How to Stay Connected to Your Child When You’re Long-Distance Co-Parenting
If you live far away from your co-parent, it’s a lot trickier to stay connected to your kid when they’re not living with you. But it’s even more important—otherwise, you and your child might grow apart. Your child needs you to be a steady presence in their life, even if you aren’t there physically.
It’s not just essential—it’s also possible, and we have some ideas for making it easier.
And if you’re the residential parent, you can support this connection, for your child’s sake. Children tend to thrive when they have good relationships with both parents, so this article includes ideas for you, too.
Let’s explore 13 suggestions from four experts:
- Kiki Grossman, a lead conflict resolution specialist, certified family mediator, and collaborative divorce lawyer
- Andrea Perlin, a child and family therapist, parenting coordinator, and guardian ad litem
- Tammy Berman, a child and family therapist
- Katharine Rupp, a family law attorney, judicial education coordinator, and co-parent
1. Keep your child’s best interests in mind
Experts agree that this rule of thumb is the foundation of any co-parenting issue. Your feelings and your preferences matter, absolutely—but your child is the priority.
2. Schedule regular contact
“Children generally thrive when there’s structure, when they know when they’ll have those check-ins, so their world feels reliable,” explains Kiki. “On Tuesdays, I’m going to talk to mom for an hour.”
So make sure your child can count on your phone calls, video calls, letters, texts—or whatever method you use. They can count on it because it happens with a reliable cadence. Whether it’s every Tuesday or every day, keep it consistent.
This takes coordination. Kiki suggests asking your co-parent, “What things can we put in place so that the child has regular and continuing contact with both of us, without being disruptive to their time with one parent?”
If you set a boundary—for example, establishing a limit on when your co-parent can’t contact your child—then Kiki suggests asking yourself, “Is the boundary having a detrimental effect on the child’s relationship with their other parent? Is what’s serving you also serving your child?” If you aren’t sure of the answer, Kiki adds, “Therapy can help you see the situation clearly.”
Don’t just discuss your system—make it formal and put it in your long-distance parenting plan.
3. Keep your child’s age in mind when choosing the length and frequency of calls
“Consider the ages of the kids,” says Tammy. “The hardest thing for parents is when the children are young and they move far away.”
Younger kids, especially those under 10, “have less of an attention span for sitting on a computer and being engaged in conversation rather than play,” explains Tammy. “But knowing that’s a reality for children, you should set up your expectation that it should be a shorter check-in on a more frequent basis.”
4. Stay flexible
It’s important to stick to your virtual visitation hours or scheduled chats—but sometimes things will pop up. Go back to the “best interest of your child” guideline. If your child is at a sleepover during your normally scheduled call time, it helps to be flexible and keep it short so that it’s not disruptive, says Andrea.
Or what if your child’s father is in Philadelphia, and now the Phillies and the Marlins are in the playoffs. “What if Dad wants to fly in for a game, or fly the child up for a game—will you let him? That may not be in your parenting plan, but you should be flexible about it,” suggests Andrea. Your co-parent can’t control the MLB playoff schedule, but your child can create lasting memories.
If you’re not sure whether a change is reasonable or rude, Andrea suggests asking this question: Who is the phone call for—you or your child?
5. Communicate thoughtfully with your co-parent
“Communication between co-parents is everything,” says Tammy. “If you want to be an involved parent, the way into your child’s world is through their [residential] parent. How are they doing in school? How’s their health? How’s their social life? Then you’re organically involved in decision making.”
If you’re the faraway parent, ask about your child’s life. If you’re the custodial parent, share important and interesting information about your child. Tammy gives some examples. “Your child’s grades went from A’s to C’s? They’re getting promoted to varsity? The doctor’s talking about braces? If you would want to know, share. If they’re not asking, still share. You’re not setting up your co-parent, you’re setting up your child for success.”
At the same time, stay balanced. Don’t ask for so much information that you exhaust your co-parent, and if you’re the exhausted one, it’s ok to scale back on how much information you share. It’s still a good idea to be generous, but within reason.
6. Give your co-parent the benefit of the doubt
If you don’t like or trust each other, your brains will automatically fill in any communication gaps with the worst-case scenario, says Kiki. This is even easier to fall into when you live far away because communication can be more difficult. If you aren’t the custodial parent, you might be less involved in daily decisions, which leaves more room to doubt those decisions.
“Brains are basically lazy. They need to process information pretty fast. When things happen that we don’t understand, we’ll make that leap to a conclusion or a narrative that meets the history we have with that person. ‘She’s untrustworthy, she lets the kids eat McDonald’s, she’s not a good parent, she does something without explanation.’ You leap to the worst-case scenario.”
Instead, try to switch from quick, instinctive reactions to slower, more considered responses. Give each other the benefit of the doubt and leave room for alternative explanations. Then you can make measured decisions that don’t escalate conflict—and do prioritize your child.
7. Have a gameplan for working through disagreements
Here’s what Kiki suggests for explaining your side of an issue. Start by taking a deep breath! Then message your co-parent to state that there’s been a misunderstanding, using this framework:
“My experience of when you (said/did/didn’t do) ________ is that I am now feeling/thinking __________.”
(Then take another deep breath while you wait for a response.)
If you’re on the receiving end of a message like that, try to get curious rather than defensive, Kiki encourages. If you agree with your co-parent’s point of view, message an apology. If not, write something like, “I am seeing this a different way. Are you open to hearing me?”
Consider even adding this framework to your parenting plan.
“Our bodies view conflict as a threat,” says Kiki, “the same as a physical threat. Based on our family of origin and other experiences in life, we may get triggered. So having a game plan or algorithm can give people a feeling of confidence in their ability to navigate the situation skillfully.”
8. Minimize packing during transitions
Long-distance co-parenting is stressful enough, without having to keep track of everything the child owns. Since it’s already such a big transition, it makes sense to streamline wherever possible, says Andrea. This may mean keeping a full wardrobe stocked, or it may mean keeping a good amount of toys and just shopping for a few clothes when needed.
“We don’t send things back and forth,” says Katharine. “He has one set of clothes and toys at each house. He only takes a backpack and a lovey.”
9. Schedule changeovers thoughtfully
When traveling is a big deal, scheduling that travel makes a big difference. “That’s where the OurFamilyWizard Calendar comes in clutch,” says Katharine. “You’re buckled down into a good process for travel arrangements, and it’s easy to be considerate of everyone’s schedules.”
10. Make transitions easier
“Transitions are the hardest,” says Katharine. “For everybody involved. Harder than just being far apart. Prepping, repetition, and clarity make a big difference in long-distance transitions.”
Keep your child in the loop so they know when to expect the transition. Plan all the complicated details when your kid isn’t listening, so they don’t get overwhelmed. And keep a consistent routine—do the handoff the same way every time.
Managing the changeover thoughtfully is especially important with long-distance co-parenting, since the transition is bigger.
Consider even details like the location of the transition. “We used to drop him off by meeting his dad at the passenger drop-off curb,” says Katharine. “We switched to making the transition inside the airport. It’s still quick—under 5 minutes—but it feels less stressful because you’re not anxious about the cars behind you. It’s more relaxed.”
Prepare your child for the car ride or plane trip, especially if they’re young. If you’re flying, Today’s Parent suggests boarding early, chatting with the flight attendant, and bringing a wide range of activities. A tablet (with headphones) can make or break a flight or drive, but don’t depend on just one thing to keep your child’s attention the whole time. Bring coloring books, picture books or chapter books, blank paper, all sorts of coloring utensils, stickers, stuffed animals, and travel games.
For kids in diapers, Parents recommends one diaper per hour of travel.
Don’t forget snacks!
11. Keep pictures of the faraway parent in the kid’s bedroom
Children shouldn’t have to hide the fact that they still love their parent who isn’t present. Andrea suggests hanging some photos of your child with their other parent in a place like your child’s room. That way, they can still enjoy the photos and be reminded of their other parent every day, even if you don’t want to hang a picture of your co-parent in your living room.
12. Switch it up and visit your child
“The parent can visit too!” Kiki explains. “Then the child’s life is not being interrupted, the [distant] parent can go to their games, be a part of their life.” This is especially useful for kids in sports and for little kids who are too young to travel alone.
13. Try creative ways to stay connected
Chatting on the phone is great, but try branching out to include other ideas, too. Technology is crucial, of course, but blend it with real-world activities. The more creative your approach, the more it will stand out to your child and keep you fresh in their mind.
Video calls are one of the best ways to feel connected because you can see each other’s facial expressions, body language, and other nonverbal cues—as well as seeing the puzzle your child is putting together or admiring the artsy eyeliner they just applied.
Video chat while doing any activity
It’s very common these days for young people to video chat with their friends while going about their daily lives. “I’ve heard this from my daughter and all the teens I’ve worked with,” says Tammy. “They’re just hanging out.”
Try having a video call while your child does their makeup, and comment on how good it looks. Video chat while you both do the same puzzle and show each other your progress. Or help them with their homework and quiz them on their French vocab.
Watch the same movie or TV show
“Create a ritual with your child from far away, like watching a show together,” suggests Tammy. “That transcends all ages. The faraway parent can comment on stuff [in the show] and see their child laughing, or explain something about it in real time.” For younger kids, of course, the residential parent will have to help set up the video call.
If you and your child are both sports fans, but you don’t have time to watch a full game, give yourself permission to enjoy a partial game. You can watch three innings and then switch to homework or end the call, notes Andrea.
Read a bedtime story aloud
This works great for younger kids, but you’d be surprised how much kids enjoy this ritual even as they grow older.
“My father read me the same series of books for years,” says Tammy. “I’m a lifelong Roald Dahl fan now. We read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, Matilda—the ritual made it special and gave us a consistent point of connection.”
Read the same book separately
If your child doesn’t like being read to, then read the same book separately, Andrea says. Discuss the book together afterwards. Google “Fun [book title] discussion questions” to get some prompts to keep the conversation moving. (Make sure it’s a conversation, not a quiz.)
Have a theme for each video call
Choosing a video call theme gives you more space to be creative.
Some possible themes compiled by our experts:
- Wear silly hats
- Wear silly outfits
- Talk about your favorite foods
- Play the alphabet game (“I went to the store to get apples, berries, and crayons…”)
- Guess the letters in mystery words
- Play Battleship
- Play pictionary and hold up your drawings to the camera)
Send each other snail mail
Kids love getting mail addressed to them, so try sending your child a letter! Asking your child for artwork can inspire their creativity, and letter-writing can improve their academic skills, explains Kiki.
Stick to a regular cadence. Even if your child forgets to draw you a picture, you can still mail a picture of your own—or even create a scrapbook or album, Kiki suggests.
Stay close even when you’re far
No matter how much physical distance separates you from your child, you can stay close emotionally. If your child is living with you and far from their other parent, you can help them maintain a healthy relationship.
Co-parenting isn’t always equal, but it’s always equally about the child. If you keep your kid’s best interest in mind, then they’ll thrive in both homes.