Parents apart: Living away from your children
Parenthood is such a diverse experience and families in 2022 come in so many different shapes and makeups. For some parents, part of parenthood means living away from your child for extended periods of time and a big question or source of worry is how to stay connected with your little one while being apart from them.
Furthermore, due to societally held ideas about what it means to be a family, many parents who live away from their children face stigma and unique challenges. In this article, we break down why some parents may live away from their children, what challenges they face and how you can foster a connection with your child while being apart.
How do parents come to live away from their children?
There are many reasons why parents may come to live away from their children for extended periods of time. Here are some of the most common reasons:
You travel for work
A common experience of working parents who travel for work is being required to spend sometimes weeks or even months at a time away from their families.
You have shared custody
If you have shared custody, you may only be able to see your children a few days a week or fortnight. If you have divorced or separated, you may have made the decision for your child to live predominantly with their other parent or guardian.
You are separated by distance
There are many reasons why this can occur, such as half of a separated family needing to relocate, or needing to send your child to another location for school while you need to remain behind for work. In this case, you may only be able to visit your child when you have the time and funds to make the trip to where they are located.
Your life circumstances mean you can’t be with your children
Life has its ups and downs – and this, unfortunately, doesn’t stop once you become a parent. If you have experienced a personal crisis, you may make the decision to live away from your child for their own wellbeing.
You are experiencing illness
Whether mental or physical, illness can affect any of us in any period of our lives. If a mental or physical illness requires you to stay at a hospital, you may experience living apart from your child until you recover.
What challenges do parents who live apart from their children face?
Living away from your child can be one of the hardest things parents have to do. As there is a very fixed idea of what family means societally, a lot of parents can face judgment or isolation from others. Some of the challenges they may face are:
Feelings of loss, guilt and stress
Many parents who have to live apart from their children feel strong feelings of loss about missing out on the everyday parts of parenthood. When co-parenting and living apart from your children, it is normal and valid to mourn the parts of motherhood/fatherhood that you don’t get to experience on a day-to-day basis.
Furthermore, many parents feel guilty about missing out on these everyday moments. They may even feel bad for enjoying their lives while away from their children as they feel guilty for not being able to be around them.
When separated from their ex-partner, many parents find negotiating and creating co-parenting arrangements very difficult and stressful. If the relationship between parents is strained, this can place a lot of extra stress when organising to visit or to pick up their children.
Social stigma and shame
When living apart from their child, many parents face social stigma and isolation which can lead to feelings of shame. Spaces like mothers’ or fathers’ groups can feel inaccessible to parents who consistently live apart from their children since their experience is quite different to the majority of other mothers and fathers.
Furthermore, it can be hard to connect with other parents as so much of socialising as a parent, is bringing your child along to coffee dates, strolls in the park etc.
If they are unable to live with their children due to a personal crisis or mental or physical health reasons – many parents feel like they are letting their children down. This can lead to feelings of shame or inadequacy which can be hard to express and talk about with other parents.
If your child lives far away from you, it can cause financial stress as getting to see them may depend on your financial situation. Think plane tickets, travel costs, potentially even a hotel and time spent away from work.
How to connect with your child while parenting from a distance
Many parents who live apart from their children are tasked with creating connections from a distance. The distance, the circumstances and the ages of the children all have a big influence on the ways parents can connect with their children. Here are some strategies to try if you live apart from your little ones:
Talk with their other parent or guardian
While it can cause stress or be uncomfortable, where possible, stay on the same page as their other parent or guardian. Keeping an open line of communication can make it easier to arrange times to go see your children. Furthermore, when good communication is present you can get a better understanding of how your child is behaving and feeling on the days you aren’t with them.
Technology is your best friend
We are in an age where technology makes it easier than ever to connect with our loved ones. If their other parent or guardian agrees, a great way to connect with your child is through scheduled facetime or phone calls. Even if it is just five minutes a day, connecting and hearing your child’s voice and asking about their day can make a huge difference for both the parent and child.
When you are spending time with your child – recording memories and making traditions together can help you feel connected, even when you are apart again. By taking photos and videos, when you are apart from your child, you can look at them when you are missing them. Likewise, making sure your child has access to a picture of you together, can comfort them when you are apart.
Every family, parent and child is different and so the ways we connect with each other can look different too. No matter if you live with them, or have to spend time apart, there are many ways we can connect with and show our children love. Remember, often your circumstances don’t reflect anything about you as a parent, and with the right support, it is possible to be a great parent, even from a distance.