Parenting As a Team When You’re Living Apart
Perhaps your wife or husband is deployed. Or maybe one of you had to take a job in another city when the economy tanked or a job promotion requiring a move came along for one while the other needed to stay to keep theirs. Or maybe one of you had to go stay with an elderly, ill parent for awhile.
Whatever the reason, you now find yourself among the increasing number of parents who are married, who would much rather be together, but who have to be apart for awhile, maybe a long while. How do both parents stay active as parents and united as partners when miles apart?
First, know you’re not alone. The 2006 Census reported that 3.6 million married Americans — not including separated couples — were not living with their spouses. Those who have children and are living this reality are faced with challenges they probably never considered when they became parents.
If you’re the one who is living away from the family, you are not part of the countless big and little ways that parents check in with each other and with their children many times a day. The fly-bys that happen when kids are leaving for school, when everyone tumbles in the door in the evening, when you walk through the living room while kids are watching TV or when you bump into teens and their friends in the kitchen getting a snack aren’t part of long-distance parenting. The first-thing-in-the-morning and last-thing-at-night checkins aren’t necessarily possible for long-distance partnering. These encounters may not seem all that important but they do add up. Being at a distance can mean feeling disconnected.
If you are the parent left at home, you don’t have the ability to easily consult the other parent when decisions have to be made. Immediate discipline and the daily care and feeding of the children is all on you. As much as you and the kids need it, it may be difficult to plan adventures or share fun times when you’re just trying to get through the day. There is no one to share the carpools, homework duty, story time, or doing the dishes. It can feel overwhelming. Often it’s just plain exhausting.
Nonetheless, co-parenting when one of you needs to be away doesn’t have to be a miserable experience. With thoughtful planning, partners can maintain a loving relationship with each other and be effective as parents. The key is paying attention and communicating regularly and well.
Do your best to be kind to each other.
The daily responsibilities are difficult for the at-home parent. Being often out of the loop is equally difficult for the away parent. Yes, you’re both sometimes frustrated with the situation. Yes, the other may not fully understand all you’re managing and putting up with. But it doesn’t help if you take it out on each other. Make it a priority to walk in each other’s shoes and to work as a loving team. Make sure to affirm your love and your appreciation for each other’s role whenever you are in contact.