Children need both parents in order to thrive and there are many studies that point to the influence and impact that parents have. For instance, children with involved and caring fathers have better educational outcomes, other than being more secure emotionally and socially.
Mothers, similarly, impact their children; a study on teenage depression showed that teenagers were more at risk if their mother was sensation-seeking, impulsive, angry, suspicious or detached during their childhood.
Physically being with your child is extremely important, but what if you have to parent long-distance? In this article, we explore long-distance parenting strategies to maintain connection and involvement with your child.
Why You May Have to Parent over Long Distance
The more common circumstances are work-related or the separation of the couple where one parent moves out of the home. Work-related circumstances can also come in many forms, from one parent being stationed overseas to business trips that are so frequent and long each time that parents have to start thinking of how to parent when they are overseas.
The Child’s Needs before the Tools
When you think of distance parenting, it may first come to your mind to stay connected using Facetime, Skype or WhatsApp. You may, however, want to take a step back to think about what are your child’s needs during the period when you are away.
Couples can work this out together, such that there is a discussion around how the parent who is overseas can have a unique role to play – one that helps to meet the child’s needs, complement and support the parent who is at home and can be effectively carried out over long distance.
It is important to work this out so that distance parenting will not become just a routine, or worse a drudgery or superficial.
Brainstorming How to Meet Your Child’s Needs
A child has eight needs in order to thrive and be successful. They are security, stability, consistency, emotional support, love, education, positive role model and structure.
Some of these, such as security which refers to a shelter, food, clothing and structure, might be better carried out by the parent living with the child.
However, there are many possibilities of how the long-distance parent can help such as:
– Providing stability
To give the child a sense of belonging within a household, as well as the extended family, you can look into regular online communication along with in-person extended family gatherings.
For instance, Madam L. Kang would make an effort to bring her boys to visit their father who worked in China and believed that these visits during school holidays had helped to maintain a stable home for the children.
– Showing consistency
Even with distance parenting, both parents should take the time to agree on the values and rules in the household. For instance, the parent who is overseas should not be buying online games at the child’s request without first checking on the situation at home (with regards to child’s behaviour and whether these are acceptable expenditure).
Support in this area very much depends on the age of the child and an assessment of what help can be effectively given through online means. Some suggestions include reading a book for young children near bedtime, giving guiding comments to your preschooler for show and tell or helping an older child with presentations.
– Positive role model
Instead of just asking the child about his/her day, effort should be made to support a two-way meaningful communication whereby the parent also shares something about his/her day.
If the child is older, you can also share the challenges at work and living abroad, and how you try to face these challenges in a positive manner.
Adding Some Tools to Your Distance Parenting
Here are some of the tools to consider for your distance parenting:
#1 Regular Communication
Depending on the age of your child, you can use phone calls, video chats, text messages and video chats. The key point is to make these communications regular – such as video chat before bedtime or regular text messages if the child is older and has access to his own phone.
When communications are more regular, they will be more natural and be part of the child’s life.
#2 Monthly Meetings
Planning ahead to take advantage of school holidays, public holidays and business trips for family outings can help the family to stay close together.
Mr Alen Ng, whose work had required him to be stationed overseas, shared that planning the family’s schedule carefully so that a few days every month could be spent together had greatly helped to overcome the challenge of being apart.
#3 Invent Celebrations
It may be difficult or limiting to only meet up during public holidays or family celebrations – why not invent your own? You can celebrate anything (how about 1,000 photos shared since living abroad?) in any way you like (having a small vacation at a city between the two countries?).
Over time, these celebrations may well become your own family traditions.
#4 Shared Experience
Even when online, you can have shared experience ranging from bedtime stories for the little one to online games or Playstation (where you can view your competitor for games that make use of the camera), reading the same book, watching an online movie or participating in one of the family interactive series on Netflix where you and your child can decide together on the next ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’!
#5 Care Packages
If you are long-distance parenting from overseas, you can take the chance to send care packages filled with items that are not available to your child. How about a themed box every month, ranging from unique stationery, cool gadgets to local-flavoured snacks?
You can even try your hand at writing letters or postcards, to give your child something to pin up his wall and remind him of how much you care.
As you can see, the main strategy is focusing on what your child needs and then working out the details with consistency and love. There is definitely planning and commitment involved, but you do not have to feel distant just because you are parenting from a distance.
By Marcie Mei.
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