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My wife and our two children (a five year old daughter and a one year old son) are about to move away to a different city, for a mix of reasons. This is likely to lead to a long distance relationship for an indefinite period of time. I'm going to be trying to spend weekends with them every week.

My daughter and I are very close and I have made plans to keep things going between us, or at least as well as possible in these circumstances. But my son is just one. He and I have bonded, but his mother is definitely the primary caregiver. If I'm only going to be around for a day or two in a week, what kind of activities can I engage in with him at this age that will be useful? Just the normal playing, or should I try for something specific to this situation?

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    How welcome is mom in this? I mean, this could be a move for work purposes or a move because we're leaving data picture. I don't want to pry, I just want to get an understanding of what kind of support you have in this endeavor. – corsiKa Feb 2 '15 at 15:15
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    Way too many fathers only see their children on weekends because they work so much during the week. With the amount of thought you put into this, your son will probably be better off than many children whose father sleeps under the same roof as they do every night. – sbi Feb 2 '15 at 16:07
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    Also think of what the wife can to do help. A good thing is to include you emotionaly into some activitie, example, "help me cook dads favorite diner", "do you think dad would like that?", "dad will be happy to see his clothes washed", "show it do dad when he'll come back". you get the idea ;) – the_lotus Feb 2 '15 at 16:39
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    If you have the technical know-how (it isn't really too hard) record video of yourself reading his favorite books aloud, that he can watch on his own. USO has a great program that does this for deployed military - you may find some ideas on their website that would help you: unitedthroughreading.org – Adam Feb 2 '15 at 19:04
  • @Adam - That's a brilliant idea. Yes i do have the technical know-how and will definitely do this. – ShankarG Feb 4 '15 at 5:01
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I would not recommend trying to be unusually exciting or interesting to him on those weekend visits. Once you are able to be with him every day again, he might be confused if you're less engaged with him then -- so behave towards him just as you normally would, more or less. The same games you currently play, reading books, talking, and so on (adjusting as he ages).

Besides that, however, try to think of ways that you can be visible to him throughout the week, even though you may not be physically present. (Many of these work equally well for your spouse and older child, of course.)

  • If technically possible, have nightly video chats so you can talk together as a family for a while and he sees you smiling and talking to him.
  • If that isn't available, try for at least a phone call so he hears your voice.
  • Look for ways to have a voice or video recording of you talking to him.
  • Have photographs around their home that include you and the family, so you can be regularly pointed out. "Here is Daddy! We all love Daddy. Daddy will be visiting in a few days again, that will be fun."
  • Plan ahead for how "Where is Daddy" questions will be dealt with, which will probably be extremely frequent right after you leave but are also likely any day. (Whenever my spouse or I go on a business trip, the absent parent is always more in demand, particularly when the present parent has turned down a request to eat more cookies, watch more television, or stay up late.) Having a consistent explanation, a calm response, and a redirection method (e.g. looking at a photograph and explaining that Daddy will be back in 5 days) can help.

Much of this is based largely on my personal experience (me and two kids were in another state for multiple weeks once, and there have been occasional smaller chunks of time due to business trips), but you can also find a lot of great suggestions by searching for "long distance parenting".

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    +1 for the recommendation to be "normal" on the weekends. The rest is spot on, too. – Stephie Feb 2 '15 at 14:08
  • Thanks, this is very helpful. The situation is indefinite, so it might well be a long while - potentially his entire childhood - without being in the same household. In that context, would it make sense to think of special things? – ShankarG Feb 2 '15 at 16:53
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    Even when parenting from a distance, you still have to impose some level of discipline and "un-fun" -- for example, he gets to bed on time, eats regular/healthy foods, does homework or studying as he gets older, and so on. Of course do special activities (park, movies, treats) occasionally (what you'd do if you were there all the time!) but if special treats are all you do, they aren't special anymore :) – Acire Feb 2 '15 at 17:04
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    @ShankarG, Erica is right, you want to avoid falling into the trap of being a 'Disney Dad', which can happen if you focus on fun special things during your time with them so much that normal, routine things are excluded. – A E Feb 2 '15 at 19:52
  • Thank you for this advice. I completely see the point and will avoid being a Disney dad. – ShankarG Feb 4 '15 at 4:59
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Looking solely from the point of view of the father of a one year old, and what's different there, I would say: attention. Give him as much attention as you can - probably more than you give your daughter. One year olds need a lot of attention, both to help form a bond with you, and to grow and mature intellectually and emotionally. This will change as he ages, and you can probably lay off some as that happens - but it is vital at 1 to get personal interactions and attention as much as possible. This would be true even if you were living at home with him - that you're not makes it doubly as important.

I absolutely agree that you shouldn't be a Disney Dad, but you can select activities that are more interactive with you and be more conscious to pay attention to him than you might otherwise. Rather than taking in a movie, go to a children's museum where you can play with him; go to a park, and run around with him. Make sure you're still requiring him to behave as he should, and not just picking him up directly to go to the park or whatnot - it should be part of a normal routine, just as if you were there.

When you're at home, read books to him, talk to him. Give him your undivided attention as much as is reasonable. He probably gets less attention than he would during the week if you were there - because Mom has to do all of the housework, perhaps work, and do other things that she would get help with if you were there. During this time - in particular between 1 and 2 - attention and interaction are extremely important to a child.

If you can do other things (like video chat, etc.), I would as well; in addition, create a lot of photos and videos of the two of you interacting. My one year old loves watching pictures of himself and his brother and myself when we do activities - it helps him remember fond times, and is comforting to see familiar faces (including his own).

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