Being a long-distance parent takes the parenting difficulty level up to 11. I only recently discovered this.
My wife and I didn’t get a divorce, but I did take a job halfway across the country. My family is living back in California while I get life ready for all of us here in Oklahoma. This distance is only temporary, but I am smack in the middle of being separated from my family for five weeks.
For some of you that might not be a big deal, but for me it is heart wrenching.
I feel like half of me is still in California with them. Some of these feelings might come from my parents’ divorce when I was 12. My dad moved out and suddenly my world turned upside down. But that taught me some lessons, and I have learned others on my own these past few weeks, about what it means to be a long-distance parent.
Drop everything when your kids call
This might seem like a no-brainer but I sometimes have an internal struggle with this. If I am not diligent about this I find myself typing on my keyboard while also trying to pay attention to them. It’s easy to rationalize, but your children deserve all your attention. Every single bit of it. They love you, they miss you, and it’s not their fault you aren’t there. Unless it’s an emergency or vitally important meeting just drop everything else. Your kids are worth it.
Don’t complain or take things personally
Your partner, spouse, ex, or whoever is shouldering the lion’s share of the load with the kids has way more to deal with than you. As a long-distance parent, you don’t get to complain when your kids have had a bad day and don’t want to talk to you. You don’t get to whine when your day seems stressful. You don’t get to take it personally when your children spend the night at a friend’s house and don’t Skype you on your schedule. Whatever you are feeling, the person who is full-time with your kids has had to deal with school, sports, throw up, diapers, explaining why their dad isn’t there and little sleep with zero break. You man-up, deal with it, and do whatever you can to help the situation. Never add to the problems.
If you are divorced, never complain about your ex to the kids
I don’t care whether he or she are the worst human being alive. You are an adult. Hold your tongue and smile. If you need someone to vent to, find a friend. Any complaints in the presence of your children will always drive them away. Trust me, I know because 20 years ago I was the kid in that situation.
Do everything asked of you without question
So your spouse wants you to fill out a load of paperwork? Do it with a smile. They need you to spend your day off running errands? You ask what else you can do. If you are wondering why, see the second point above.
Work longer hours when your kids aren’t there so you can take more time away when they are
Putting in longer hours when you don’t have to sucks. Sometimes you’re tired and you can’t look at another spreadsheet, go to any more meetings, or deal with your co-worker for one minute more. However, extra time with your kids is worth every single minute of overtime you put in. Parents rarely look back at their life and say, “I wish I would have worked more and spent less time with my family.” Usually the opposite is true. Get to the office early, stay late, and when you and your children finally reunite, enjoy every second you get to spend together.
Hopefully this helps if you have to be a long-distance parent. Give it your all, make mistakes, learn from them, and lastly never end a conversation without telling each and every child that you love them like crazy and miss them with all that you are. Being a dad is a privilege. Live up to the incredible calling you have been given no matter how many miles come between you and your family.
A version of this first appeared on Lunchbox Dad.