The coronavirus outbreak means more dads are spending long periods away from their children, either because of complex access arrangements or unsocial jobs. But being a remote parent is still being a parent…
Coronavirus claims countless victims, and many of them have not caught the disease. The mental health problems associated with loneliness and isolation are well known. Those who lose their jobs as an economic consequence of the virus are victims too.
And so too are many divorced parents. From the outset of the outbreak family lawyers have been inundated with divorced parents arguing about where children should stay, or desperately trying to reconfigure access arrangements that take into account social distancing guidelines, new work schedules and homeschooling timetables.
Some divorced parents don’t want their children to see ex partners who are key workers, saying key workers are more likely to have and transmit coronavirus. Some parents key workers are distancing themselves from family voluntarily.
Whatever the precise circumstances, one thing is certain. More remote parenting is happening at distance at the moment than would normally be the case. With that in mind, here are six ways to be a better remote dad.
1. Have one-on-one time every day if possible
If you don’t see your child face to face for days or weeks on end, either through separation or because of the demands of your job, try to check in regularly with them anyway, and ideally every day. If you can have a telephone conversation – even for just five minutes – great. A Facetime or Zoom call is even better. But even a text message chat is enough if that’s all that can be arranged.
Behavioral therapist Bob Taibbi says: “While it may be a simple catch-up conversation, it may be playing a game together or both having a snack together. Be creative.”
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This is what happens when I try to FaceTime a 5 year old. #remoteparenting
2. Remote conversations should be real conversations
When you’re communicating from a distance, it’s easy to get into a conversational cul de sac. You ask about your child’s day, what they had for dinner, or how school was. Again and again. That’s fine from time to time. But try to be truly involved with the details of your child’s life as well. Talk about your daughter’s upcoming gym competition. Ask about your son’s history project.
Psychologist and family therapist Marie Hartwell-Walker says use a daily check-in to hear your child’s news of the day, the real stuff that gets them talking, and make sure you listen, respond and offer support or praise as appropriate. Be interested, in other words.
“check-in to hear your child’s news of the day, the real stuff that gets them talking, and make sure you listen, respond and offer support or praise as appropriate”
3. Be remote, but there, at bedtime
As a distant parent, you may feel like you miss out on some of the most important times of the day, especially when children are young. We mean things like bedtime and bathtime.
Again, technology has at least a partial answer. Nothing is like being there in person, but why not chat to your child via Zoom at dinner time every now and then (you might need to negotiate this with an ex partner) or read a bedtime story to them via Skype.
You don’t even have to be available at bedtime every night. Google has introduced a new tool called ‘My Storytime’ that lets parents prerecord themselves reading stories to their children which are then played over Google smart speakers at the appropriate time.
4. Surprise them sometimes
Again, if you’re separated from your child’s mother, this may take negotiation and planning, but don’t forget how effective the unexpected can be.
It doesn’t have to be a big thing. If you get back from a long work trip earlier than expected, why not pick your child up from school when that becomes an option again (again, this may need to be negotiated between separated parents)? Or catch the second half of her football game?
If you can’t surprise your child in person, why not surprise them with unexpected mail? We don’t mean sending endless extravagant gifts – that feels a bit like buying affection. But why not send a card or encouraging letter before a big competition? Or order them a special new pen from an online retailer before an exam?
5. Plan your time together, but don’t overplan
One of the keys to better remote parenting is to make the most of the time you do have together, and that takes planning. Most importantly, make sure you are consistent. If your child is expecting to see you, make sure they do. (That’s the same for phone and Skype calls, by the way). And if you’ve promised to do something with your child, do it.
But don’t feel you have to do something special every minute of your time together. “I have my son two weekends a month, and in the early days I’d be planning activities to fill every second,” says David, a separated father of eight-year-old Jack. “Now I’m much more chilled. I might plan one thing for a weekend – a cinema trip, for example – and then work out the rest as we go along. Sometimes we just spend an afternoon playing video games. It’s ordinary and natural and that’s what is good about it.”
6. Put the effort in
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These are uncertain times and co-parenting can be even more difficult. Read my latest blog post on co-parenting during the quarantine. See the link in my bio @deboradiazlaw for tips on how to stay connected. #deboradiazlaw #coparenting #parentproblems #coparentingatitsfinest #covidcoparenting #coparentingdoneright #coparentingfail #coparentinggoals #coparentingwin #coparentingworks #divorced #divorcedlife #divorcedmom #divorcedparents #divorcedonedifferently #divorceddad #divorcedmoms #divorcedparentsproblems #DivorcedMen #divorcediva #Divorcedinc #divorcedandhappy #divorcedparentsseparation #divorcedoesntexist #divorcedndating #divorcedandlovingit #divorcedman #divorcedialogue #divorcedfromreality #divorcedwife
The key to all this, says long distance dad Curtis Golden, is to put the effort in. As Curtis writes: “I came to realise that just making contact was a very important part of our relationship. Even if it’s just to say “goodnight” and “I love you.” My daughter knowing that I am here — thinking of her and wanting to see her before she heads to bed is extremely important, both for her and for me.”