Co-parenting after divorce is challenging enough when children move between households in the same town or city, let alone when long distance becomes a potential inhibiting factor. If you are a non-residential parent living in Washington state who is facing co-parenting long-distance, you probably already realize how easily it can feel like an uphill climb to stay involved with the day-to-day goings on of your children.
The good news is co-parenting over a long distance when you are a non-residential parent does not have to equate to sacrificing involvement in your children’s lives. But it likely does mean you will have to make tweaks in your communication and parenting style to accommodate the new living arrangement. Here are seven suggestions on how.
1. Engage in electronic communication.
For people who live within short distances of one another or even in the same home, it is generally easier to come to an agreement without laser-focused communication because there is more physical time with each other to work through problems. When you are long-distance, however, you lack proximity and the ability to strike up spontaneous conversations.
The need thus arises to communicate clearly, openly, and intentionally with your co-parent about expectations and schedules. Otherwise, confusion can occur, and resentment can build fast, both of which are more difficult to address when you live far away. Electronic communications are likewise typically best because they create a written record of decision-making should any issue come into question later.
2. Regularly schedule phone calls/Zooms.
It is critical to consistently talk to and see your child so they know you are still a constant presence in their life. However, calling your child whenever you want can upset your co-parent, not to mention disrupt your child, so maintaining a consistent time to call that works for everyone involved is optimal.
While phone calls are useful, using Zoom or FaceTime to see and talk to your children is a wonderful way to foster a deeper connection. Seeing your children’s faces and making eye contact with each other can help narrow the distance. It also allows you to witness the physical transformation in your children as they grow up.
3. Agree to a parenting plan and residential schedule.
Establishing a parenting plan and closely adhering to a residential schedule helps to create stability for the entire family. Your co-parent will be able to make plans on their “off” times, as will you, and with visits penned on the calendar, you and your children will have something to look forward to.
Before each visit or trip begins, be sure you have everything your children need, such as favorite toys, sundries, and medications. That way, they will be safe, not to mention feel more comfortable in their new environment. If you are traveling to a location other than your home, provide your co-parent and children, depending on their age, with an itinerary so everyone knows what to expect and you and your co-parent can address any potential safety concerns in advance.
Now for the fun part: When your children are with your co-parent, find ways to enjoy your solo time. Schedule a vacation, catch up on sleep, or take up a hobby you haven’t previously had time to explore. Despite its constraints, abiding by a residential schedule can be equally freeing, affording you time to devote to yourself that you never had before.
4. Support your co-parent in front of your children.
If a child has done something to upset your co-parent, including violating their house rules, do not undermine their parenting decisions. For example, should a child complain about a punishment your co-parent has handed down, maintain a united with your co-parent rather than using the moment to gain your child’s favor, even if you have thoughts otherwise. Although the child might not appreciate it now, consistency is best for children in the long run.
5. Respect your children’s privacy.
Living far away from your children means you won’t know what’s happening in their lives all day and night, which is OK. If there are aspects of your children’s lives that they don’t want to discuss, particularly if they are teenagers, respect their privacy and refrain from pushing.
You might feel out of the loop, but allowing children to have a certain amount of autonomy is a normal part of growing up. Pressing children too hard to disclose private details about their life often has the reverse effect, causing them to shut down more.
As a non-residential parent co-parenting long distance, your best course for having a birdseye view into your children’s lives will be through your co-parent. It is yet another reason why maintaining an amicable relationship with your co-parent is so critical.
6. Keep track of important activities or events in your children’s lives.
Keeping track of your children’s activities or important events and bringing them up in conversation will demonstrate your continued interest in them and make them feel supported. So, too, can sending them small tokens to commemorate special moments. Fortunately, there are many co-parenting apps these days to help you keep details straight.
If your child had a soccer tryout or a big test they did well on, for example, consider sending them a small gift to acknowledge their reaching a goal they set for themselves. Kids generally love surprises. You can also mail your children handwritten notes or cards to let them know you are thinking of them. If they are old enough to have their own phones, a quick text can be a great way to say, “Hey, I’m thinking about you even though I’m not there.”
7. Be realistic about the challenges of co-parenting long distance.
Being a non-residential parent and co-parenting over a long distance can be isolating and difficult. Trying to balance long-distance parenting with your schedule and those of your children and your co-parent will inevitably create moments when it feels like nothing is working.
Remember, however, that your co-parent and your children have their own challenges to manage with the long-distance co-parenting arrangement as well. So it can help to show yourself and them some grace during these trying moments.
No co-parenting situation, or parenting situation in general for that matter, is ideal. Or easy. That said, a positive co-parenting experience can come from making the most of your parenting opportunities and keeping a positive outlook.
Find a Seattle family law attorney experienced in helping non-residential parents co-parent long distance.
At Elise Buie Family Law, our team of Washington state family law attorneys understands the challenges of being a non-residential parent and living far away from your children. We also recognize that co-parenting long-distance looks different for every family.
Our skilled family lawyers have vast experience creating parenting plans that fit the unique circumstances faced by our Washington state clients and can help create one that works for you and your family. Contact our Seattle office today.