Being a parent is hard. In fact being a dad is one of the most difficult things that I have ever done in my life. If you're a parent, you can probably relate and this comes as no surprise. If you can't relate you aren't doing this parenting thing right. Recently I have discovered something that takes the parenting difficulty level up to 11. It's something I have never had to deal with before. It's being a dad while living a great distance away. My wife and I didn't get a divorce, but I did take a job halfway across the country. My family is living back in California while I get life ready for all of us here in Oklahoma.
This distance is only temporary, but I am smack in the middle of being separated from my family for five out of six weeks. For some of you that might not be a big deal, but for me it is heart wrenching. I feel like half of me is still in California with them. Some of these feelings might come from my parents divorce when I was twelve. My dad moved out and all of a sudden my world was turned upside down. There are some lessons that I am learning though. Some of these come from my current experience and some I learned through my parents' divorce. Here is what I am discovering while being a dad from a distance.
1. You drop everything when your kids have time to talk.
This might seem like a no brainer but I sometimes have an internal struggle with this. If I am not intentional about it I find myself typing away on my keyboard at work while trying to pay attention to them. It's easy to rationalize, but living apart from your kids means when they call they get all of your attention. Every single bit of it. They love you, they miss you, and it's not their fault you aren't living there. Unless it's an emergency or vitally important meeting just drop everything else, your kids are worth it.
2. You don't complain or take things personally.
This is tough to do but listen. Your partner, spouse, ex, or whoever is shouldering the lion's share of the load with the kids has way more to deal with than you. You don't get to complain when your kids have had a bad day and don't want to talk to you. You don't get to whine when your day seems stressful. You don't get to take it personally when your children spend the night at a friend's house and don't Skype you on your schedule. Whatever you are feeling, the person who is full-time with your kids has had to deal with school, sports, throw up, diapers, explaining why their dad isn't there, and little sleep with zero break. You man up, deal with it, and do whatever you can to help the situation. Never add to the problems because you had a bad day or your feelings are hurt.
3. If you are divorced, you never complain about your ex-significant other with the kids.
I don't care whether they are the worst human being alive, you never tear your ex down in front of or to your kids. You are an adult. You hold your tongue and smile. If you need someone to vent to, find a friend. Any complaints in the presence of your children will always drive them away. Trust me, I know because 20 years ago I was the kid in that situation.
4. You do everything asked of you without question.
So your spouse wants you to fill out a load of paperwork? Do it with a smile. They need you to spend your day off running errands? You ask what else you can do. If you are wondering why, see #2 above.
5. You work longer hours when your kids aren't there so you can take more time away when they are around.
Yes, putting in longer hours when you don't have to can majorly suck. I know sometimes you're tired and you can't look at another spreadsheet, go to any more meetings, or deal with your coworker for one minute more. However, extra time with your kids is worth every single minute of overtime you put in. Parents rarely look back at their life and say, "I wish I would have worked more and spent less time with my family." Usually the opposite is true. Get to the office early, stay late, and when you and your children finally reunite, enjoy every second you get to spend together.
I know many of you dads are doing your best. You might not need a reminder about how to be a great dad at a distance. However, if you are like me it's sometimes easy to forget the small things. Hopefully this can help. Give it your all, make mistakes, learn from them, and lastly never end a conversation without telling each and every child that you love them like crazy and miss them with all that you are. Being a dad is a privilege. Live up to the incredible calling you have been given no matter how many miles come between you and your family!