Dear Dr. Jann: My son’s mother just announced that she is being transferred for work and has to move three states away. She wants to take my son and daughter. I currently see them every other weekend and a couple of evenings a week. Can I stop this move? When will I ever see my kids?
Dr. Jann: I am not a lawyer nor a fortune teller, but I can tell you what I have seen happen in the past. A parent who is the primary caregiver — and the parenting plan you describe tells me that mom has been the primary caregiver — will probably be allowed to move with the children.
When parents live a distance away from each other, mid-week visits are impossible, so this will impact the time you have with your children on a weekly basis. But, a parenting plan that designates breaks and Summer Vacation may actually give you more time with the kids than you have now. It’s not a perfect situation. Frequent and ongoing contact is regarded as the best parenting style, but when parents move, that is not possible and we have to look for plans that optimize parent/child interaction. Your challenge — and mom’s as well — is to put aside your petty differences and do your best to cooperate with each other and make this change easy on the kids. Here are a few tips to make long distance parenting easier on everyone:
- Prepare the kids for travel by making the trips to and from a positive experience. Don’t talk down the travel, the travel time, or the other parent.
- Plan activities before your children arrive. This saves precious time and prevents the dreaded “I’m so bored” syndrome. If they are bored, they will baulk about visiting.
- Suggest your kids occasionally bring friends to your house.
- If your child lived with you full time and you were going somewhere special, they would ask you if they could bring a friend. Your goal should be to keep your home as “normal” as possible. Friends = normal.
- Allowing your children to bring friends lets you meet the kids to which your children are attracted. Know your kids’ friends, know your kids.
- Don’t let them walk into your house and feel like a visitor. Make your house their home by having lots of pictures around of your excursions together, and let them have pictures of their other family in their room, as well. If they don’t have their own room, make sure they have their own “space” that no one touches while they are away.
- Support communication with their other parent. FaceTime and Skype are great ways to keep communication open and ongoing. It may help to assign a specific time so the child can expect the call—and during that call talk about the fun experiences, no, “I miss you so much,” or “I’m so lonely when you go see your dad,” or “Your dog had puppies.”
The goal is to make this a positive experience for your child. It was the parents’ idea to divorce and long distance is not easy for anyone. As the adults, it’s your job to absorb the burdens. Be an example for the children you love.