I believe my kids were born fairly perfect. Along with some genetics, it’s all the stuff to which they are exposed – both in and out of my control – that shapes their personalities and their futures. So, when my career took a turn that left me little choice but to move away from the family for two years, I feared the anxiety of my absence might have a negative effect on my kids.
In the spirit of my parenting mantra, “Just try not to screw this up”, I set out to minimize their anxiety levels while I live nearly 2,000 miles away. The best advice I can give is this: Do your research – take advantage of other peoples’ successes and failures. Here are some ideas from my experiences, and others, that you might find useful.
One great piece of advice comes from a mom named Carrie who posts on distanceparent.org the importance of stressing the positives of your new living arrangements and staying positive during your interactions with your kids. Your children will often mirror your feelings. So, if you want them to feel good, you should feel good. And there are a lot of positives about distance-parenting. Consider, for instance, the fact that you are spending focused time with your kids on a regular basis – albeit via Facetime or Skype. But this focused time can be so much more effective than the day-in day-out routine of living with your children, where the minutia of busy schedules and distractions of television or toys often forces us to forego these bonding moments.
Nothing eases anxiety in your children like a warm hug. Obviously, that’s not possible while living apart. So, staying connected in other ways is paramount.
Video Calls – I like Facetime. It’s easy and allows for mobility that computer-based tech can’t, or even new offerings like Google’s Home Hub or Amazon’s Echo Show. But no matter your vehicle, how you drive is key. Keeping a consistent time for your calls can be reassuring for kids. Stay flexible for their schedules, but consistent with yours – – it’s all about the kids. Choose a schedule that allows for focused time together – bedtime has fewer distractions than mealtime. Activities during calls, like reading a book or playing a game, are good ways to mix it up and avoid the tedium of “How was your day?”
Texting – Little notes throughout the day reassure your kids that you’re always there. Short messages, like “Have a good day at school” or “I just saw a Pug”, can give long-term comfort.
Video Games – You have little interest and you’ve spent years vilifying them and trying to limit their usage, but now would be a good time to surrender – embrace video games. An X-Box with a headset and mic’ allows you to play with your kids as if you’re sitting on the couch next to them. And you’re doing something they want to do.
Easing Kids Anxiety by Getting Together
Of course, there is no substitute for that warm hug. So, scheduling trips home, kid-visits to your away-home, and family vacations will allow for endless hugging. In between these reunions, a visual representation of when you will see each other again can give your kids reassurance. Stacy Keyte, a former member of the Texas Army National Guard and mother of two, tells an NPR reporter that while deployed, she would use a “Countdown jar” (with things like marbles or gumballs in it) to show how many days are left before seeing each other again.
Giving the Gift of Comfort
When I was a child, I spent several summers at Camp Cloverleaf. And while the bad food and mosquito bites were fun, nothing was more comforting than getting a care package from home. Now that you’re the adult, you can return the favor. Remember, these don’t need to make a huge statement, a favorite candy bar, stuffed animal, photo in a frame, article, or even novelty gift can do the trick. It would also make your kids feel good during a video call to see their school assignments or artwork posted on your fridge. So, encourage them to send you a care package too.
Laying Down the Law
Volumes have been written about how boundaries and discipline give children comfort and eases their anxieties. While they are my least favorite part of parenting, being separated by four states and two time zones doesn’t relieve me of these duties. Constant coordination and communication with the at-home parent will assure you are part of the process. Deferring to you to pronounce punishment can also be a welcomed respite and alleviate some of the “dirty work” for the at-home parent who is bearing the brunt of the everyday boundary-setting.
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Just Making the Effort
Curtis Colden posts on the GoodMenProject.com that he would sometimes hop on the computer to chat with his daughter, but she would be much less excited about the call than him. It would be easy to get hurt feelings, but he eventually realized that just making contact was the important part of their relationship. He writes, “Even if it’s just to say ‘goodnight’ and ‘I love you.’ Her knowing that I am here — thinking of her and wanting to see her before she heads to bed is extremely important, both for her and for me.”
So, hopefully some of these ideas will ease your anxiety about living apart from your family – which in turn will do wonders to ease kids anxiety anxiety as well.