Last month I spent looking after my two kids on my own. My husband was a away in Chile, hunting out a good school and a home. As a couple we’d done the long distance relationship thing before, but it’s always tough.
Sure, at times it’s been glamorous (yes darling, let’s meet in the Philippines), at times it’s been rather enjoyable (whoop! whole bed for myself!), but mostly it’s been damn frustrating (what do you mean you don’t want to chat at 4 am your time?) and incredibly lonely.
The first words upon the birth of my second child were, ‘Do you have the WiFi code, please? I’d like to Skype my husband’.
Get a plan in place
This time we had a plan. We set a maximum time limit no matter what, we did our utmost to speak at least every day and we tried to think a little creatively to stay in touch.
A five minute daily chat is always easier to manage than long drawn out calls and I’d hate for either of us to put off calling because we were too busy or tired.
I’m a sucker for flowers and I can’t count the number of bouquets I received while my husband was away in Nigeria (it’s hard work single parenting and let it be known that I deserved every petal).
The kids are alright
It was tough on our kids, but thankfully neither of them were old enough to really understand. My three year old, Sebastian, looked glum when I explained Papa was working away in a place called Chile and wouldn’t be home in time for supper, but he perked up when he saw his leaving present.
Sebastian doesn’t yet understand the concept of time or distance and asked if we could call in to Chile on the way back from the park.
The next day I heard Sebastian shouting, ‘Papa, where are you?!’ I realised I hadn’t hung up on Skype. ‘Ahh Papa! You’re in my bed. I’m going to take you to see potty now!’ Nice.
Then after five minutes, ‘Bye bye Papa!’ and he had pressed the red hang up button. When Papa’s on Skype, he’s under his control.
Plenty of challenges
It’s not all plain sailing. Technology issues got in the way of daily chats. Sometimes I felt too exhausted even for a five minute call. Text messages mangled my thoughts into nasty arguments. Or I got angry, and unlike a ‘normal’ relationship, I just switched off my phone and ignored the calls (sorry… is this too honest?) Or I got lazy and assumed all was OK, until a paranormal panic attack induced me to check.
Wherever he was in the world, I’d hear news reports about where he was living, about natural disasters, violent demonstrations or other catastrophes and somewhere at the back of my mind I always dreaded… What if?
I felt guilty for my kids when they missed their Papa and spoiled them with unnecessary gifts. Moments later, worn out from looking after them on my own, I’d snap and tell them off for minor offences.
Last time we did the long distance thing I was left to cope with a very sick baby and an energetic toddler. I’m never, ever going there again.
The secret to a good relationship
Anyone who claims to know the secret to a good long distance relationship is wrong. It doesn’t exist. Absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. Without a plan it cleaves it apart.
There is no substitute for physical presence, neither on an emotional nor on a practical level. Anyone who disagrees obviously hasn’t tried single parenting. I reckon that anyone who enjoys a long separation perhaps loves their partner’s wallet more than their partner.
After several trials and a couple of errors, I’m still learning. But now we’re all together in Chile. This is one lesson I don’t intend to repeat.