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.
Follow Terry Gaspard on Twitter and Facebook. She is pleased to announce the publication of Daughters of Divorce: Overcome the Legacy of Your Parents’ Breakup and Enjoy a Happy, Long-lasting Relationship (Sourcebooks).