I write this post as I suspect I am coming down with the flu. Picture it with me, snotty nose, watery eyes, sore throat, occasional pain in the joints, uneasy tummy and all that fun stuff. Now, imagine experiencing all these symptoms with quite the inquisitive toddler. Can you feel my pain (the figurative one of course)? If not, here it is, though my baby girl understands that mommy is not feeling well, she’s a toddler and despite her sympathy (she rubbed my cheek and told me she’s sorry) she will do what toddlers do.
The tablet is at full volume. Or, maybe it just sounds loud to me. I’m being asked to pretend I am something conjured in her tremendously active imagination every 2.5 seconds, and to top it all off, I am occasionally pounced upon as she shares the joke about something Bluey and her family did.
This. Is. Not. Fun. And as I torturously wait for the bedtime alarm (read the sound of freedom), I wonder…. How do single parents do it?!
Our family changed
I know what you’re thinking and before you run with that thought, I am letting you know that I’m still married, our family hasn’t broken up. Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about what’s been happening with us…
We’re moving! And for the past couple months, our family has been relegated to a long distance relationship. Moving from a nuclear to single parent household is quite a jarring experience.
It is an instant shift from splitting the responsibilities of overseeing homework, school pickup and drop-off, chauffeuring around for the various co-curricular activities, navigating the meltdowns and trillion random questions, to it mostly being on the parent with the child. This, all while processing your own emotions of the “loss” in your home.
I never imagined it would be easy, but good heavens, this is a whole other level of an anxiety-inducing experience - dare I say the worst? Though we spoke about this temporary separation and prepared for it beforehand, I quickly learnt that no amount of talking it through and putting things in place could prepare anyone for a brush with long distance parenting.
7 tips for effective long distance parenting
Despite the difficulty, and how heart sickening the situation is for all parties, we must press on. Now, I am not here claiming to have all the answers, but I like to ponder the lessons from my experiences and these are a few tips for long distance parenting that I’ve realised in the past few months.
Be honest with your child.
Get on their level and explain what is happening to your family. If you have a toddler, know that their way of understanding is not like yours - they may ask questions loooooong after the fact or they may ask the same question over and over again. Don’t get frustrated, this is their way of processing the change.
Be patient with yourself and your child/ren as you transition to a long distance parenting dynamic. It will be hard, especially when you’re tired or overstimulated, but try your best to extend even more grace to the child. A shift in behaviour is not uncommon as they process the change in the home dynamic. Always remember your child is developing.
Encourage the child’s independence
When you fall into the role of long distance parenting, your to-do list triples, and splitting your attention amongst the myriad of things to do will be tasking. Soliciting your child’s support for some tasks and encouraging their independence goes a long way in building their confidence, teaching them important skills and helping you navigate your new normal.
Find your village and call on them when you need a break. Parenting is tough and the shift to long distance parenting can be even more brutal. It is good to have people you can count on to step in when you need to step back. Similarly, if you can afford to, don’t shy away from hiring persons to help you at home, whether it be housework, cooking, you name it.
Develop a schedule to keep your partner involved
Find solutions to maintain the parent-child bond despite the long distance. For us, we had several WhatsApp calls throughout the day - calls just to say ‘good morning’, or ‘I miss you’ or just to see each other. We also scheduled online chats for homework that could be done virtually - practicing spelling online became a daily occurrence. This was also my time to unwind and refocus.
Speak with your toddler
Conversing with a toddler can be informative, insightful and downright hilarious. Find some time to talk to your little one away from the devices and distractions. Ask about how they feel about the long distance parent-child relationship and listen to what they have to say. You can learn a lot about your child’s mental state just through purposeful conversation.
Take care of yourself
Your wellness is important to your child’s development. Though scheduling may be difficult in a long distance parenting arrangement, making an effort to take care of yourself is important. Call on your village and schedule that ‘me time’. Affirm yourself daily and remember to extend some grace your way.
Long distance parenting is not ideal. You may just want to curl up in a ball and cry your eyes out until your family is reunited; but you can’t. Take a few hours, a day even and do your crying, but when you're done, get back up and move forward because your family needs you to.
To the parent doing it on your own, whether it be temporary or permanent, The Village salutes you for your strength and resilience. This blog is an ode to the long distance parents holding it down for the family. The Village sees you mama, we got you, papa. Keep doing your thing!
P.S: I’ll ask my husband to share his perspective as the parent away. Fingers and toes crossed.