by Brette McWhorter Sember
If you or your ex are relocating, you know it is going to be hard for your child to stay close to the non-residential parent. However, as the residential parent, there are many things you can do to encourage them to interact and many ways to provide support during this difficult adjustment.
The most important thing you need to do, when your child is no longer going to be living near the other parent, is to sit down and have a detailed talk together as parents about how you're going to make this work.
If you're the one moving, you may have had to get court permission and a court-approved plan for visitation, but even so, there are details that need to be worked out. It's essential that, as the residential parent, you make it clear to the other parent that you want his or her relationship with the child to thrive, despite the distance. You need to emphasize that you want to support their relationship.
Once you and the other parent have a plan, share it with your child. Your goal is to reassure him or her that the long distance parent is still going to have an parenting important role. For younger children, it can help to use to a calendar to show when they will go visit the other parent. Color this area of the calendar in or use stickers to make it stand out. Share all the details of the different ways child and parent will be able to stay in touch in between visits.
Talk about who is going to pay for long distance calls and if there is a plan you can both get on that will make it cheaper. Consider cell phone plans where long distance is not a different price and using the same plan so calls will be free if you call each other.
Also discuss travel expenses. If your child will be traveling to visit the other parent, who is going to do the driving, or who is going to pay the airfare? Arguments over these costs are the most common stumbling blocks to long distance visitation and if you can negotiate them now, you'll save yourselves, and your child, a lot of heartache later. Many parents share these costs, but if there is a large financial disparity between your incomes it may make sense for the wealthier parent to pick up the cost.
Chances are, if you have a teen, he or she is already a whiz with things like instant messenger and text messaging. You and your ex might not be though, and if you have a younger child, he or she may just be beginning to explore the wonders of cyberspace.
Choose an instant message program that you and your ex (and your child) will use. Follow the online tutorial, practicing how to use it. Instant messaging is a really great way for kids and parents to stay in touch and have real, up to the minute interaction with each other.
You can also purchase an inexpensive digital camera for your child so that he or she can frequently email photos to the other parent.
Non-residential parents often feel out of the loop even when they're living in the same town with their children, and it can be worse if they are across the country from their child. As the residential parent, make a point to share things that are happening in your child's life with the other parent.
Instead of throwing out homework papers that come home, stuff them all in an envelope and mail them every week or fax the really good ones over to the other parent. Send along the school or classroom newsletter. Email photos you take of your child and consider videotaping dance recitals, plays, or important games.
Don't hesitate to pick up the phone, or encourage your child to do so, to ask the other parent for suggestions for school projects, sympathy over a sprained ankle, or help with a friendship problem. Remember that a lot of the time our work as parents happens when our children reach out to us with a problem. The other parent won't have the opportunity in those moments unless you encourage your child to reach out.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of: