Shawn Fludd shares, “Not being local to your children is hard but you can maintain a great relationship with them. I think the most important thing is for them to know that you are thinking of them, even though you’re not there.”
A little about me…I’m married with two young toddlers, and I also have a soon-to-be 20-year-old son. My oldest is from a previous relationship. My parenting journey started at the young age of 16. I relocated to another state a few years ago, and while my oldest was at an age where he understood why this move was necessary, I’m still realizing today that he wishes that I was closer. While his demeanor in person and on the phone seems content, his text messages and social media posts paint a different picture.
I would share one of his social media posts, but then he would know how closely I monitor him! Not so much for snooping but to learn things about him and what he is going through…the things they often hide from us parents. Plus, snooping around comes with the territory, right?!
I have been an engaged dad from day one. I worked a part-time job while I was in high school and moved my son into our own apartment when I turned 18. I worked full-time during college and everything worked out really well. I was the parent at the parent-teacher conferences. I’d pop up at school just to say ‘hey’ and all his friends knew me well. While eventually his mom and I decided to go our separate ways, we have always maintained a high level of respect for one another.
He was getting ready to start his senior year of high school when I told him that I was going to be moving across the country. I gave him the option of moving with me, but being a “mama’s boy”, he of course he declined. I also knew it would be hard to leave his friends his senior year of high school. I kind of figured he would have said no, but I had to make the invitation in the event he wanted to come. On the surface, he seemed cool with it and mentioned that he would visit from time to time. I thought that was so cool! I told my wife, “we have Facebook, Twitter, Facetime, and text so this is going to go really well.”
He went on to graduate high school and start his freshman year of college. It was then that I noticed a change. As I was continuing to monitor his social media sites, I was beginning to see posts about partying, drinking alcohol, having sex, not wanting to get up for class, and so on. I quickly felt the need to call him and talk to him about it, then remembered that he didn’t know that I watch his social media profiles.
I decided to take a different approach. I called him and said, “I know that dad is not local but here are a few things that I want you to remember…”
I told him it’s okay to hang out with friends and have fun but that he doesn’t have to do everything they do.
I suggested choosing friends that are different than him so he could learn from them. Some of the best friendships develop from those that challenge you.
I had a more mature version of “the talk” and reminded him to be careful and smart.
Did what I say to him hit home? No! Over the next few months, I saw very similar social media posts from him and kindly called and/or texted him with some of the above reminders. Of course, I sugar coated it a bit. I would first ask how his day was going, inquire about a class, his weekend, or something to show him that I wasn’t just trying to just tell him what to do (or as I say, give him wise information) but to be there for him as well.
One of the most important lessons I’ve learned these past two years it that parenting doesn’t “stop” when your children graduate high school! In fact, a whole new version of it begins. Parenting is a lifelong awesome journey! Admittedly, there were a few months at one point that I wasn’t as connected with him as I had been. His mother called me and said “your son said he hasn’t talked to you in a while.” I instantly felt horrible and wondered how I could have let that happen. That told me that my calls and texts to him mattered more than I even imagined. Spending quality time with children, even over the phone, even when they are grown, is vital.
From my experience, failures, and also triumphs, here are five things that I want to encourage you to do if you are like me and parent from a distance:
1) Call and text on a daily basis, even If it’s just a quick check in or “I love you.” Even if you get one or two-word responses, your children love hearing from you. As a matter of fact, sometimes those short responses are good times to dig for more information, i,e,- You ask, “how was school?” They respond with,” okay.” Then ask what was okay about it? How could it have been better? Is there anything I can help with to make it better or easier?
2) Become their mentor! Coach them on what to expect in the stage of life they are in. For example:
Elementary school age – they need to hear you say you love them daily. Write them letters and take a minute and draw them some pictures using things that are on their level, i.e. crayons. When you spend time with them, play with them until the time they wake up until the time they go to bed.
Middle School age – This is where mentoring begins. Become your child first mentor. When you are in town visiting, pop in their school every single day. Via phone, e-mail, facetime, and text, contact them daily. Do not wait for them to reach out to you. This is usually where peer pressure starts so they need to know that they can come and talk to you about anything at any time.
High School – talk to them about peer pressure, SAT’s, having a girlfriend or boyfriend, puberty, etc.
College – help them develop good habits, stay focused, and how to build new friendships
Once they are in their professional careers and married – Be their friend and let them help take care of you lol… I so look forward to having my children cook for me.
3) Surprise your kids from time to time. Think outside of the box about ways to surprise them. I contacted my son’s high school to see if I could speak at this graduation. It didn’t work out but I tried. I also surprised him by coming into town to see him a few months ago. You can also send little gifts. A coloring book, a t-shirt, even a $10 gas card can brighten their day.
Not being local to your children is hard but you can maintain a great relationship with them. I think the most important thing is for them to know that you are thinking of them, even though you’re not there. They are not out-of-sight-out-of-mind, which can be how they feel sometimes. Also, remember that you should always make the effort in the relationship. That’s not their job. For a while (those few months I was not in contact as much as I should have been) I assumed he wasn’t interested because he wasn’t making an effort. I was mistaken. A parent should always make the effort even if it’s not reciprocated, no excuses.