Someone really smart once told me that she has always viewed her role in parenting her kids to see herself more as a tour guide than anything else.
This was in the same conversation where she invited me to see my parenting role differently.
Faced with the decision to let my relationship with my fiancée go on long-distance indefinitely, or to leave my co-parenting role, to opt for visiting parent, I swore to her that I would never move away from my child.
Never say never.
When we craft our own limitations, life has a remarkable way of throwing us into situations that stir our calm, organized lives into a tailspin.
Now, I live 3,500 miles away from my 10-year-old child during the school year. It is not easy. Not for anyone involved. But to be with my husband, and to contribute to raising my child in the best way I know how, this is what we do.
That means my time with my son is limited, so we need to make it count.
When I fly to see him every month during the school year, or he to my husband and I on his vacations, our time is scheduled. Finite.
If we have a crappy day on the last day we are together, that’s what we are left with until we see each other again. So, you can bet your life I place a lot of importance on our time, while at the same time, struggling to avoid placing so much importance on hard structures in our time, that it stresses everyone out if things don’t go as planned – because trust me. They don’t.
Since I have moved to Portland, OR, from the east coast, it has been my top priority to find new and healthy ways to stay connected to my son even when we are apart. We were incredibly close before I moved, and though our relationship has changed over the course of four years, we are still close, even if we don’t talk every day.
Whether your kids are in the next room, the next town over, or in a different part of the world, take these thoughts to heart to stay close to their hearts and keep them in yours.
Experiences, Not Things
Our gifts gradually moved from things, to experiences when I moved to Portland. That’s because for me, I wanted to make our times together memorable for everyone.
From my childhood, I remember a lot of memories from the activities my mom and I did together.
I remember when she sat down at the kitchen table to draw pictures with me when I was 10. I remember coloring with her in my Mickey Mouse coloring book when I was six, and thinking she did the best job of coloring that I had ever seen. She outlined her sections of each color in dark outline, then colored in with light. I wanted to grow up to color just like her.
I remember cooking pancakes with her, and chocolate chip cookies.
But most of all, I remember costumes at Halloween. She spent weeks ahead of time painstakingly sewing and crafting my costumes. I can remember at least three times where they won me school costume contests and awards, she was that good. Her sewing, makeup and costume design was creative genius. And flawless.
So, while I may not be around for the every day, I want my son to have memories from his childhood of our activities, fun times, and special moments together. I am going for quality, because quantity is just not something we have right now.
So, when it comes to gifts, we opt for trips, outings, and special activities, and if a “thing” is involved, it’s usually a “thing” we can share together, be it an activity, or special item for a hobby we can do together, or new skill we can learn.
Sharing stories are important to us, as an experience. Both in reading together and in sharing worlds in the same stories we read separately.
When my son was younger, every night I put him to bed, no matter how late it was, we always had time for a story. Even just a quick one. That was our special time.
The day could have been horrible, but before going to sleep, we could tell a story to laugh a little, quiet down for the evening, and connect.
Sometimes before the story, we would hash over the hard stuff. Then we could relax and read a funny tale to giggle and chase away the shadows that creep in at night.
These days, we can read the same stories even when we are apart. He is starting to develop his own love for certain kinds of stories, and he shares his favorite titles he’s reading with me, so I can read them too. We may not be in the same space but sharing worlds in books is a special kind of connection I love having with him.
Unfailingly, when we spend time outside, we become closer. Whether my son is leading the way down the trail, or we are going along together side by side, talking as we walk, nature has a way of bringing out the big stuff.
I can’t say how this happens. Maybe it’s because when we are in nature, the distractions are gone. When we are outside, deep in the trees, we don’t have screens, games, or noisy, blinky things to drown out the big important things lurking on the surface. That time spent in nature allows us to breathe deep, and connect.
After we’ve taken some time outside, we come back centered. Refreshed, grounded, and happier.
Remember, the best kinds of connections are genuine. When you’re struggling for connection, step outside.
That time spent in nature, surrounded by calm and beauty never lets us down.
Photo Credit: StockSnap