Even though it would seem that 90% of millennials move out of their childhood homes before the age of 30, for some it still comes as a shock to most parents!
Facing the new arrangement is sometimes a painful process, and takes you through various iterations of denial and bargaining before reaching acceptance. Then, just when you thought that the hard part is over, you get hit with a million curveballs.
“The unexpected effects of long-distance parenting is sometimes shocking and often funny.”
We’re here to walk you through some of those curveballs in the hopes that you won’t be caught completely unprepared.
Here are some of the magical (and horrible) things you can look forward to in your long distance parent-child relationship, from my perspective as an “escapee” child.
So your child just moved out: what happens next?
The first week is always the easiest
I bet you were hoping I was going to say hardest, but nope! You don’t get off that easily. During the first week, emotions are high, everything is exciting, your kids miss you and will probably call you every single day to check in.
If I recall correctly, I spoke to my mom three times a day for the first three days. Take a guess on whether or not that’s still going on!
Whatever happens in this period, take it as an adjustment and don’t think about it too much. It’s not an indication of the future of your long distance parent-child relationship at all.
It’s also not an indication of the level of your long-distance parenting skills, those don’t kick in until later.
If you’re imagining that your kid is having one constant party in which they are dancing around and shouting “I’m free! I’m free!” then you’re probably right.
Don’t worry, though. We all end up regretting that around the time we are free to pay our own parking violation fines.
The first month is usually pretty awkward
It’s normal to make a lot of plans that you don’t actually keep.
Everything in your kids’ life has been turned upside down, so you can’t expect them to reasonably be able to schedule calls and stick to the schedule (Not that some of us were all that great at sticking to schedules before, either.)
This period still doesn’t really count as an indicator of the quantity or quality of your future interactions with your kids for that very reason. If you can, try to be as relaxed as possible about any missed communications or failed plans.
Around the end of this month, you’ll probably start itching quite badly to see your kids again. Hang in there and be patient! If it’s any comfort, they’re about to start itching too, and not only because they need to actually concentrate on things like rent and power bills.
Around this time, you might get the standard “Everything sucks and I hate everyone” phone call from your kids. This is the equivalent of when we were little and wanted you to come to get us on day two of camp. Resist the urge to do it!
The one year mark is a pretty big deal
By then, most of the hustle and bustle should have died down and you and your children will have settled into a pretty steady routine. What you do now, how often you interact and how well, will more or less be the same for the rest of the relationship.
The real shocker you’ll have noticed about now is that your kids may suddenly be way more interested in talking to you! Not being on each other’s nerves every single day tends to have a positive effect on most families, and even very tense relationships have seen drastic improvements.
Another big surprise (for both sides involved) is that they might suddenly want a lot more advice from you! Do you remember that angry teenager that listened to rock music way too loud and would literally scorn every single word that fell out of your mouth? Well, you can forget that person.
Whether it’s the distance, being homesick, or just the impending fear of having to file a tax return, your kids now genuinely go out of their way to ask for your opinion.
The really difficult things about being a long distance parent
1. You have to be a lot sneakier if you want to stay in control
There’s no way to force a kid to call, write or visit as often as you’d like. No obvious way, at least. The more you push the more you strain the relationship, and you’ll know what I mean the first time you have a shouting match and they refuse to speak to you for a month.
The good news is that those shouting matches are a lot less likely to happen. We have more time to think our words through before sending them or to calm down before calling.
What you can do is be sneaky and encourage your kids to be actively involved in your relationship by praising and rewarding them when they behave in a way that makes you happy.
Not to mention what a lot of parents normally do, which is veil threats in the form of off-hand statements. Visiting my “aged grandmother, who may not have long in this world” is one of my mother’s personal favorites.
2. You have to accept that it isn’t personal
This may be really hard to do at first. I’ve heard this complaint from parents who had great relationships with their kids:
“He hasn’t called for a month. I think he’s forgetting about me.”
It’s hard to accept that a long-distance parent-child relationship really is a two-way street, way more so than when they were little and living at home.
They understand that you need to be kept in the loop, but you also have to understand that they need space and are spending this time exploring their independence. Whatever we do, or don’t do, it’s not a statement about how we feel about you.
3. You have to set aside a budget.
While at home expenses might not seem any different, especially since you still buy enough food to feed an army, you’ll definitely notice the increase in expenses when it comes to flights, gas money, and phone bills.
You’ll need a new international phone plan and a decent internet line at the very least. Not to mention the moment you see where your kid lives and decide it’s vital to refurnish their entire apartment!
Be prepared for these situations if you don’t want to have an alarming phone call from your accountant at the end of the year.
The best things about long-distance parenting
1. The ridiculous holidays
Oh, how I love our ridiculous holidays. When you and your kids live in different states or countries, holidays become an excuse to have the kind of adventures you thought you’d left behind when you were in your 20’s.
The word “hostel” might make a re-entry into your vocabulary. You may discover places and landmarks you’ve only ever seen on television.
What’s that, mom? We should get our entire family to meet in some strange country halfway between us for an entire week like some sort of secret society? Hell yeah!
Oh, you want my 80-year-old grandmother to get on an airplane for the very first time and you want me to be her supervisor? Okay.
….you get the idea!
2. The pride
Let’s face it, however strained the relationship may sometimes get, you can always fall back on your feeling of pride.
Your kid moved out, made a life somewhere halfway across the world, and is happy. That’s all you could possibly want for them. No matter what they are doing, it’s the act of being independent and able to survive that stands as a testament to all of your education and upbringing.
If it makes you feel better, sure you can gloat to Mrs. Goodman across the street. Yes, especially if her son still lives in her basement at 45.
“What’s that, you say, he works for Google? Well, my daughter lives where they invented pizza.”
3. The moment when they need you again
Which tends to come sooner, rather than later. You’ve probably spent years bearing with your kids while they were insufferable teenagers who hated you.
You’ve probably suffered hundreds of dirty looks from under their emo bangs. Now they’re away and what do you think happens the first time they run into trouble?
That’s right. They need you. They call you and ask for your advice. And, the most surprising thing of all: they actually listen to it.
You might want to be extra careful on what advice you give them, as previously you were completely expecting them to ignore it anyway. Now it actually matters, a lot.
These are only a few of the things you can look forward to in your long-distance parenting experience. There’s a lot more, and every new day will bring a strange moment, whether it’s happy or sad, funny or serious.
Most importantly, at the end of the year, you will be able to look back and say…
“I supported my child this year. I was there for them. I gave them space. I felt pride.”
And, take it from the daughter of a pro-long-distance mother: that’s all we could ever ask for.
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