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The separation or divorce process is difficult enough as it is, but when children are involved, it takes things to a whole new level. Most parents truly want the best for their children, allowing them to spend time with both mom and dad, which means coming up with a parenting plan. Of course, when one parent is going to be parenting from a long distance, that can throw a whole new wrench into things.
Most children, about 84%, are born into a two-parent household, but a 2003 study found that in the U.S., from birth through age 15, that over 51% of children will spend at least part of their lives with a single parent.
While long-distance parenting can be tricky, there are some things you need to know that can help make the process easier for all involved.
Be as Flexible as Possible
The arrangements that work for couples splitting up while remaining in close proximity to each other don’t usually work for parents when it comes to long-distance custody. You’ll need to get creative and be more flexible to make it work. If, for example, you just purchased one of the houses in Fort Lauderdale, Florida hoping to live your new single life at the beach, while your soon to be ex is working his or her way up the ladder in Silicon Valley, California, and your kids are in school, visitations may have to take place during summer vacations, long weekends and holidays. And, what works when they’re in elementary school may not work later when they reach the teen years in junior high and high school.
Discuss Parenting Plans and Other Issues Calmly, and Away from the Kids
Think out of the box if necessary and try to work together to find a solution – not just for the sake of yourselves, but for the kids. Discussing plans in a pleasant, calm and friendly manner, including listening patiently while the other parent speaks is a must. Never argue about parenting in a place where your kids can hear you as it can cause them serious distress in an already difficult situation. Meeting at a neutral place, like a coffee shop, may be a better idea for anger-prone couples.
Keep Connections Strong While You’re Apart
It’s important for the long-distance parent to keep connections strong – and these days, there are many ways to keep in touch. You might use a webcam or the phone to read a bedtime story just before your child (or children) go to bed for a few nights each week. You can also make phone or video/face-to-face calls frequently to keep up on things, and with older kids, regular emails and texts.
Reassuring the Kids
A long-distance parenting arrangement, with the absence of the noncustodial parent, is obvious to most children unless they are very young. At some point during the toddler years or older, they’ll probably have questions about why the other parent left. Many feel responsible, blaming themselves. That kind of reaction can have potential negative, long-term consequences which is why it’s important for the parent with custody to be honest without getting into too much detail or being derogatory toward the other parent. Reassure children that they are loved, and that the separation or divorce has nothing to do with them, showing empathy and compassion as well as extra attention, at least during the initial process.