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