This last week I have been contemplating my new label because I have become something I never thought I would be … a distant parent.* Searching around the web I’ve found different definitions for what a distant parent is (and is not) but the basic idea is that I am parenting my child “from a distance.” (insert annoying Bette Midler song? No please.)
Let me assure you, and myself, that I have not abandoned my daughter. By definition, abandonment involves complete desertion of support (financially, emotionally and/or physically.) Another time I will talk about how I came to the decision to leave, but for now I’d like to talk about how I can still parent from a distance and what areas I need to work on.
- I choose to, and work diligently at, keeping a good relationship with my ex-husband. Someone asked me just the other day how I manage to still co-parent even though I am divorced from her father. The answer is a lot easier than most people would think… we both love her too much to give up parenting her just because we couldn’t continue our own relationship. She deserves two loving, committed parents and as long as I have breath in my lungs I will not stop guiding and supporting her. More on how to do this in another post soon.
- Texting, texting, texting. We text all day long sometimes. Yes, they’re generally short, stupid, pointless blurbs BUT it is constant contact. Mom is still always there. I’m a visual person, so when we are chatting back and forth I picture her in her room with her phone, and a zig zaggy line stretching across the states to my phone, and I feel tied to her. It’s purely mental and emotional, but it works at making me feel connected despite the distance. I keep my phone next to me at all times, so that if she texts me I can answer immediately. It’s important that she knows mom will be there in an instant, no matter what.
- Staying involved in her school work has been tricky, but not completely impossible. This is a tool for us because school is one of those things that is very important to her, so just by me asking about her assignments I’m showing her that I care about her interests. I’ve stayed on her teachers texting lists and get updates on what they’re doing in class. It makes conversation starters like, “Hey, how did those yeast experiments go today?” possible. I can also check up on her grades and assignments on line. Hello modern age. One of these days I want to try to help her study, though I really have no idea how.
- Phone calls and Facetime are two tools that I have admittedly NOT been good about utilizing. As much as I adore my daughter, talking on the phone always feels awkward to me. I was a stay-at-home parent for her first 14 years and I’m used to our conversations happening naturally and spontaneously. Talking on the phone feels, for lack of a more descriptive word, weird. So is Facetime. Staring into my phone and seeing my own face is a wretched task, but I know she needs to see me, and I’m craving her. These are two really important things that I believe I need to focus on right away.
- Social media is helping me visualize her everyday life and gives me a chance to ask questions about her life. For example, just this morning on Instagram I saw a goofy video she posted that had a girl in it I didn’t recognize. I texted her, “Who’s the girl in your IG video?” “Oh, that’s so-and-so.” Mental note to self: Ask about so-and-so next time we’re talking about friends. She posted a picture on Facebook and noticed she had refreshed her pink hair color. An immediate text from me, “OMG! Your hair looks amazing!” Her reply, “Thanks! I did it myself!”
I don’t know how any of this would’ve been possible 20 years or more ago, but I am so thankful for what we have available now. I will write more on how I do with those phone calls and Facetime sessions as soon as I get my act together.
*Are you a distant parent? Here’s an article that might be of encouragement for you. I know it was for me. What Long Distant Parenting Is and Is Not.