I have said this before, and I will say it again, long distance is SO HARD!
It is so hard to stay connected and keep a happy, healthy family dynamic despite the distance. I am always looking for tips and strategies to help make our long distance blended family even stronger, healthier, and happier. Considering that you have stumbled upon my blog, I bet you are too! I’m proud of you, stepmama, for making your family a priority! I have made come up with 6 habits that we use in our long distance blended family that have proven to help us keep our family bond strong despite the distance, and I hope they help you as well.
An important part of keeping a healthy family dynamic is staying informed on your children’s lives. This is relient on a somewhat cohesive co-parenting relationship, which I understand isn’t always possible. Due to the distance, it is can be very difficult to receive any information first hand. Most of the time, the information you receive is filtered through the mother. This isn’t a problem for some, but I know that some blended families don’t have the convenience of having open communication with the children’s mother. If possible, in that situation it is always ideal to get the information straight from the source. This is definitely easier with help from their mom, but possible without. Encourage her to give the school and doctors your contact information, but if necessary, contact them yourselves. Either way, make sure to ask about the kids. Keep up-to-date on their lives as much as possible.
Keeping Up Communication
Communication is key in any relationship.
You can’t expect to stay close or have any sort of healthy relationship without making communication a priority. Try to set aside time to have phone calls. I won’t harp on this too much, becuase I have another post specifically about Handling Phone Calls In a Long Distance Blended Family, if you are struggling with this in your family. Video calls are such a blessing for long distance blended families. It is so great to be able to see your little babes faces even when they are so away, and it makes your littles feel more comfortable communicating over the phone when they are able to see your face. Sending care packages is a fun way to keep up communication long distance. I have another post about Using Care Packages to Stay Connected in a Long Distance Blended Family. (Can you tell that I think consistent communication is key in a healthy long distance blended family?!)
Setting Realistic Expectations
One of the most heartbreaking things we hear when talking with Noah and Farrah while they are at their other house is,
“When are you coming to visit?”
It always stops me cold in my tracks. I don’t really know what to say or how to explain to them that we can’t come visit. In case you didn’t know, the kids live primarily with their mother who moved 20 + hours away.
I’m sure many of you are in the same boat, so you know how much it sucks! There are many factors at play, and despite how much we miss our little babes, we simply can’t make the trip throughout the year. But you can’t explain that to a 5 and 8 year old. We have talked to their mom and the children about not being able to come visit, because it is important to set realistic expectations with everyone involved. Especially in a blended family. We let their mom know how a visit is not currently possible for us, and we asked her to be more mindful of mentioning visits in front of the children. We also talked to the kids. We let them know that although we would love more than anything to see them that it just isn’t possible right now.
It’s important to not make unrealistic promises. It doesn’t even have to be a promise. Kids will hang on to anything, any slight indication, as 100% truth. And breaking those little promises or mentions (as good hearted as they may be) is breaking their trust. It is showing them that you aren’t putting them or your word to them first. That they aren’t a priority to you. And even if you just said “we’ll try” or “maybe, buddy” or “sure, I’ll think about going” that is a full blown yes in their little hearts and it will hurt so much more to break that than to be honest from the beginning and tell them that it’s just not possible right now. Make sure to ask for pictures from the event or a video of their program and stay as invested and involved as possible. Show them that even though you can’t be there that it doesn’t mean you don’t care.
This past Veteran’s Day the children had a program at school. Because Dan is in the military, Noah was quick to invite him to come speak at the program. He called the night he found out about the program and begged Dan to come speak. Dan was heartbroken to have to tell his son that he wouldn’t be able to attend, and it was hard for Noah to accept that we wouldn’t be able to make it. Despite that, Dan made sure to be upfront with him and not lead him on with false hope. It was so hard to break the news to him, but I can only imagine how upset he would’ve been if we hadn’t let set the reality for him that we couldn’t make it. We made sure to ask him about the program and his part in it up until the day of, we asked for pictures the day of, and we made sure to call him that night to talk to him about it. We wanted to be sure that he knew how much we wanted to be a part of this with him, even though we couldn’t be there. We wanted him to know that because this meant so much to him that we still wanted to be involved despite the distance. It was obvious that he was still upset because Dan wasn’t there, but I know he was happy to see that we were so eager to hear all about it!
I cannot stress the importance of understanding and empathy enough in a blended family. I probably sound like a broken record, but empathy and understanding are probably the single most important habits of successful blended families. Flexibility goes hand in hand with this as well. It is important for children to have consistency, but in a long distance blended family it is just as important to be mindful that things can come up. You may have a phone call set up for a certain time that gets pushed aside. It can be very upsetting that your communication is not being made a priority, but you have to be understanding that, especially with little ones, sometimes things just don’t follow your schedule. Be flexible with your co-parent when things don’t go your way. Be understanding when schedules change. Be understanding when you are asked to adjust your schedule to meet with theirs. Don’t freak out when you have to wait a day or two to receive pictures from a school event. Blended family life will put your empathy and understanding skills to the test, but it is a vital habit to get in the practice of to keep your sanity amongst the stressors.
It is so easy to focus on the negative parts of long distance blended family life. You can easily get hung up on how upsetting the distance is, how frustrating the co-parenting can be, how heartbreaking it is to be apart from your children, and any other problems in your blended family dynamic, but you will never be happy in your family life if you stay there. You have to acknowledge the bad parts and put them away. Focus your heart and mind on the positive parts of your blended family life. Stay positive about your situation. Focus on how much love your family has, be thankful for the time you do get with your babes, and be mindful that despite the hard times, distance does make the heart grow fonder. You are more intentional about the time you get to spend with your little ones when the time is limited. Unlike most parents, you don’t take the time you have with your babies for granted. You embrace every second and soak in every precious moment. This type of mindset shift from negative thought to positive thought of the same situation is called “cognitive reframing.” Cognitive reframing can be helpful in all sorts of stressful situations, and can be especially helpful in long distance blended families. It’s not about what happens, it’s about how you frame it in your mind. If you are intentional about framing your blended family situation in a positive light then you will likely see your family benefit and thrive.
Don’t Put Your Life on Hold
You always sacrifice for your family. The sacrifice is larger for those in a blended family, and even more so for a long distance blended family. You plan your life around parenting schedules, call schedules, co-parenting decisions, and other blended family obstacles. It is so easy to lose yourself in all of the commotion. You get caught up in the blended family stressors, and your lose yourself. However, it is important not to put your life on hold due to your long distance blended family dynamic. You do need to make your family a priority, but you have to keep living your life amongst it. I easily get caught up in wanting to wait for the kids in order to make certain plans or experiences, but I remind myself that it is okay for me and Dan to keep living and making memories even when they aren’t here. Remember that you would always want the kids to be happy and live a full life even when they are without you, and they would want you to do the same.
I know it can get hard, stepmama. I can’t tell you it gets easier, but you get stronger. You learn what to say and how to handle the tough situations better. You got this. Remember to make communication a priority, stay informed on your babes lives, set realistic expectations for everyone involved, stay positive about your family dynamic, be understand that sometimes you have to be flexible in a blended family, and don’t put your life on hold due to your parenting schedule. These 6 habits of successful long distance blended families can help make your family happier and healthier despite the miles!
Love your family, love yourself, and live your happiest life.