Long Distance, Divorce and Children – Have a Parenting Plan Across the Miles

It’s not uncommon for one parent to move after divorce, especially with the tighter job market of today. Other reasons can be emotional, especially after a particularly difficult breakup; one parent may feel the need to make a clean start away from all that was familiar. If you find yourself in a situation such as this, you can appreciate that it doesn’t mean you want to be so far away from your children. Sometimes difficult choices are made in divorced families, and adjustments have to be made be all. The support of family and friends can prove invaluable, and in some instances, counseling can help with the transition.

The most important thing your child, (or children), should understand, is that the move was not to be further away from them. Children after divorce can be vulnerable emotionally, especially during the transition time while new roles and routines are getting established, so reassuring them you wish you could be closer to them is important. Don’t assume they know this; too many children end up wondering if they did something wrong after a divorce occurs.

Naturally, you will want to tell your children where you are moving to. You should also explain why you are moving there. Although they may have your new # in their cell phones, in this day and time, make sure they have complete contact information for you (except of course, in extreme circumstances with your ex-spouse, in which case you will have to use your own judgement who gets what information). Don’t forget to address your schedule, your children’s schedules, and take into consideration any time zone differences. The important thing is to pave the road for communication. When visits are not as frequent, phone calls become a lifeline in the relationship. The more ways you can find to be there for them, even if you can’t literally be there, the less likely they will feel like you are blowing them off (at best), or (at worst), abandoning them. If you are with someone new, and moving away, you should expect to have to work a little harder to show your child he or she is still as important to you as ever. But, it’s worth the extra effort to stay relevant in their lives. Keep in mind that at least at first, they may be more sensitive than you think they should be, if they try to call, and you are too busy to talk, or don’t call them back promptly, in the case of truly not being able to talk at a given moment.

Being available is key in long distance parenting, just as it was when you were closer. Have you reassured your children they can call you at any time if it’s an emergency, and almost any time if they just want to talk? Do you need to get them a cell phone or prepaid phone card? If you are on a really tight budget, you might look into prepaid cell phone plans, you would just have to ration the minutes. Little moments can pass so quickly. You may have had a long, hard day at work, but getting an A on an important assignment, or getting picked for a team for the first time may be an achievement they are proud to share with you, so it’s good to remember how important the little things can be. Plus, these “little things” in phone conversations now, are giving you common ground. Don’t be afraid to take the initiative–ask about their day, their classes, their friends. Thanks to all the social sites, and photo sharing sites, and of course, email, you can stay more connected, even at a distance, than divorced families could even 10-20 years ago. But don’t overlook doing something special once in a while; like sending a card that says you love them, or a small surprise in the mail. A word of caution, though. Some parents in this situation can get caught up in over-compensating by sending lots of gifts. You might do better to instead invest your time in their lives, even long distance.

Finally, long distance doesn’t mean you don’t get to visit, just that you don’t get to visit as often. This gives you a great incentive to make the time you do get special. You can get great deals on airfare if you are able to make concrete plans far enough in advance. Only you can determine if it makes more sense to go to your kids, or have them (or him / her) come to you. You may find at times there are conflicts with your children’s visits, and something that comes up with the other parent, or someone in that part of the family. Then, as the kids get older, they want to do more with their friends. You will probably find in the long run, that it’s better to work with the other parent, even if it feels like you’re doing the lion’s share of the giving (you probably are). Looking back later, you’ll know you went above and beyond to make it work. And one day, your child will most likely realize that too.