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Part-time parenting and distance parenting

Separating from a partner can be tough. Being separated from your child can be even tougher, especially if you see your child only for short periods. Here are ideas to help you stay involved with your child if you’re part-time parenting or distance parenting.

Part-time parenting

After separating from your partner, you might not see your child often – for example, one or two weekends a month or just in the school holidays.

It can be hard to keep up a close relationship with your child when you don’t see him often. You might feel that you’re not involved in his everyday life, like tucking him in at night or meeting his friends.

But caring for your child part-time doesn’t make you a part-time parent. Not living with your child doesn’t mean you have to be cut off.

Staying positively connected to your child will make a big difference to her health and happiness. When you do see your child, you don’t need to go on expensive outings or have all the latest toys. The quality of the time you spend with your child is the most important thing.

You can stay involved in your child’s life even when your child isn’t staying with you. If you can get to special school and sports events, it will mean a lot to your child.

When your child visits: tips for part-time parenting

These tips can help your child feel welcome when he’s at your home.

Make your house a home
Children are very adaptable, but they need stability too. If you’re living in a new place, it’s important that your child has one spot she can call her own. Ideally, this would be a room.

If that’s not possible, try to give your child his own bed, a special cupboard or a place to store his things. Hang your child’s pictures on the wall or stick photos of him on the fridge. This will help your child to feel part of the space, even if he’s sharing it with others.

You could also ask your child what she’d like to keep at your house. You could shop with your child to choose furniture for her room or buy underwear, clothes, toys or books just for your house.

Prepare for your child’s visit
If you include your child in planning his visit before he arrives, he’ll feel more involved and in control. Keep notes of things you’ve promised you’ll do with your child.

It’s a good idea to phone, text or email your former partner a day or two before your child’s visit to confirm hand-over times and places, so this can happen without conflict. This is also a good chance to remind your child of any special things she needs to bring.

Helping your child settle in
Give your child some time to settle in and get used to being in your house. You could include your child in a family activity – for example, you might have pizza together and talk about what everyone has been up to since you were all together last time.

Spend time with your child
When you’re with your child, try to be hands on with meals, playtime, homework, school drop-off and so on.

It’s also important to spend some time alone with your child when he’s at your house, chatting and catching up on what he’s been doing, talking over any worries, reading books, cooking together or just having fun playing games.

This way, when your child leaves, she’ll feel that she’s had some real contact with you and that she matters to you.

Make your own traditions
You don’t have to parent the way your former partner does. In fact, creating new family routines can be fun for everyone. Special routines could include a night when you and your child cook dinner together, a café you go to for hot chocolate when your child visits, or a story at bedtime.

It wasn’t great at first. We were almost nervous around one another as the situation seemed so different. I’d take them out to lunch and both my kids would sit there sulking. I soon learned that activity was the key to them relaxing. We’d play soccer in the park then go for a swim at the local pool and then have lunch.
– Joe, 40, divorced for three years and father of two children

Distance parenting

If you don’t live near your child or you see him only occasionally, it’s important to keep in touch when he isn’t with you.

Keeping in touch tells your child that she’s important to you. It’ll also help keep you up to date with your child’s daily life and her changing interests, friendships, likes and dislikes, and the decisions she makes as she grows up.

These tips can help you stay in touch:

  • Give your child your phone number and let him know that he can call you anytime. Also arrange to call at regular times. Video calls can work well. You could read your child a bedtime story live over a webcam.
  • Use text messages to keep in touch.
  • Use emails to keep in touch, send photos, or share links to things that you’re both interested in, like sports results or movie reviews.
  • Send letters or cards. Children love getting mail.
  • Keep a calendar and put important dates on it to remind you to contact your child – for example, the last day of term, prize-giving evening at school or important sporting matches.
My son would come to visit me in Queensland for school holidays. Wow, it was a challenge. But by the end of the 10 days or so, we had reconnected. Now he’s in his 20s and he still comes, but with his girlfriend. I’m so glad we persisted.
– Max, 50, divorced father of an adult son

When your child wants a break from seeing you

Sometimes your child might not want to spend time with you.

This might be because she feels torn between her parents and doesn’t want to choose. She might also be feeling upset if you and your former partner have been fighting. If you have a new partner, your child might not feel comfortable around that person yet, or it might be that your teenage child doesn’t want to be away from friends.

These tips can help:

  • Take it slowly, and respect your child’s wishes. Tell your child you would love to see him when he’s ready. 
  • Try to stay in contact in other ways, like phone calls, letters, text messages or emails.
  • Experiment with shorter visits. If your child doesn’t want to sleep over, she might be happy to spend the afternoon or day with you doing something fun, or just going out for an hour. You can build up gradually to your child staying over.
  • If your older child wants to stay at a friend’s house instead of yours, you could invite his friend as well.
My daughter went through a stage of refusing to make the trip over to be with me. I was hurt but eventually I arranged to come down and stay in a hotel for a week, so I could take her out for dinner, see movies, pick her up from a late-night party on a Saturday night and of course go shopping. I felt I needed to reach out and let her know I still cared.
– Mel, 36, divorced for four years and father of one child

Talking to partners and stepchildren

If you’ve repartnered, you might feel guilty or sad that you’re spending more time with your stepchildren than with your own children.

When your child comes to visit, your new partner, shared children or stepchildren might feel hurt or jealous of the attention you give your child. This is normal.

It can help if you talk about how you feel about your responsibility to your child. It’s a good idea to talk to your partner and family before your child comes to visit. This way you can get everyone’s ideas for helping the visit go well.

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Last updated or reviewed
01-02-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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