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  • Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

What To Do When Divorce Means You Live Away From Your Child

In the past two weeks, I’ve met two men that have children who live in another state. In one case, the mother of his children moved to another state with their kids after the divorce. In the other case, the father had to move to Texas because of a job transfer, leaving his children with their mother five states away.

For both men, the physical distance is more than a car ride. The emotional distance, at times, can be unbearable.

The only way they can have time with their children is to take a plane.

Their weekend visits are short and sometimes it feels like they are interrupting their children’s lives. It is hard to pack so much in for a weekend or a two week visit in the summer. Considering the expense of the travel and hotel to see them, the possible time off work, and the pressure to cram so much into such a short time period, it is difficult.

Both men talk about feeling worried that they don’t see their kids enough. They worry about how that affects their relationship. They feel frustrated with their situation, knowing that the chances of it changing are small. The distance from their kids will continue to be more than they would like.

This situation happens not just for fathers. There are mothers in the same boat, missing time with their kids. Yes, it is one of the many difficulties of divorce that many parents face.

Both of these men want to know what they can do to keep a good relationship with their kids, despite their difficult situations. I’ve seen other parents in the same situation find ways to work with the distance.

It’s possible. I can tell you how.

If you are a parent whose children live with the other parent too far away to see them frequently, here is what you can do:

  1. Show your child that he or she continues to be on your radar. There is this thing called Cognitive Space. Your children are in your cognitive space when you show them that you are thinking about them. Don’t just tell them. Show them by sending a follow-up text or making a phone call that you are thinking about them. Reach out when you know they had a difficult test in school. Send a text when you know the two of you are watching the same football game. Call a few days before your next visit just to say you are excited to see them soon. Showing your child that he or she is on your radar does not mean you expect a response. It’s evidence that your child is in your cognitive space. Everyone appreciates knowing someone is thinking about them, especially when it doesn’t require a response in return.

  2. Send a letter or a funny postcard. Remember when you were a kid and you got mail? I mean the kind of mail that came in the box by the curb outside your home? It was so cool to have something for you in the pile of bills, advertisements, and junk mail waiting when you got home from school. Sometimes you got mail when no one else did and that was great, especially when there were a few dollar bills inside. With so much communication taking place in cyberspace, imagine how special it will be for your child to get something from you that they can hold in their hand, with your handwriting, that means something special. Time it so it is unexpected, not just around a birthday or holiday. One father I worked with had the idea to mail a funny card to his son with a short note. His son would write his own note on the same card and then mail it back. They went back and forth sending it weekly to each other. The gentleman even put a return envelope with his address and postage so it would be easy for his son to put it back in the mail. How cool is that?

  3. Schedule a visit that isn’t during “your possession time”, as long as the other parent is okay with it. Maybe your daughter is having a fifth grade graduation and it doesn’t fall on a weekend that is designated as your possession time. How special would it be for you to be there to see her, knowing that your time with your daughter would be limited but you wanted to be there anyway? Imagine your daughter looking out into the audience and seeing you sitting there with a smile of pride on your face. That would be priceless . . . and memorable for the both of you. Having you there for one of her special times because you didn’t want to miss it is so important.

  4. Even if you have a significant other you are married to (or not), spend time just with you and your child. Many kids feel as if a parent “forces” a girlfriend or boyfriend on them. It’s like their parent now comes as part of a package. If you travel to visit with your child, consider doing so on your own, without your new spouse or significant other. Your child doesn’t get to see you often and is likely going to be resistant to sharing you. I know it is tempting because you want your significant other to get to know your child. Think twice about that because it may be at your expense, and I don’t mean financially. Your child, more than likely, wants the visit with you and will be less receptive to sharing you, especially if your visits are limited to once a month.

Too often parents get stuck thinking that they have to stick to a possession schedule defined by the courts to see their child. For many people, the decree is what you fall back on when you don’t agree. You don’t have to go back to court to document that you are visiting on a weekend that is not defined by the decree. Parents who live in the same city and share custody of their child could also benefit from this same advice.

It is very frustrating to hear parents say: “This is my weekend with the kids” or “I don’t want to disrupt the schedule by changing it.” If at all possible, remember that this is your child’s life. They are counting on both parents being a part of their lives to the best of their ability.

Hopefully you have a good relationship with the other parent so you can be creative in the way that you stay in your child’s life.

If this is a subject that interests you, keep watching for more information on an eCourse I’ll be offering soon. I’m finishing up the final module of the eCourse, How To Keep Children Emotionally Healthy In A Divorce. I cover how to tell kids you are divorcing and how to keep children emotionally healthy during the years after a divorce. This eCourse covers what anyone divorcing or those already divorced need to know to keep their kids emotionally healthy. The content is based on the most frequent information I cover in my clinical practice with couples who are in the early stages of a divorce and those who have been divorced for years.

I always tell divorcing couples, “I’m working for your kids. They are just not the ones writing the check.”

Keep a look out. I’ll be giving you more information in my eNewsletter very soon.

If you haven’t signed up to receive my eNewsletter, you can do so on the home page of my blog FletcherPhD.

Well, it is back to work for this short week after Labor Day.

Until next time,

Featured Photo Credit ©

eCourse Photo Credit ©

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