This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on June 19, 2018 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine
Question: My wife and I are split. She is a teacher and will spend much of the summer with her family out of state. Our kids are going with her. I’ve been getting great ideas for things to do with my kids from Macaroni Kid. I am at a loss as to how to stay in touch and stay close to them when they are away though. Can you share some ideas?
Answer: You already sound like a good dad, because this is important to you. It is difficult being separated. Your efforts to stay connected with your kids will be meaningful and leave a lasting impression. Things will pick right back up when they get home. Did you ever meet an old friend whom you had lost touch with and feel as if no time had passed at all? Your bond with your kids is even greater than that. Military families go through some of these feelings and there have been inspirational products developed to help address it. One that I like is a recordable book called “Under the Same Moon.” If your children are of storybook age, they will enjoy the book again and again as they listen with your recorded voice reading to them. The premise is that your children can look up at the moon and know that you are looking at the same moon. It gives that feeling of connection. If they are young ones, there are recordable stuffed animals that allow you to wish them goodnight when they press the belly.
I solicited ideas from officemates, many of whom are parents and divorced parents, some with the same concerns. One father shared that he would really struggle if he couldn’t have regular contact with his kids. You are not alone. Many of them thought that children love to get mail and that sending notes, stickers, pages to color, postcards, pictures of you and the like, would give them delight and let them know that each time a letter arrives, that you are thinking about them. Once as a child, I received a letter from a family member and it had a stick of gum enclosed; a sweet surprise! Online or in craft stores you can purchase blank puzzles that you can write on. Your children will have to put together the puzzle before they read the note or see the picture. It doubles the fun and pleasure.
Facetime and Skype are wonderful tools. One person said that her dad set a regular time for their weekly call, and she looked forward to it. Remember that kids don’t always know what to say, clamming-up with a phone in their hands. Have a knock-knock joke, story or other questions to help them open up to be ready to share their days with you. Ask about cousins, animals, and be supportive of things their mom and grandparents are having them do. You could also have a project in mind that you are planning on working on together which you can talk about; perhaps a video you want to make, or a rocket to build, once they are home. Keep your calls short but regular. If there is discord between you and their mother, remember that this situation places your children in the middle, so navigate carefully. It is not their job to stand up for, protect the feelings of, or keep secrets from the other parent. One dad who had experienced divorce and separation cautioned to stay away from ostentatious or expensive gifts, as those can be interpreted as competition with mom. He shared that your efforts for connection and knowing that dad cares is worth it in the long run. I hope this helps and this time of separation goes by quickly.
For any reader that may have difficulty with divorce and co-parenting or have children who are affected by this situation, counseling can help.
Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”