Written by attorney David Magnuson

Parenting from a Distance -- Tips for a Challenging Co-parenting Role

Although it is always unfortunate, life circumstances sometimes require one parent to live far from his or her chilren -- in an entirely different state, or even on the opposite side of the country. For these noncustodial parents, flying out to see their children may be the only viable option when it comes to regular visits. Crossing the country every weekend is rarely an option, as the schedule will quickly wear the non-custodial parent down so much that it impacts his or her ability to function properly as a parent. For some truly hardy souls (who also can afford the significant expense of crossing the country so frequently), flying out to see the children every other weekend is a possibility. Again, depending on their work schedule, many parents find this arrangement is simply untenable.

At a minimum, a parent who lives on the opposite coast would be well advised to try to make the trip to the custodial parents’ home at least once a month. If the relationship between the parents is anything but perfectly civil, the noncustodial parent may find that he or she has to book a hotel room for the weekend, essentially taking the kids on an extended sleepover once a month. This can be exciting for the children, but it also strips any sense of normalcy and permanency from the noncustodial parent’s visits. If the custodial parent can tolerate sharing the family home with the visiting parent for a single weekend once a month, the kids benefit by enjoying the company of the visiting parent in familiar surroundings. This can be particularly important for very young children.

When the children are old enough to spend extended amounts of time away from the custodial parent, summer vacation becomes a golden opportunity for the noncustodial parent. Visits of several consecutive weeks can be arranged, allowing ample time for parent-child bonding. In addition, on occasion the children may enjoy the adventure of flying out to see the noncustodial parent for a long weekend.

Being a long-distance parent, always challenging, has been aided greatly by technological innovation over the last two decades. Webcams and services such as Skype that offer video conferencing over the internet can be hugely valuable to parents who need to stay in touch over great distances. Children often have a hard time with the telephone – particularly toddlers and pre-Ks. A voice alone simply isn’t enough to entertain most children for an extended period of time. They simply need more stimulation. Cue the webcam.

The webcam and video-over-internet is such a powerful tool for long-distance parents that some judges have ordered that the custodial parent make such tools available to the children. Reading bedtime stories, watching the children play or dance, expressing your delight when they show you a new treasure: these are all priceless interactions that were previously out of reach. The lesson here: if you are an out-of-town parent, take advantage of every opportunity to interact with your children in this manner.

Because internet video calls take some effort to arrange, parents should consider adopting a regular schedule for connecting with the kids. This has the added of benefit of getting the children accustomed to regular interactions over the computer. Instead of complaining that they want to play with their friends or watch their favorite show, the kids will know that the time is always reserved for their out-of-town parent. As with everything else in an effective custodial relationship, communication and cooperation are critical.

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