Now that you’ve gone through the legal process of modifying your custody order to accommodate a parent’s relocation, you face the daunting task of long-distance co-parenting. It’s hard enough to co-parent when your ex lives down the road or in the next town over. So how do you co-parent when your ex lives hours or states away from you?
Regardless of whether you’re the parent relocating or the parent who is left behind, know that it is possible to successfully co-parent in a long-distance situation to the benefit of your kids. Here, we explore some of these ideas to help you transition smoothly into long-distance co-parenting.
What Can I Do If I’m the Parent Being Left Behind?
When your ex decided to relocate and take the kids to another state, you probably felt devastated, upset, and even angry. You’ve likely spent the last several years living near your kids. You picked them up after school a few days a week, attended their soccer games and piano recitals, and saw them on holidays and on their birthdays. You stayed up to date on their lives by attending parent-teacher conferences and doctor’s appointments. Best of all, you’ve been able to simply hang out with them on the weekends when everyone is off from work and school.
But with your kids living far away from you, you won’t be able to do any of these things without serious planning. Your new custody schedule might carve out a large block of time for you to see your kids, for example, a month or two in the summer. You’re looking forward to having that quality time, but what do you do during the school year and during the week?
How can I stay involved in my children’s lives?
Don’t just throw in the towel. There are many ways to let your children know that, even though you’re not physically nearby, you’re still very interested in their lives. Consider these options:
- using FaceTime and/or Skype for video calls instead of regular telephone calls;
- exchanging text messages and emails;
- using online shared calendars with the other parent and the kids;
- talking to your children regularly, asking questions, hearing about their activities, and learning the names of the new people in their lives;
- watching the same TV shows or playing the same online game as your kids so you have a common activity—even if you can’t actually do it together;
- helping virtually with homework; and
- sending care packages or cards in the mail during tough times or on special occasions.
Take Advantage of Technology
Today’s advanced technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch despite long distances. Your kids are using that technology to talk with their friends. You can stay connected with them this way too.
FaceTime and/or Skype
Many long-distance parents find FaceTime or Skype to be a helpful, enjoyable way to stay in touch with their children. Unlike regular telephone calls, FaceTime and Skype use cameras and video technology to let you and your kids see each other while you talk. iPhone users can make calls through FaceTime, which allows both sides of the call to see each other, using the phone’s camera, as they talk. Skype uses the webcam on your computer to do the same thing.
With these features, not only can you talk to your children, but you can see them too, and they can see you.
Texts and Emails
For older children who have their own cell phones or their own email addresses, you can quickly and easily stay in touch with your children despite the distance between you. Texting and emailing are also great ways for you and your kids to share pictures.
Online Shared Calendars
Online calendars and scheduling websites and apps allow parents to share a calendar where they can keep up with their kids’ activities and events.
If you and your co-parent can both agree to use such a website or app and to keep it current, you’ll have an easy way to see what your kids are doing from day to day.
For example, if your child has a baseball game or a major test coming up, your co-parent can schedule it in the shared calendar where you can view it. When you next talk to your child, you’ll know to ask how the game or the test went. You can even send a quick “good luck” text beforehand.
You can also schedule recurring phone calls or video calls on the shared calendar.
Maintain Consistency in your Communications
One of the most important things you can do when your kids live in another state is to maintain regular, consistent communication with them.
Say you plan to talk with your kids on the phone or by FaceTime or Skype three times a week. Don’t wait for a convenient time to come along; schedule those calls in advance. Set a specific day and time frame for when you will call: for example, you might agree to call every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday between 7:30 pm and 8:30 pm. Most importantly, follow through each and every time. Your court order or separation agreement may even specify what telephone contact is permitted.
Be sure that you initiate the communication when you say you will. Don’t skip calls, and don’t rely on your child to call you.
Ask Questions, Learn Names
When you do get to talk to your kids, whether it’s by telephone or on video, be ready to ask them questions. You might ask your daughter about her day, how she did on a test, what she did with her friends over the weekend, how her soccer game went, etc.
Ask open-ended questions. Questions that your children can answer with a simple “yes” or “no” don’t give you much real information or help you start a discussion.
Also, ask questions about specific people who are important in your kids’ lives. Learn the names of your children’s teachers, close friends, new babysitter, and so on. You might not know these people, but they matter to your children. Knowing who is involved in your children’s daily lives will improve your connection with them.
Not only is asking questions important to help your kids feel more connected to you, but it also benefits you. Staying in tune with your kids’ lives can make them feel closer, regardless of the physical distance between you.
Watch the Same TV and Play the Same Games
This may sound unusual, but watching TV or playing an online game can actually help you bond with your kids.
You and your child might agree ahead of time to watch the same TV show or sports game and discuss it afterward. Or you and your child can play the same online game at the same time.
So, even if you are many miles away from your kids, you can still connect with them, as if they were watching TV next to you or gaming just down the hall.
Help With Homework
Who says you have to be in the same room to help your children with their homework?
With today’s technology, especially video services such as FaceTime and Skype, you can help your children with their homework even if you are in another state. Encourage your children to FaceTime or Skype you if they have a question about an assignment. You might establish “on call” hours on certain evenings when your kids can ask for homework help. Alternatively, you and your co-parent could divide your child’s school subjects between you so your child knows who to ask for help with reading or math.
Also, many schools are using the internet for assignments and staying in touch with parents. Regularly log in to their school’s internet portal to keep up with assignments and projects.
Send a Care Package
You know it’s true: everyone loves getting a package in the mail, especially kids. And packages are even more exciting when you send them for no particular reason (as in, it’s not their birthday or a holiday).
Every once in a while, send a package to your children with a few things they would enjoy or that might cheer them up.
Want to send a themed care package? Search online for ideas. Sites like Pinterest can be a rich source of inspiration.
And don’t forget about a card in the mail every once in a while. Sending a simple card by regular mail can let your children know you’re thinking about them even though you’re not there.
What Can I Do If I’m the Parent Leaving and Taking the Kids With Me?
You’ve decided to relocate to another state, and your kids will be coming with you. Between packing, unpacking, learning your away around a new town, figuring out your new job, meeting new neighbors and friends, and getting your kids adjusted to new schools, you’ve got a lot on your mind. On top of that, you’ve got to figure out how to co-parent with your ex now that the two of you live miles or states apart.
You want your children to maintain their relationships with the other parent. Your kids are also probably upset not only about the upheaval in their lives but also about being so far away from their other parent.
How can I make sure my children stay involved with their other parent?
Of course, you will make sure that your kids visit with their other parent according to your court order or written agreement. But you can do several other things to help your kids and your co-parent stay connected, such as these:
- Support your ex’s attempts to stay connected with the kids.
- Encourage your kids to maintain regular contact with their other parent.
- Keep your co-parent updated about the events and goings-on in your kids’ lives.
Be Supportive of Their Other Parent
Arguably, the most important thing to do when you are the parent relocating with your children is to be supportive of the parent left behind. That means you should not only support your kids when they want to talk to or contact your ex, but you should also support your ex’s efforts to stay connected with the kids.
Remember, your move with the children is tough on your ex. He or she has always been involved with your kids’ daily lives. Now, all of a sudden, that regular contact is gone. Your co-parent is bound to miss the children as much as you would if your roles were reversed.
So, try to be accommodating when your ex says he or she wants to have regular FaceTime calls or telephone calls with your kids. Uphold your end of the deal by making sure that your kids are home and available during the scheduled time for those calls. If your children are younger or do not have their own cell phones, make sure you either have a landline or that your cell phone is charged, on, and not silenced so that you will hear the phone ring.
If your ex talks to your child about watching the same show or football game on TV, for example, let your child watch that show or game. Don’t interfere with or undermine your ex’s efforts—you’ll only be hurting your kids in the long run.
Help Your Kids Stay In Touch
Not only should you support the efforts your ex makes to stay connected with the kids, but you should encourage your children to stay in contact as well.
Reminding them to talk with their other parent during a regularly scheduled call is a great start. But you should urge them to call or text your ex at other times too: when your child has an accomplishment to share, needs help with homework, or needs advice and support. You can encourage your child to reach out for no other reason than to simply say hello.
When your children are on the phone with their other parent, allow them to talk freely together. Don’t constantly monitor the conversation. Also, never try to find out the details of your ex’s life through your kids’ conversations with him or her.
When your ex sends a care package or a card in the mail, give it to your kids right away. They’ll be thrilled to receive something in the mail, so be excited with them when they open the box or envelope.
Share Your Children’s Schedules
Keep your co-parent up to date with all the events in your children’s lives.
Use a shared calendar on an app or website and take the time to enter in each upcoming event. Just like you would want to know when your kids have a softball game, a gymnastics competition, a play date with a friend, or a major project due at school, so does the other parent. Since your ex can’t attend these events like you can, at least help him or her keep up with what your kids are doing each day or week.
Sharing all the events in your children’s lives will enable all of you—you, your children, and your co-parent—to stay better connected. With a shared calendar, your ex can ask about specific events when he or she talks to your kids. This helps your kids understand that even though distance separates them from their other parent, they have not lost their relationships with that parent.
With Some Effort, the Distance Won’t Be So Great
With a little extra effort on the part of both parents, the long distance that separates the kids from one of their parents doesn’t have to seem so daunting.
Long-distance parents can still effectively co-parent and stay involved in their kids’ lives by taking advantage of technology and maintaining regular contact.
It won’t always be easy. But when both parents put forth the additional effort, their children are the ones who benefit. Aim for your children to maintain or even strengthen the great parent-child relationships they had prior to your relocation.