance:

1. Send your children funny or interesting postcards once a week. If you have more than one child, some group cards are acceptable. Make sure to make the messages positive such as “I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!” or “Good luck on your spelling test.”
2. Call at different times. While it’s a good idea to have a regular time to call your children, spontaneous phone calls can be a nice surprise and help your children to feel that you are thinking of him/her.
3. Use text, Skype, e-mail, and Instagram in addition to regular phone calls. Be sure to send photos and ask questions about their week such as: “How was the sleepover at Madison’s house?”
4. Get to know your children’s friends and be sure to invite them on vacations and outings. Meeting the parents of your children’s friends can be a big plus because they will feel more comfortable if you invite them on a weekend excursion such as a camping trip or to stay at a hotel.
5. Tune into your children’s passions and engage in small talk about it. Research on-line and in-person ways to engage with them around these interests.
6. Be sure to spend plenty of alone time with your children. If you have a new partner in your life, don’t introduce them unless you’re fairly sure it’s a permanent relationship.
7. Ask your children what’s the best way to stay in touch. For instance, would they prefer that you travel to visit them? Or, do they want to come see you? You may find that this changes from time to time so be sure to have regular check-ins with him/her.

Many parents who live at a distance from their children after a divorce or breakup say it comes down to quantity versus quality. I recommend that they make the best of the situation by focusing on the quality of contact and not let feelings of guilt or regret impact them greatly because they don’t have as much time with their kids.

One of the biggest mistakes parents can make is introducing their children to a new love-interest too soon after divorce. Be sure to have special time with your kids, apart from your new partner, and give them time to adjust to the divorce before you introduce them. This is especially important for long-distance parents who have less time with their kids.

Your child or teenager may show interest in your love interest – girls particularly tend to do this – but later feel rejected if they feel they are missing out on quality time with you. What’s the hurry? There’s no such thing as an instant family and healing takes place over the course of many years.

It’s great if you meet someone you care about but hopefully you’ll wait to introduce them to your children once the relationship seems permanent. It’s important to assure your kids that your new partner will not replace their other parent or change your relationship with them. Most young children find their parents dating behaviors confusing – they may feel threatened or resentful about having to share you with another person.

If you have a new partner, adopt realistic expectations about your children’s acceptance of him/her. Just because you are enthralled with this person, it doesn’t mean that your kids will share your enthusiasm. When you see your children, be sure to focus on your relationship and develop new rituals and traditions – such as movie nights – that can help to solidify your bond.

It’s normal to miss your children when you don’t see them every day and letting them know this can be healing. On the other hand, if you stay connected with your kids after divorce, you need not be overwhelmed with guilt or self-blame. It’s best to focus on things you can control such as maintaining regular communication and staying tuned into their interests and passions.

I’d love to read your comments and will be delighted to answer your questions. Thanks! Terry



26 Responses to “7 Tips To Make Long-Distance Parenting Work After Divorce”

  1. Great post! I think technology is making staying in touch and parenting from a distance so much better. Skype, Facetime, and google have made it easier to have that face to face experience. It’s important that parents be there. I commend these dads for reaching out and wanting to know how they can be there for their children.

  2. Faye says:

    I have 3 girls kids my eldest is 20,14 and 7. My 3 kids have different father. By the way im from philippines. My recent boyfriend is from netherlands had broke up for our 12 years relationship last april 2015. He had lost the trust in me in just a few weeks and found out he has a new one what more hurting is his daughter of mine witness everything and found out he abandoned me for that woman and choose that woman and leave us. Now im having a problem with my 7 years old daughter and the other one 14 is also hurt even shes not a re al daughter of him. Our daughter is more angrier than me and can say such thinhs to her father and even texts him like an adult. My ex thought it was me all the time. And what she does she record her coice and tells that she is the one who text. Im wirried. My daughter still cannot accept while iam also trying too. The reaction is more on oir daughter. I feel sorry for my daughter at her young age she witness everythibg and still the father never say sorry to her instead he blames me for everything he did. I am trying to tell mu daughter to resoect her fathers decision and attitude. I do not know what to do anymore. Please i need your advice. In the philippines we cannot afford phsycholigical doctors and even lawyers.

    • Terry says:

      Hello,

      Faye,

      I’m sorry to hear about this situation but can’t give advice in this format. Please select the telephone counseling tab on this website and you can have a free 15 minute consult (if you email me) and pay for more time (pay pal) if you choose to.

      Best Regards,

      Terry

  3. Chris says:

    Thank you Terry for writing this article. I am a divorced Dad. My ex and I separated 5 years ago. So my daughter knows what it’s like for her mom and me to be far apart. I live NJ she and my daughter live in CT. I am in a healthy relationship now. My girlfriend met my daughter after we dated for almost a year. She has a 2 yr old son that me and my daughter love. My girlfriend’s ex (baby’s dad) has made it difficult for her to stay in NJ to the point where her life has been impacted. So she has talked about moving to Florida in 2017 in order to live a normal life. How can I explain this move to my daughter and my ex. I have mapped out a plan where I would still see her each month and take advantage of days off from school. I also wanted to ask my ex for my daughter to be able to spend the summer with me and my girlfriend. How can I approach both of them with this subject, as well as tell my parents.

    • Terry says:

      Hello,

      If this is your only option, then move but it is a long way for visits and it will impact your relationship with your daughter – especially if she is under age twelve. You don’t mention the age of your daughter but it’s important to acknowledge that this would present a loss to her and she might feel rejected by you. She might act as if she’s not upset but her sadness and/or anger could surface later on. I recommend that you tell your ex first and work out the custody plan before you tell your daughter. When you tell your daughter, be sure to be alone with her without your girlfriend. Also be sure to reassure her that your plan to see her as much as possible. Ask her what she feels is the best way to stay in touch. Check out my article about long-distance relationships on this site. Find it here:http://www.divorcemag.com/blog/8-ways-you-know-it-s-time-to-divorce#sthash.nbgJYQmH.iSfJ9B87.uxfs&st_refDomain=t.co&st_refQuery=/855zEPbJIf

      Regards,
      Terry

  4. Al says:

    Hi everyone.

    I’m struggling. I moved overseas many years ago for a girl I fell in love with. We have a 3 year old boy but have separated. We now live apart 10 mins from each other and share are child 50/50 all the way. He is doing great and the communication between us 3 is great. We’re seportive and chat. And have kept it so positive I don’t think are kid even knows we’re finished. But I’m struggling with the choice of wether to return home. Although I would snap the hand off my ex if she would allow me full custody abroad I know it will never happen. A boy needs his mam. As much as me. If I go home then the long distance is gonna be long. Ireland to New Zealand. It may be to costly to even see him once a year. 3 years old is way to you to fly alone. What would be a good age to make this move. Now while he is young or later when he is older. I really don’t know what I want but I do know I don’t wanna hurt my boy by my move but I also don’t wanna be misreble in a foreign country

    • Terry says:

      Hello,

      It sounds like your decision is weighing on you and you need in-depth feedback which is more than I can offer on this blog. I can’t suggest a choice that may not be in your best interests in a blog which is designed for support and quick tips. However, I would recommend that you seek counseling to discuss your options in-depth.

      Regards,
      Terry

      • Alan downes says:

        Hi terry thanks for your reply.

        I know I need to see a councillor. But unless I’m actually a danger to myself the New Zealand medical system won’t send me to a councillor. And with living in a foreign country, single wage and a young kid half the week. I just can’t afford it.
        I’m just gonna have to figure it out.

        But thanks again for the reply

        • Terry says:

          Hi Alan,

          I am sorry to hear this but it would be unethical of me to give you in-depth advice in this format without meeting with you. Hopefully you will find our blogs helpful.

          Regards,
          Terry

    • Jack says:

      Alan, I’m from Canada and like you I moved to Irealnd years ago as I met a woman. My wife and I have two young sons together. A year ago we separated after being together nearly 15 years. I slipped into a bad depression and shortly after I moved back to Canada. Now I’m 40 something, nearly broke and constantly missing my boys. We skype twice a week and while that’s great it’s not the same. I’m currently considering moving back to Ireland but the prospects look bleak. The only thing I can say for sure is that if I could go back in time I would not have left Ireland. However, at the time, I did what I had to do in order to cope. I wish you all the best and hope you’ve luck with counselling.

      • Terry says:

        Jack,

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply. It sounds like your accept your situation and are staying in touch with your boys and that’s a positive.

        Regards,
        Terry

      • Al says:

        Thanks for the replies guys. It’s been a real hard cross road in my life and it’s good to know that people care and others are in and have been in the same situation. I’m getting a bit of help and have booked a holiday home for me and the son for three weeks. Hoping and maybe a recharge in the family batteries will help me through.

        Thank a million. Really has helped

        • Jack says:

          Enjoy the holiday home. I know myself I’ve found it heard dealing with the situation as certainly not many friends/family members are in a position to fully relate to.

  5. One thing that my husband and I do to keep involved in the parenting part of things since his son was moved 1,000 miles away, is use his school’s website. Almost every school now has resources for parents online, with his Student ID and other personal information, we are able to see his grades and upcoming assignments. The site even emails us when his grade drops below a set level in his classes or if he is absent from any of them. We now have a high school student but a lot of these features were available in his earlier grades too, I should mention he has been in 5 different schools and only one didn’t have this option. Not only can we keep up on what he is doing in class, so we know what to ask him but there are study guides online with his books and we can actually help him. The other great option is being able to email his teachers so even though we can’t go to conferences, if we are concerned there is an issue we can reach out to another adult with daily contact.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Step-mom Mediator,

      Thanks so much for the great tips! Parents will greatly appreciatereading them!

      Best Regards,
      Terry

    • Jack says:

      Excellent suggestion! Must do likewise. 🙂

      • It really helps us keep involved in daily life things that most kids aren’t going to freely discuss but are important things to parents in general, certainly long distance parents. We’ve been at this long distance thing for 4 years now and I’ve learned quite a few things that I am trying to pass along to others. I’ve also learned the law to the point even our lawyer tells me I need to go back to school for it…lol!

  6. Louise says:

    Very good tips indeed. Using social networks to stay connected, now that I do. But, the thought of sending interesting and funny postcards to keep in touch with your children has never occurred in my mind. Thank you Terry, it was quite a pleasure to read your post.

  7. Mikel Kohen says:

    Okay I have a interesting situation. My wife and I separated over 5 years ago. For the last three and a half or more years I have been a full-time dad to three wonderful children. They are a 13 year old girl 20 year old son and a 23 year old son. I moved to town that my wife had moved to after we separated. I am a medically retired military person who receives benefits. For the last 2 years I have been traveling with at least one of my children with me. I’m not the point where I’m thinking of selling the remainder of my things and traveling permanently while also having one of my children with me at all times. I talk to my other two children everyday or every other day through text Skype or phone call. My question is am I crazy or out of touch for wanting to travel. I plan to visit my other two children often if they are not with me. My wife tells me that I need to be present and stable for my children. I also pay her $1,200 payment in support even when I had the children full time. I just need some honest feedback from whoever know give it to me.

    • Terry says:

      Hi Mikel, I hope other bloggers respond to you and give feedback. The only child that appears to be in question is your 13 year old since the other two are grown. From my view, she is at the age when travelling with you would not be in her best interest (school, friends, other parent contact, etc). So I would recommend you come to an agreement with your ex and if you can’t do that see a mediator. When it comes to custody and legal advice it’s not fair for me to say since I am not a lawyer or mediator. Psychologically, kids do better if they have regular access to both parents but that doesn’t have to be weekly for a teenager – as long as everyone is able to work together in your daughter’s best interest.
      Regards,
      Terry

  8. Mikel Kohen says:

    So very true and she is homeschooling online also. Her mother and I do get along and have had a very flexible schedule with her and her brothers.

  9. Kelly says:

    We have a long-distance co-parenting relationship. We decided to go with online homeschooling so that she can spend equal time with both parents.

  10. Matt says:

    I’m having a really tough time. Three years ago I did the unthinkable, I couldn’t imagine being away from my kids. My wife and I couldn’t live together, 17 years unhappy, we wanted a divorce, I couldn’t afford to support her and kids while afford to live somewhere else on my own .. we both decided I’d move back in with my folks (rent free) only problem is my parents lived in Canada, my wife and kids in California. My parents, who were living in California my whole life decided in 2004 they had to make the move to Canada for several reasons. 10 years later I made the inconcevable decision to move to Canada, to take this time to get an education to better support my kids … It was a mutual decision between us both. A win win it seemed expect for the fact I was devestated leaving our little ones. I moved in 2014, I made it through nursing school. However, during these three impossibly difficult years I also lost my mom to cancer halfway though my program and life took a turn at that point making it very difficult to leave my Dad and brother. I also met an amazing woman who helped us all make it through this, who kept my spirits up, who I would call my soul mate who also happened to be a nurse. Now I’m at a loss. My children are in California. My ex has no desire to move closer to me and why should she .. my new partner wants nothing to do with California. Do I abandon my dad and disabled brother and my love who saved me and has done so much for us, who I absolutely love spending my time with, do I try to take my Canadian training and try to challenge my licensing exam to be a nurse in California or do I continue to be a Dad at a distance, remain here in Canada with my girlfriend and try to make this work? Visiting as much as I can.

    • Terry says:

      Hello Matt,

      You have a big decision that can’t be made easily. I recommend you seek professional counseling and wish you all the best.

      Regards,
      Terry

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