In a majority of divorce cases where abuse issues are not a factor, mental health experts advise divorced parents to aim for equal amounts of parenting time with their kids in order to help them better adjust after separation. While some children are able to live close to their non-custodial parents and can enjoy regularly scheduled visits, others live too far away to allow frequent visitation. Whether it’s you or your co-parent who lives further away, you can still create and maintain a substantial parent-child bond with the help of technology.
As with any long-distance relationship, co-parenting across the miles has its challenges. However, technology is constantly improving the quality and quantity of our connections with one another. Unlike co-parenting twenty, or even just ten, years ago, video calling technologies and apps allow for face-to-face interaction while remaining far apart. The use of virtual technology to “visit” family members has become so prevalent that many states have given legislative authority to judges to include virtual visitation in divorce decrees. We want to share how to make virtual visitation work for your family.
In reality, any family situation can benefit from more connection, but virtual visitation may be of particular interest to divorced parents living far apart. Non-custodial parents can use video calling between visitations to keep up with their kids more frequently. Custodial parents can use it to check on the well-being of their children when in the care of the non-custodial parent.
A child may find a video call reassuring, as it lets them know that their parent is thinking of and caring about them. It may relieve their anxiety to see their primary parent virtually when it comes time to spend the night away in an unfamiliar place.
As you would with a physical visitation, schedule regular virtual meetups and honor that time commitment. Your consistency and punctuality build your child’s trust in you and reassures them that you care and are just a call away when they need you.
You can schedule a virtual visit that coincides with a specific time of day or day of the week. For example, maybe you schedule your virtual visit close to bedtime so that you can read them a bedtime story. You can schedule a time to help with homework on a weekly basis, quiz them for an upcoming test, or let them show and tell you about their week at school. Use co-parenting apps in conjunction with video calling technology to help you schedule, remember, and document virtual visitation time or time that a co-parent missed.
Virtual visitations may start out awkwardly or begin to turn dull over time. Don’t be too hard on yourself or your child if you experience this. It’s a social learning curve for both of you. Here are some things you can do to help break the ice during those first face chats or regain some interest if conversations start to lull.
One entertaining way to ask questions and get to know each other’s silly side is to play the conversation game “Would You Rather….” Books, web pages, and games dedicated to these types of questions are easy to find.
Sometimes, your list of things to talk about may need to include rules and boundaries. Gently reinforce that you expect them to follow the rules regardless of where they are staying.
Stay connected and keep the bond growing between scheduled virtual visits through texts or emails. If your child has a cell phone, and lots of young kids do these days, send regular text messages to let them know you are thinking of them. Share an old photograph of the two of you together, a funny meme, or a sweet comment through text message. Make sure their school has your email information so that you can stay in the know regarding their report cards and other curricular and extracurricular activities. Send them good-luck wishes, congratulate good outcomes, and acknowledge their efforts and hard work with a text. Try not to send it during their school day, though, just in case they left their phone on during school hours when it was supposed to be off.
Whether your child has a phone or not, most kids enjoy getting a piece of mail with their name on it. Send physical reminders to let them know you’ve been thinking about them. Old-fashioned or not, everyone enjoys getting a personalized letter. A handwritten note may mean more than you think. Holiday and birthday cards, congratulatory cards, something that your child has shown an interest in, or stuffed animals remind your child that they are important to you.
While divorce is typically hard on the kids, technology is helping bridge the gap between co-parents, especially if one parent doesn’t live within easy traveling distance of their child. Virtual visitations help solidify the parent-child bond because not only can the child now see and hear their parent, but with just a few clicks or taps, the parent now becomes more accessible.
Of course, as with all other custody arrangements, virtual visitations require adult cooperation. As technologically advanced as it is, it is still vulnerable to being used against one parent if the other interferes with scheduled virtual time. Co-parenting apps (especially child support apps that can reduce monetary squabbles) along with time, consistency, and professional support, like a mediator, are essential for dealing with an uncooperative co-parent and transitioning to a relationship that allows a child to thrive despite a separated household.
Remember, this is parent-child bonding time, not parent one-on-one time. Parental disagreements can be solved at another time by other means. Research co-parenting apps to help resolve parental disagreements concerning everything from shared expenses to schedules, and leave virtual visitation for the children.