Families Staying Connected

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Research proves children benefit from regular face-to-face contact with both of their parents as they grow up, however, studies also reveal that parents who stay in conflict with one another after divorce or separation do harm to their children. So, for some co-parents, long distance can keep the conflict between the adults at bay, but it may leave children feeling abandoned, angry or sad to not be able to see their other parent as much as they desire. How can custodial parents help kids whose other parent lives in another state or faraway town?

Encourage and allow kids to communicate freely with their long-distance parent. With the many technology choices we have today, communication is much easier and accessible. E-mail, texting, voice mail and the use of online video, such as Skype, makes keeping in touch a no-brainer. Set up an appropriate communication plans for your kids and the other parent as part of their regular routine. For toddlers, a nightly 5-minute phone call is appropriate, or allow the other parent to read a bedtime story to your child in the evening via phone or online video. For elementary school-age kids, nightly phone calls are great, but also set up a time over the weekend when the other parent can call on a private phone and have a 30-minute conversation with them without you in the room. Kids need private time to talk to the other parent without feeling they have to monitor their words in front of their custodial parent. Teens, who obviously have their own cell phones, can communicate freely with their other parent via phone, texting and video conferencing. Be sure, however, to use age-appropriate safety controls for Internet and phone access that you and the other parent agree on.

Videotape your child’s activities and important milestones for the other parent. This can be helpful to kids when they visit with their other parent for the first time after a long absence. They can sit down together when they first reunite to view their videos or DVDs that chronicle what they have been doing since they last saw each other. Although this may seem like a lot of work for the custodial parent, it is a great way to have a video record for their own library, and also a way to show kids support for their relationship with the long-distance parent. Kids will feel less guilty about their other parent missing out on their activities, and they will have something to share with their parent that will facilitate interesting conversation and a stronger bond when they see the parent again.

Keep the other parent in the loop about important information and decisions. Long-distance parents often can feel alienated from their children and out-of-touch with daily activities. Although custodial parents often feel anger or indifference toward their ex-partner because they have to take care of all of the day-to-day responsibilities, it is important to put those feeling aside in order to foster the best possible relationship between the children and their long-distance parent. This includes sharing information with the other parent that the kids are likely to forget or discount in their conversations with their other parent. Custodial parents should get in the habit of sending a weekly e-mail to the other parent about issues concerning the kids (education, medical, activities, problems, etc.) and should be sure to give the other parent contact names and phone numbers of teachers, coaches, instructors, youth pastors, etc.

Keep in mind, it is not the custodial parent’s job to be the other parent’s secretary, but the custodial parent should take responsibility to inform the long distance parent of how he or she can maintain communication and involvement with the important other adults in their children’s lives in case they desire contact or information.

Diane Chambers Shearer is a licensed marriage and family therapist, divorce mediator and parent educator in Atlanta. She is author of “Solo Parenting: Raising Strong and Happy Families.” Visit her website at www.dianeshearer.com.