Sooner or later, the moment all parents fear looms on the horizon: your kids aren’t under your roof anymore. They’ve gotten that scholarship in another state, they’re starting a life in another country, they’re spending months away for an internship.
In short, they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing and getting on with their lives.
But is being a long distance parent going to affect you?
How will you cope?
Is a long distance parent-child relationship even possible?
Can you even survive without asking them what time they will be getting home?
A long-distance parent-child relationship is not only possible but potentially a lot better than you imagine. In many cases, it’s a lot better than living together!
We’ve put together 11 tips and tricks for long distance parents that will help you navigate these new, exciting waters.
You may also enjoy our other popular page > Unexpected Effects of Long-Distance Parenting: The good, The bad, The funny
1. Be ready to relax your grip
Especially if you’re the controlling type. There’s nothing wrong with being a helicopter parent sometimes! But this isn’t one of those times.
Letting your child go while burdening him with rules and regulations of what he must do, how often he must check in, how often he must call, and how often he must change his underpants isn’t doing either of you any favors.
This should be a happy and exciting time, and if you try to take away from that excitement you might end up the object of resentment. Besides, take it from an “escapee” long distance child: We may nod and agree, but we will still go out and do exactly what we want, and when we want it.
2. Quantity is not better than quality
So don’t put pressure on any of the family members involved to check in “a lot”. That includes yourself!
Try to be objective and think of what you would reasonably be happy to do for your own parents if they were a long distance away. A nice long chat every Sunday afternoon can be a great and relaxing event, but mandatory phone calls every single evening might be a bit excessive.
Most of the time, when life is progressing normally, you don’t actually need to talk that often. And instead of insisting that they tell you “everything”, you might want to trust them to give you the details that really matter to them.
There’s no hard and fast rule, but generally, if it starts to feel like a chore and you’d rather wash some dishes, it’s way too much.
3. Study up on your social media
Seems obvious to us long-distance kids, since we already live in the virtual world. Hell, we practically moved out of our mom’s place and into the internet the moment we got our first email address.
But a lot of times, parents and grandparents can have a hard time adjusting to that kind of interaction. Use what you can, and always push your limits a little bit.
If you can talk over the phone, you can call each other on skype. Then maybe video chat will follow. If you can send a text, you can chat on WhatsApp. And if you really want to break some barriers, Tweet!
There’s nothing wrong with setting up an Instagram account for the sole purpose of following your kids. If you sometimes feel like sharing photos and they get to see them, so much the better!
4. Photos are great communicators
The simple act of taking a photo and sending it over an instant messaging service can bring so much joy to your family members. It doesn’t have to be a big dramatic moment or posing in front of a monument.
A simple, slightly out of focus selfie can make your kid’s day.
“Look, your grandma has a new kitten!”
“Here’s a fun pic of us having coffee with your sister”
“What do you think of this sweater”
These are great examples of messages I’ve received that made me feel involved, present and happy.
Get used to the fact that most young people today, especially those in their teens, communicate almost exclusively through links, short videos, and photos.
You can get them to read a caption of a photo much more willingly than an actual text. And if the photo is silly and it makes them laugh or smile, so much the better!
It’s a good memory, a positive interaction and another bonus point for you.
5. Care packages mean more than you think
Especially to long distance kids that are away for the long term. It’s not about getting presents (Though that’s always really fun too!). It’s about the fact that their entire life is radically different now, and sometimes that can be very scary.
Having small comforts that remind you of home can be very uplifting, especially if those things aren’t easily found in your new location.
The best items are always simple ones, such as a familiar smelling soap, socks knitted by grandma, framed photos of family members, foods or spices from your culture, and even the funny pajamas that you always insist on gifting your kids for Christmas.
These previously laughed at items take on a monumental value in a long distance family relationship and can hold great sentimental value to your kids.
6. Consistent is good, flexible is better
Calling ever Sunday lunch to have a chat is good. Calling whenever we have the time, more or less once a week, usually when something funny happens and we want to share it, is much better!
“Too many rules can take away from the joy and freedom of the encounter”
Don’t demand that your kids absolutely must be with you on certain dates, not even ones that you find extremely important such as Christmas. Flights might cost a lot of money around then, or they may have a lot of pressure to participate in other events.
You might end up playing a tug-of-war with other family members, and using your kids as rope! Instead, gladly accept a visit at any time of year, make sure they know when you have blocks of free time and let them figure out what they want to do!
Flexibility, as well as the quality of the encounter, are the key to having a happy, resentment-free relationship.
7. Get the whole team involved
While you may be a social media wiz, following your kids on Instagram and buying them video games on Steam, that’s probably not the case for other family members, particularly elderly ones.
Some of them may rely on you as a liaison, so make sure you get them involved in as many activities as you can.
Keep them constantly updated with news, even if it’s just “He’s doing well, coming along nicely, we’ll see him next month“.
Get them involved in buying and sending presents or packages to your kids. Include notes from more distant family members in care packages. Organize visits whenever possible.
Even just a half hour of stopping by on their way to the airport will make a world of difference, especially to elderly relatives.
8. Keep any tension to a minimum
Especially in the early stages, there may be family members who are resentful of this new long-distance relationship. Make an effort to defuse this tention whenever it arises, and to be the voice of reason.
Always be on your kid’s side if anyone complains that they “don’t call often enough“. Don’t let their visits home be ruined by people questioning why they had to move away.
Whatever the reason for the distance, whether it’s their own choice or an obligation, make sure to always stand on the side of your kids. If you ever have that kind of thoughts yourself, do your best to keep them to yourself.
9. Bring out your most supportive self
This is not a time to be overly critical about choices that your kids make. Whether it’s something as simple as their clothing or something as great as an education or career path, be your best, most supportive self.
Try to keep in mind that a lot of the choices they make are critical survival decisions now that they don’t benefit from your non-stop protection. They may not be spending much money on their clothing or image because they are still finding their feet financially and want to be responsible.
They may choose an unusual direction of education or career because it’s what’s in demand where they live, and they think it’s a wise plan for the future.
You’re not always going to know the reasons behind their decisions, so when in doubt, cheer them on!
10. Be very sparing with reprimands and punishment
If you’re already spending less time than you’d like interacting with your kids, wasting some of that on arguments, shouting, threats and punishment make little sense. You don’t want being yelled at to be their takeaway from their week with you.
When you were expecting a call and it didn’t arrive, don’t panic. It doesn’t mean that your kids are in the hospital, and it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in talking to you anymore. Life just has a way of getting in the way, and you getting upset isn’t going to make it any better.
Avoid saying things like “I called you six times and you didn’t answer“. They know that they didn’t answer. They had a reason.
Avoid making a big fuss about canceled visits, or broken promises. Especially in the adjustment phase of a long distance relationship, it’s hard to be sure what will happen and when.
You can’t force your kids to have the level of involvement that you want. Instead, try to be positive, and offer praise and rewards for the kind of behavior you do like.
11. Expect the unexpected
Because every relationship is different. My greatest shock when I moved 2.000 km away from my parents was that our relationship actually improved in leaps and bounds.
My mother and I have progressed to being great friends, and most of that was due to her relaxed, supportive attitude.
Be prepared for anything, good and bad, and take it in your stride. Don’t just assume that everything will be perfect, but also try not to assume that it will go badly by default!
This may very well be the most exciting chapter for you and your kids. Only time, patience and understanding can help you achieve that successful long-distance parent-child relationship that we’re all dreaming about.