So what is a long distance parent? A long distance parent is someone who takes responsibility for the upbringing of a child but who is not actually living with that child for significant chunks of time.
That could mean:
- A parent separated from their partner and not living in the family home.
- A parent who is working in a remote location for set shifts, such as three weeks on, one week off.
- A parent who has been deployed to another country for a military tour of duty.
- A parent who has been seconded to another city, state or country for an extended work project.
- A parent who is incarcerated.
Perhaps you can think of more examples?
There are parents and “parents”
Long distance parents are just as keen to be good role models and carers of their children as stay at home parents.
Certainly, there are “parents” out there who don’t care about their children and don’t want to be involved in their lives. But I put the word “parents” in quotation marks to describe them for a good reason. I don’t consider people like that to be parents at all. It takes more than an official description to make a parent, as I know you will agree.
A parent is someone who cares, deeply cares, about the children they are responsible for.
Someone who will willingly put themselves second in order to see to the needs of their children.
But it can be very difficult to take an active, effective role as a parent if you are not present in a child’s life every day. It helps to have a few ideas to start you off.
There are plenty of ways that parents can engage with their children’s lives and maintain close, influential and loving relationships even when they are not in the same location.
We have a lot to thank technology for, but even if you are not a confident Internet user you still have plenty of options available to you.
The low tech method
When I was at high school, my father was living in another country, finishing off a teaching contract before returning to Australia. During the two years of his absence, I missed him terribly.
These were the days before the Internet was a thing, so we had no choice but to rely on written letters and very occasional, brief telephone calls (they were expensive!).
Through these letters, I was able to give my father a taste of the life I was living, the dreams I had, the struggles and pain I was going through and the every day events of my life.
Looking back through those letters today, I can see I censored quite a lot of my experiences.
But I passed on enough for my father to have a glimpse of what things were like for me, and to even be able to offer advice.
These days we have so many more options for staying in touch. Through the Internet, we have the ability to chat instantly at any time of the night or day. If we have a sudden question or need, we can shoot it straight through to our absent family member and expect an answer within 24 hours at the latest, often much sooner. We can take and upload photos instantly. We can even share our social experiences through social media sites.
How to parent effectively – long distance style
If you are willing to take the time to learn some basics of the world of the Internet, you have an excellent chance of staying closely in touch with your children, commiserating with their disappointments, celebrating their achievements, reading between the lines to get to their hidden fears or aspirations and even contributing to their learning and development.
Here are just a few ideas to get your started:
- Start a family website – family members can post updates, images, stories about their experiences, and other family members can comment.
- Make use of Skype – to have daily conversations (think of it as an alternative to family dinnertime conversations) about every day events.
- Hook into social media – this is essential for every parent, but for a long distance parent it gives you a look into your child’s social life, which will help you to understand their feelings and priorities.
- Engage with your child’s schooling – while you are at home, meet and talk with your child’s teachers, find out what they will be learning and stay in contact via email and phone. You can help your child by researching relevant information online for them (think interesting videos or fact sheets about topics your child is studying, for a start) and by staying in contact with their teachers, you will be prepared for any problems that might arise.
- Foster creativity – by organising an art or photo competition among your family, or a short story or poetry competition. Submissions can go up on the family website as a shared activity.
There a re plenty of other ways to engage with your child’s learning and development from a distance.
Let your imagination take you as far as you like.But remember two golden rules:
- Always parent in partnership – if you are not the only parent or carer, always make sure the at-home parent is fully supportive of any ideas you have. They are the ones on the ground, who will have to make it work in with the family’s busy schedule.
- Discuss, don’t dictate – if you want real engagement with your children, acting the tyrant will not bring you success. Treat this as a family project, in which all members get a say. See what ideas your children can come up with. They may surprise you. Try out people’s ideas and don’t be afraid to drop activities that aren’t working for your family – even if they are your own invention.
Have you experienced long distance parenting? Can you SHARE any tips or things that worked for you?