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Two Continents and a Baby: Coping with early parenthood in long distance relationships

Lisa McKay Family & Marriage, Real-life Stories 8 Comments

I’m back, and delighted to announce that in the last couple of weeks our little family has grown in numbers. Alexander McKay Wolfe made his appearance on Saturday August 10th. If you don’t count two failed epidurals and 9 hours of mysterious back labour for a baby that wasn’t posterior, everything went fairly smoothly with the birth. I am still bitter that he couldn’t arrive via plane instead of via me, but I guess you can’t have everything.

Here’s the part where I’d like to say “we’re settling into normal life together as a family of four”. However the truth of the matter is that Mike and I are juggling not just our newborn son and toddler, but arrivals and departures and the booking of still more plane tickets. (Although, come to think of it, since all of that characterizes normal life for us, perhaps it would be fair to say we’re settling into normal life as a family of four.)

Alex and Dom-smilesThankfully, Mike was able to be here in Australia and present with me for the birth of his second son. But now little Alex is two weeks old and Mike will soon be returning to Laos for a while. We’ll all back to long distance relationship for at least another month before we collect the baby’s passport, see him through his first round of vaccinations, and board the plane to Laos in mid-October.

Long distance relationships before you have kids together can be hard work. However, long distance relationships after you have kids exist on a whole different planet of hard.

In all fairness I should pause here to say that the “hard” of this last six months has been hugely mitigated for me by the fact that I’ve been living with my parents. My parents have gotten up with me in the middle of the night to soothe a sick toddler, changed diapers, and put babies to bed. They’ve fed, entertained, and generally acted as surrogate parents to my children more times than I can count.

They also own a lovely house that overlooks sugar cane fields, a river, and the Pacific Ocean. Spending a large part of two pregnancies separated from my husband was never my Plan A. But as far as Plan B’s go, I totally hit the jackpot.

However (despite the fact that I know a lot of parents in long distance relationships are doing it tougher than I am) these latest separations have still had their raw, lonely, exhausted, resentful moments. So, today, I want to brainstorm a little with you about ways to make long distance parenting of babies and toddlers easier for partners on both sides of the equation.

Here are five things that have helped me …

1. Live with others

I’ve already talked about all the ways my parents have helped me cope our recent separation. I know not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a similar situation with their parents should the need arise, but if not can you get a bit more creative? Could you temporarily live with siblings, or invite a good friend to move in with you for a while? Living with others full time can have its moments of tension, too, but if you find the right people or person they will help you stay sane. I know a lot of single parents out there do it, but I’m not quite sure how. I seriously don’t think we’re designed to cope with parenting young kids by ourselves 24 hours a day. I know I’m not.

2. Share some of the little things about parenting with your partner

I’ve been signed up to receive BabyCenter emails for months. Every Monday I receive an email about child development for toddlers who are Dominic’s age, and one about the pregnancy/newborn stages. I forward these to Mike and sometimes we discuss them.

Mike’s been reading a parenting book called Raising the Spirited Child during our time apart, which has led to some interesting conversations about labeling children’s behavior etc.

I also try to make it a point to share some of those “little” parenting moments that have made me laugh (or want to pull out my hair). I think and hope that this helps Mike continue to feel connected to the kids even when he’s not here.

3. Don’t just talk about the kids

This is much harder for the parent who is on “active parenting duty” than it is for the partner who is away. Some days I get on Skype and I can’t think of a single thing to say other than recite how many times I got up in the middle of the night and who has eaten (or not eaten) their meals. Everyone has days like that, but it’s important to talk about something other than parenting sometimes.

4. Have quick Skype check-ins with the kids

Expecting to be able to have a coherent heart to heart with your partner when your child/children are awake is a recipe for frustration. I’ve found what works for us is to try for 5-10 minute Skype check-ins with Daddy every couple of days.

This allows Dominic to see Mike, high five him on the screen, and blow him kisses. It lets Mike see him and the baby. Mike and I, however, save the majority of our substantial conversations for after the kids are asleep or while Dominic is watching PlaySchool. (Note, this works a lot better when there was only one child on the scene who had to be sleeping or otherwise entertained, not two, which leads me to point number 5…

5. Lower your conversational expectations when there is a new baby on the scene

Before Dominic was born, it was much easier for Mike and I to carve out time to talk at length on Skype. During the month we were separated when he was a tiny baby, it was nearly impossible. I was waking up multiple times a night to feed the baby, and pretty much operating on auto-pilot.

Now that we’re faced with repeating this dynamic a second time (with an active toddler in the mix to boot) Mike and I have agreed that during this next stint apart we’ll just accept that we won’t be able to talk the way we usually do, and that I should prioritize sleep over Skype most of the time.

That’s enough from me, and one of my children undoubtedly needs to be fed/changed/hugged. Your turn.

If you are a parent I would love to hear what’s worked for you (or not worked, for that matter).

If you’re not a parent, what have you seen work for others juggling planes and parenthood?

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Lisa McKay (Ballina, Australia)
Books: Love At The Speed Of Email
201 Great Discussion Questions For Couples In Long Distance Relationships

Comments 8

  1. We have two daughters 10 and 27 months. My husband is working in another city for 9 months and God knows when he will come back. He is only coming home at the weekends and I am a PhD student. We have a baby sitter to care babies when I am outside, apart from this, I am alone with the girls. We have always controversies about raising children, and it became worse since it is nearly impossible to talk about and find a solution. I am exhausted since it is too much to do children, school and home at the same time. My husband also help too little and criticize me too much and this makes me crazy. Even though i get used to live with children and we have a good routine, on those days i feel so unhappy about long-distance marriage. It seems that nothing work for us…

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      Gosh, that sounds like a REALLY tough situation. Two kids alone at those ages is enough to cope with, without the rest of it on top. Sorry that this is such a hard season, and I hope you and your husband can find a way to talk together without anger and blame and defensiveness about the challenges and pressures you’re facing right now and how you can tackle them as a team and support each other. All the best.

  2. Hi Lisa, didn’t think I would find likeminded people in this regard. My boyfriend and I live on 3hour flight-distance and are blessed with a strong love. I think we are getting to know each other a lot quicker and more intensely this way, too. We are crazy about becoming parents and ttc. I already found the best reads and gear for our slightly different life with a future child. Because of our busy lives, I want to plan far ahead and have the best, lightest, smallest multipurpose essentials at hand that will keep us some sanity while we have the baby close at all times. But I havent quite figured out how we could stop people and companys from gifting other things:-)

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  3. Love reading about the intricacies of long distance love & parenting! This summer, I flew solo with our three little BOYS (6,4,1) in the states while my husband returned to his home, PNG, to start a new job. I was pulling my hair out by Day 1, missing my partner in crime more than ever. We survived and are all now happily reunited and 1month in to our new adventure in the Eastern Highlands of this rich country. I have a whole list of things I could share, but I’ll just offer my top 5 here :
    What worked (aka kept me & my children alive during our 60+days apart from their dad, who is very hands on & helpful, btw):
    1. Lots of coffee & chocolate no holds bar
    2. Spending time at & with my church community of friends who have kids & understood why I was pulling my hair out on Day 1
    3. Asking for HELP, taking people up on their offer to take the kids & give me a break
    4. Letting the house go: there was no energy left for me to care!
    5. As many new activities, functions, events, & free stuff to do with your kids as I could cram in to each day. Didn’t leave me with any reflective space or creative personal time, but it helped me accomplish my lofty goal of making it thru the summer as a single parent alive. Gave me an incredibly tender heart for single parents in the process!
    From Goroka to Laos, much love to you & congrats on the birth of Alex (my first boy is Alex!)

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      Oh gosh. Three kiddos 6, 4, and 1. You deserve a great big parenting medal. And, yes, I totally agree with you about parents who do it alone all the time. I have nothing but respect and awe for them!! Stay well in Goroka!

  4. Love your blog. When I was in the states for 5 weeks with my 9 month old, and my husband was back in Thailand, I stayed with my parents and they were a huge help as well. Giving me an evening off now and then when I could go out and remember I need time to be alone or with friends not just parenting 24 hours a day. It’s much harder when they’re tiny though, and with two at once I can’t imagine.

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