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Long-Distance Dad

Ideas for keeping a connection with your children while you're away.

Q. I recently remarried. My new wife lives in another state and I moved to be with her, taking me 600 miles away from my three children, who are 16, 13, and 10. I'm having a very hard time with the separation. I can't help but feel I've let my kids down. We see each other as often as possible, but obviously it's not the same. How can I maintain a close relationship with my children? And how can I deal with the guilt I feel?

A. Well, you have a challenging situation on your hands. I want to start with your feelings of guilt. You need to ask yourself if the guilt is from God in the form of true conviction or a false feeling that you are carrying with you. Since you're the only one who can answer that question, I'd recommend taking a half-day private retreat to consider the pros and cons of your move, your life goals, your marriage goals, and what you want people to say about you in your eulogy. That last question may sound morose, but it is a good way to align your life choices with your life goals. After your retreat, you should have a better sense of where God is leading you right now.

If you still feel unsettled about the move, you may want to reevaluate it. Talk with your wife and see if she's willing to work with you. Perhaps she would consider moving to be near the kids after a year or two. If you still feel the move is the best choice for everyone involved, ask God to give you peace about the situation and help you accept it.

If you stay, here are some ideas for keeping a connection with your children:

  1. Phone or e-mail often. Your kids are at a great age for e-mail. The same 10-year-old who is monosyllabic on the phone can be prolific on e-mail. Talk to each of your children separately to find out his or her preferred way to keep in touch.
  2. Map out trips. You have probably scheduled your children's visitation with you for summers and holidays. For long-distance parents these visits are typically extended (two to four weeks in the summer, a week during the Christmas holiday, and one other week during the year). If your schedule is similar to this, get creative and think of ways you can get more time with your kids. Plan a business trip to their area or arrange for one of them to join you on a trip. While it may be tough to arrange a visit with all three of your kids, consider flying them out to see you one at a time. Special one-on-one visits can create lasting memories and infuse a large dose of emotional encouragement into the relationship. Yes, this will cost a lot of money, but I'd suggest setting a line item in your budget for this so that once the logistics fall into place, the money is already there.
  3. Make calling easy. Give them each a long distance phone card designated for calls to you so they can get in touch any time they want to talk.
  4. Keep current on your kids' schedules. Send them your schedule by e-mail each week and have them do the same. This will not only help all of you figure out the best times to reach each other, but you'll also get a glimpse into their world. Make sure to take note of special events like the spring choral concert or the homecoming game.
  5. Become Instant Message buddies. This is fun way to spontaneously run into your kids online.
  6. Be a good listener. Pay attention to what your kids tell you and follow up with questions about their tests, a try-out, friends, etc.
  7. Find unique connections. If you haven't already, find one area of interest with each of your kids that is "your thing" together. Send articles, information, books, or other tidbits on that shared interest throughout the year.
  8. Make a talking picture. Electronics stores carry picture frames with a recordable message. Get a good photo of just you with each child and then record a message. This type of photo can provide a lot of reassurance during difficult moments. (And get one with their picture for yourself!)
  9. Exchange tapes. Talking to each other on tape can be a fun way to stay in touch. Even if you don't do it often, it can help your kids remember that you're there for them.
  10. Leave your guilt at the doorstep. Sometimes parents in your situation feel so desperate for reassurance about their decision that they unintentionally look to their kids for that assurance. Doing so can shut down their communication to you about their anger or fears related to the move.

Summer 2002, Vol. 14, No. 3, Page 56

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