About parenting when you don’t live with your child
You can still be very involved as a parent if you don’t live with your child, even if you live a long way away.
The key is the quality of the time you spend with your child. Quality time is about giving your child your full attention when you’re together, following their lead in the things you do together, and tuning in to their feelings.
Staying positively connected to your child will make a big difference to their overall wellbeing, health and happiness. Every effort to stay connected to your child will help.
When your child visits: tips
These tips can help your child feel welcome when they’re at your home.
Make your house a home
Children are very adaptable, but they need consistency and stability too. If you’re living in a new place, it’s important that your child has one spot they can call their own.
Ideally, your child would have their own room. But if that’s not possible, give your child their own bed and a special cupboard or a place to store their things. Hang your child’s drawings and artwork on the wall, or stick photos of your child on the fridge. This will help your child feel part of the space even if they’re sharing it with others.
You could also ask your child what they’d like to keep at your house. You could shop with your child to choose furniture or decorations for their room or buy clothes, toys or books just for your house.
Prepare for your child’s visit
If you include your child in planning their visit before they arrive, they’ll feel more involved and in control. Keep notes of things you’ve promised you’ll do with your child.
It’s a good idea to phone, text or email your child’s other parent 1-2 days before your child’s visit to confirm hand-over times and places. You could also ask them to remind your child about special things they need to bring. If these communications might involve conflict, make sure your child doesn’t see or hear them.
Helping your child settle in
Give your child some time to settle in and get used to being in your house.
Spending one-on-one time with you is often the best way for your child to get comfortable with you again. For example, you could play a game or play with a pet together. One-on-one time is especially important if you now live with your new partner and their children.
Family time can be too intense if you and your child are trying to reconnect. But when your child feels ready, you could include them in a family activity. For example, you might have pizza together and talk about what everyone has been up to since you were all together last time.
Spend time with your child
When you’re with your child, try to be hands on with meals, playtime, homework, school drop-off and so on.
One-on-one time when your child is at your house will help your child feel that they’re important to you. This could be simple things like reading books, cooking together or playing games. It could also be special time to talk about your child’s latest interests or activities or any worries they have.
Make your own traditions
You don’t have to connect with your child in the same way their other parent does. In fact, creating new family routines can be fun for everyone. Special routines could include a night when you and your child cook dinner together, a café you go to for hot chocolate, or a story at bedtime.
It wasn’t great at first. We were almost nervous around one another as the situation seemed so different. I’d take them out to lunch and both my kids would sit there sulking. I soon learned that activity was the key to them relaxing. We’d play soccer in the park then go for a swim at the local pool and then have lunch.
– Joe, 40, divorced for 3 years and father of 2 children
If you don’t live near your child or you see them only occasionally, it’s important to keep in touch when your child isn’t with you.
Keeping in touch tells your child that they’re important to you. It’ll also help you keep up to date with your child’s daily life and their changing interests, friendships, likes and dislikes, and life decisions.
These tips can help you stay in touch:
- Arrange phone or video calls at regular times that work for both households. Also let your child know that they can call you anytime.
- Use text messages, messaging apps and emails. These options can be good for sending photos and sharing links to things that you’re both interested in, like sports results or movie reviews.
- Send letters or cards. Children love getting mail.
- Keep a calendar and put important dates on it to remind you to contact your child – for example, the last day of term, school prize-giving night or important sporting matches.
My son would come to visit me in Queensland for school holidays. Wow, it was a challenge. But by the end of the 10 days or so, we had reconnected. Now he’s in his 20s and he still comes, but with his girlfriend. I’m so glad we persisted.
– Max, 50, divorced father of an adult son
When your child wants a break from seeing you
Sometimes your child might not want to spend time with you.
This could be for many reasons. For example, your child might:
- feel torn and not want to choose between you and their other parent
- still feel sad about the separation or upset because you and their other parent have been arguing
- not feel comfortable around your new partner, if you have one
- feel overwhelmed by social and school commitments
- not want to be away from friends, especially if they’re in their teens.
These tips can help:
- Take it slowly, and respect your child’s wishes. Tell your child you’d love to see them when they’re ready.
- Try to stay in contact in other ways, like phone or video calls, letters, text messages or emails.
- Experiment with shorter visits. If your child doesn’t want to sleep over, they might be happy to spend the afternoon or day with you doing something fun, or just going out for an hour. You can build up gradually to your child staying over.
- If your older child wants to stay at a friend’s house instead of yours, you could invite their friend as well.
My daughter went through a stage of refusing to make the trip over to be with me. I was hurt but eventually I arranged to come down and stay in a hotel for a week, so I could take her out for dinner, see movies, pick her up from a late-night party on a Saturday night and of course go shopping. I felt I needed to reach out and let her know I still cared.
– Mel, 36, divorced for 4 years and father of 1 child
When you have a new partner and you’re helping to raise their children
If your child doesn’t live with you and you have a new partner, you might need to think about how to balance time with your own child and time with your new partner and their children.
For example, you might be spending a lot of time or living with your new partner and their children. This might be both rewarding but also a reminder that you’re not seeing much of your own child. And when your child comes to visit, your new partner, your new partner’s children or any shared children might feel hurt by the attention you give your child.
It’s a good idea to talk with your new partner and their children before your child comes to visit. This way you can share how you’re feeling and hear how they feel about the upcoming visit. You might even get some ideas for helping the visit go well.
Counsellors can help you and your family work through the challenges that come with separation and co-parenting. You can call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. Or you could ask your GP about local family counselling services.