Summers can be a difficult time for parents separated from their children for extended periods of time. Ann Dunnewold, Ph.D., author of Even June Cleaver Would Forget the Juice Box, gave the following tips to Parenting magazine about ways to keep in contact with children away from home during the summer:
- Use your cell phone. Although the idea of entrusting a cellular device to your 6-year old (never mind kids younger than that) is appalling to many parents, allowing a child to have access to his or her mother or father’s voice is a simple and effective way to stay connected. If the babysitter or another parent is with the child while you are not, simply ask them to cooperate and lend the child their phone. A study conducted at University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that girls who talked to their mothers via phone felt calmer and happier as those whose mothers were physically available for hugs. Hearing a parent’s voice lowers a child’s cortisol (stress hormone) and released oxytocin, a hormone associated with physical contact.
- Make a recording. If you know you’re going to be stuck in a closed conference all day, make a recording of yourself reading your child’s favorite story or singing his or her favorite song and have it available for the child to hear.
- Log on to Skype. If you can’t, leave videos of yourself for your child to watch whenever he or she wants. This is similar to the voice recording tactic.
- Hang around. Even if you can’t stay, leave your scarf, cardigan, or something the child associates with you with him or her. Make sure it’s an item the child has seen you wearing often. This method isn’t effective if you simply dig out an old sweater from the closet. The item should smell, feel, and look familiar to the child.
Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC, a Connecticut psychotherapist and frequent guest contributor to our Ohio Family Law Blog, has expanded upon Dr. Dunnewold’s excellent suggestions. Hers are especially geared toward divorced parents and how they can help their child adjust to spending extended time away from one parent during summer vacation.
Here is Donna Ferber’s additional advice:
When dealing with parents who have had an acrimonious divorce, the cell phone is occasionally used as a weapon. For example, the parent may repeatedly call the child, disrupting activities and often upsetting the child and infuriating the other parent. The phone should be used solely to reassure the child, not as revenge to ruin your ex spouse’s time with his/her child. Also, calling your child and whining about how lonely you are and how much you miss them, or just as bad, telling them all the wonderful things they are missing, is an example of how the phone can be misused. Parents must always remember to put the child’s need first; and when you use the phone to disrupt your ex’s good time, you also ruin your child’s good time.
Some children do not like to talk on the phone and will offer monosyllabic answers. ” Uh-huh,” “Nope” are often disappointing to the parent who longs for more connection during the phone calls. Rather than feel rejected, be reassured and happy that your child is having fun. Set up agreed times to call the child with the other parent PRIOR to the vacation. One call a day is more than enough for everyone involved.
Children also can use the phone as a weapon. “I want to call mommy and tell her you are bad because you won’t let me have more ice cream!” is an example of how a child can misuse the phone to create tension and take inappropriate power. Keep to the preset schedule. Calmly remind the child they can speak to the other parent at the agreed time.
Remember when you Skype, set up time prior to the vacation, but be flexible. The vacationing parent should not be asked to cut short a fun activity to rush to the computer for a Skype date. When you do Skype, stay upbeat and keep it short. Your goal is to support the child, not make him/her homesick. And never use these conversations, either on the phone or Skype, to interrogate the child about the parent’s behavior.
Lastly, think about what our parents did to keep connected with us prior to the age of technology. Whether we went for an extended visit to friends or family or to camp, remember how postcards, greeting cards and care packages gave us something to look forward to, keep and share with others. Many adults I know saved their letters and cards from camp, creating a journal of that experience. E-mails do not offer the same personal touch. Many camps discouraged phone calls as they were disruptive and that remains true today, so use the phone mindfully recognizing it can harm rather than help. Finally, if you do send a care package , make sure that you include enough for the child to share. While you may have issues with the adults vacationing with your child, your child has a right to share the joy of your gift as he/she chooses.
©2011. Donna F. Ferber, LPC, LADC is a psychotherapist in private practice in Connecticut. She is the author of From Ex-Wife to Exceptional Life: A Woman’s Journey through Divorce which won Honorable Mention by the Independent Publishers Association. For more information on her work or to read her blog, please visit www.donnaferber.com
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Robert L. Mues
Robert Mues is the managing partner of Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues, and has received the highest rating from the Martindale-Hubbell Peer Review for Ethical Standards and Legal Ability. Mr. Mues is also a founding member of the "International Academy of Attorneys for Divorce over 50" blog.