Forced to parent from afar
Being a parent can be tough when you are not physically present.
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Grant* has been working and living in Cape Town for the past two years whilst his wife and twin boys live back home in Johannesburg. He was unemployed for a year in Johannesburg which was a tremendous financial strain on his family. “When the job opportunity arrived for Cape Town I did not have the luxury of turning it down simply because it was far away,” explains Grant. “Leaving my family behind was a really hard decision but I could not afford to be out of work any longer,” he adds.

Dealing with circumstances

There are many parents that are in a similar situation to Grant. The current economic condition no longer affords us the luxury of choosing jobs with a desirable location or pay check. As parents we realise an income is needed in order to support our families. Parenting from afar can be tough for your kids who may not fully understand the reasons for one of their parents moving away. Being physically close to your child is an important aspect of parenting, children need to form an attachment and build a bond with their parents which long distance parenting can limit. Feelings of abandonment may be experienced by the child if the situation is not managed well.

The decision taken to work away from your spouse and kids is not easy nor an ideal family set up but it is a situation that can work if it’s managed correctly.

Involve your children

Ilze Alberts, psychologist and founder of the Bella Vida Family Centre, stresses the importance of involving your child in the decision making process. “Parents must make the child feel part of the family and not isolate them from being involved in crucial family matters,” she explains. Ilze also encourages parents to help children understand the reasons for one of the parents having to move far away, namely, for the best interest of the family. Reassure your child of your love for them no matter how far you are.

*Not his real name

Here are some guidelines that can assist when it comes to parenting from afar:

-    Keep the lines of communication open and consistent. Use technology such Skype or Face time for those face to face interactions.
-    Establish a routine going for contact time whether it is a telephone or Skype call. Your child will then know exactly when to expect your call and not be left with feelings of uncertainty.
-    Make an effort to attend special occasions, for example, a school play or a sporting event. It does not have to be every single occasion but try not to miss out on these special moments in your child’s life.
-    Feelings of guilt at being so far away from your family can lead to you trying to overcompensate by spoiling your kids with material gifts. This is not healthy as it opens up the possibility of manipulation from your child. You should try to overcome whatever feelings of guilt you are experiencing and feel secure in the reason for your decision.
-    Always be honest with your child. Avoid making promises that you know you will not be able to keep.
-    When you do get an opportunity to visit the family try to create as much quality time as possible. Spend time bonding with your kids and ‘catching up’ on all that you missed out on. This will help provide reassurance of your love and commitment to them.

Parenting from afar may not be ideal but it is doable as long as you remain committed as a parent despite the distance between you and your child.

Are you parenting from afar? How are you making it work?

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