Parenting from a distance

Some of you may know that I have been away from home for about 3.5 weeks and have at least another 3.5 weeks to go.  Right when our family started getting comfortable with our isolation situation at home, I got the call to help our country through the Army National Guard. Less than 48 hours later, I was leaving home for an unknown period of time and leaving my wife and 2 year old son behind. 

This is something that parents experience all the time. Maybe you are a parent that is a member of the military or maybe you have a job that requires a lot of travel. It is hard to be a parent and commit to these careers as well.  I have never put too much thought into what it means to be a parent from far away because up until now, I have never had to deal with that.  Since I have been here, I have been thinking about it a lot and wanted to share my thoughts. 

My first few days away were very hectic.  I worked around the clock trying to gain my bearings and figuring out what my job was in the craziness of a statewide emergency response.  Sleep was limited and spare time was pretty much non-existent.  Every night, right before bedtime back at home, I would get a video call.  I would try my best to answer and step out of whatever meeting I was in. The call was quick and to the point. "I love you and miss you!  Goodnight!" That was pretty much all that could be said.  It killed me that I couldn't be there with my wife and son, but I had a job to do and not much time to spare. 

I started thinking about the situation my wife was in and it made me upset.  While I was here, she was expected to still work her full time job and take care of our son.  At the end of the day, when she needed a 5 minute break and wanted me to help out, I wasn't there for her.  My son also wanted some content from our conversation.  He was excited to see my face, wanted to tell me about his day(mostly what he ate all day) and sing songs.  He wanted to show me his new toys I left for him to unwrap while I was gone.  I realized that these things needed to be a priority for me even while I was gone. 

So, I decided to dedicate time every day to being a parent from a far. We video and talk multiple times a day even if it is for 30 seconds.  We would talk about our day, sing a song together, even eat a meal together.  I figured, I get time to eat dinner every day, why not eat with my family.  Even if it is over video, we can still interact just like we would at home.  

These video sessions and phone calls have led to an continued relationship with myself and my son.  He realizes that I am still there for him.  For a 2 year old, seeing my face and hearing my voice still gives them the feeling that I am there and available.  The other day we were on video chat while he was playing with play doh.  He started "sharing" with me on video by placing a tub of play doh next to the phone and some tools.  Even though he knew I couldn't physically play with them, he still wanted me to be a part of his play experience.  I never thought that would be something that was possible from far away.  This experience made me realize something that was so simple; He just wants me to be there and interact with him.  It doesn't matter what format it is in. For a child, just knowing that you are present and paying attention is enough sometimes.  

Obviously being there in person and experiencing the loving embrace of your child and building memories together is the best option. Not all of us have that option. In the world of COVID-19, some parents and grandparents may not be able to see their kids for an extended period of time. But, that doesn't mean we can't be parents from a distance, especially with the technology we have today.  Take the time to bond with your kids and grandkids even if it means that you are doing it through the phone.  They may not understand it now, but it will have a profound impact on their lives just knowing that you cared about them.  It can be anything from playing a game, reading a book to singing a song.  There is no right way to do it....just make sure it happens. 

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