Tools to Make Long Distance Parenting Easier

Guest Blog By: Caitlin Douglass



I'm a single mom of two kids living in one state, while my childrens' father lives in another, and the rest of my family is in another still. It's simply a truth that many American families are separated by large distances like mine. But if you find yourself in one of these situations, there are a few tools you can use to make it a little easier on everyone. Here are some that I've tried:

E-mail
It's easy to sit down and type out a few lines to let your child know you're thinking of them, and have it reach them almost instantaneously. I have set up email accounts for my kids to contact family. While I know some parents will choose to have a family email account, having email addressed directly to my kids makes them feel special and respected.

I supervise their computer time when in my home, and I have access to the accounts to ensure they are only contacting family when they are at their dad's. I also teach them to recognize spam and notify me of any suspicious e-mails they receive. The kids' father and I didn't set down any ground rules initially; we are just trying to use common sense, and I know we will have to adapt as they age and want to be more active on the Internet.

Conference Calls
Of course, email is no substitute for my children being able to hear their father's voice, and to be able to recount stories of what happened at school that day. When you hear the term conference call, you probably immediately think of an office and a boring meeting, but they offer a lot more than that, and more than just a 1-to-1 call.

By using conference call services I already use for my business, I have a dedicated toll-free number that the kids can call me at when they're visiting their dad, or he can phone them at, without incurring long distance charges. Sometimes there is no substitute for mom's voice -- like when my son broke his wrist last summer -- and not having to wait until after a certain time to phone helped prevent him from becoming too upset.

What's great about this, too, is that more family members can join in. We try to organize the entire family to get on a single call on important days like birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Eventually everyone starts talking over one another, and it begins to feel like we're gathered around the table rather than thousands of miles apart.

Cell Phones
Pay-as-you-go cell phone plans are becoming a popular option, especially as the price of basic handsets are coming down. They can be easy to set up, and you have complete control over the number of “minutes” your child can talk for the month.

This is actually an option I haven’t looked into for my kids yet. My ex and I feel they are a bit young for cell phones at the moment, but anticipate my daughter asking to have one in a few years.

Skype
A conference call account is easy and convenient because all you need is a phone. But if you happen to have a computer and webcam available, you can also do video chats.

After you've both set up Skype accounts, you can send instant messages back and forth to set up a time to "meet" online - or just call spur-of-the-moment. My sisters and I often communicate this way, and it is a great way to see them in addition to hearing their voices, which can help them feel closer. While my ex currently doesn't use Skype with the kids, they would like him to get a webcam so they can "see" him between visits.

With a little scheduling of time for calls, setting up some basic equipment or accounts, and some vigilance about supervision, my children can maintain close relationships with family despite the physical separation.



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