My 4-year-old only son will be leaving the country permanently with his since-remarried mother. I plan to see him summers. How difficult or easy will this be for my son and me? — M. Marathe
Dear M. Marathe,
I also moved overseas with my then-six-year-old daughter. Sadly, her father took it as an opportunity not to have any relationship with his daughter, and she was devastated.
To the contrary, it sounds as if you hope to maintain a relationship with your son, despite divorce and the consequent miles between you. Your son is very fortunate to have a father like you. Don’t let the miles get in the way. They don’t need to be a barrier between you.
This can be difficult. However, if you want a relationship with your son it can be manageable, especially with modern technology. The advice is the same for all non-custodial divorced parents: Keep in touch on a daily basis.
Weekly contact is okay for a casual friendship — not a parental relationship (especially of such a young child). If you wait to “catch up” over the summers, in time you will find that a complete stranger is coming to visit. As a parent you are a child’s protector and guardian. You can only be that if you are present and involved in their lives on a daily basis.
If there is a time zone difference between your two homes, use this to your advantage. For example: If you are on the East Coast of the U.S. and he is somewhere in Western Europe — he will be at home eating lunch (his noon), while you are stateside eating breakfast (your 6 am). If this will be your situation, you can eat a meal together most days — face to face — via an video conferencing app like Skype.
This way, you can have some scheduled father-son time with your little one on a regular basis. This is something your he will look forward to and something that is vitally important to your relationship. Figure out what opportunities the distance gives you and use it to your advantage!
Our family is stateside now and my now 6-year-old son Skypes at least 5 days a week with his relatives who are still overseas. Consequently, they are involved in each other’s everyday lives and they have a very close familial bond. So when the children see their overseas relatives on holidays or during summer vacation, it is simply another day in their lives together. There is no time wasted with awkward catching up, desperately trying to get to know each other once again. If my daughter’s father had given her a mere 30–45 minutes a day – it would have made such a difference to her.
As for your son, at 4 years old, you won’t be able to have a 30-minute conversation with him just yet. Instead, try reading him beloved book via Skype or download some children’s eBooks. Relatives of mine used to do this with our little one and he loved it! Then, when my son starting to read we switched; he proudly started reading to the family via Skype.
Now that he has begun to write, we gave him an old laptop and put parental controls to allow only family e-mails addresses to be accessed. With our help, he is thrilled to send and receive short e-mails with photos to and from family members.
On weekends, we have even devised ways to play card and board games via Skype. The kids get a kick out of helping absent family members take their turns. Be creative and he will love you for wanting to be so involved.
I mention Skype because it has been our extended family’s preferred mode of face-to-face time together. However, there are many different platforms to chose from, so pick whatever works best for you and your ex, making it as easy as possible on her so she doesn’t balk at the idea).
Get your family involved as well. Having him speak with his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins will build a strong bond with your side of the family — thus the stronger his bond with you.
If your ex is empathetic to your plight, ask her to text you one photo a day. She doesn’t have to take time to write, most photos are self-explanatory. I do this often; it only takes a minute. If you want to know more about a picture, show your son the photo the next day when you speak to him — your 4-year-old will enjoy telling you all about his adventures!
Last (but by no means least), do as you would if he was living in your own home: Do not miss birthdays or other special events in your son’s life. Put them in your calendar and set an alarm. When he goes to school, download the school’s schedule, start an e-mail relationship with his teacher — get involved! This will give you more to discuss as he grows older.
Love knows no distance. Yet, little ones need to be shown love on a daily basis to feel secure in a relationship. Strong parental bonds are essential to healthy emotional development. If you try for daily contact, you’ll probably succeed on an average five times a week. If you shoot for weekly, chances are you might reach him only two or three times per month! A 4-year-old won’t even know who you are at that rate.
I wish you and your son many happy memories – not just in the summers – but also all the years round.
Got a Love and Life question? E-mail Sofviea Aizha-Roussy at LoveN