Can You Be A Good Mother From 800 Miles Away?

I live 800 miles from my teenage daughter, my only child, and have for over a decade. It’s embarrassing to admit, even though circumstances forced my hand. Before I moved, I was a SAHM for six years. I woke up in the middle of the night to feed her, sing the SpongeBob song ad nauseam, and brush her silky hair. Before, it was blue.

I treasured every moment (except her year-long experience with drooling). I had no idea that one day I’d stop seeing her day-to-day as she was growing up.

I can’t believe that I have been parenting my daughter from afar for all these years. (Twenty20 @KlavdiyaV)

After her father and I split, I remarried. My current in-laws promised to give us a house if we moved out of state to be near them. There had been a 20-estrangement between them and my husband, so everyone was anticipating a “happy ever after.”

I was thrilled to be going to a home where my daughter could go to school and the ocean, both just down the road. My rose-colored glasses were almost purple. Just two weeks before we moved, my ex-husband produced a restraining order saying our daughter would be ripped from her extended family if she left.

He wasn’t going to allow it. We went to mediation, and I received partial custody, sure in my heart she would come to me within the year. Who keeps a child from her mother? He did.       

So, what have I learned? Can I ever forgive myself? Am I ever going back? Will we ever be together again?

Sometimes life doesn’t work out as planned, and dynamics are different in every family. But we all have our own beliefs and best practices to ensure our children have a solid foundation to stand on.

What I’ve learned from being a world away from the love of my life

1. You don’t need to be near to have a deep relationship with your child

I’ve mourned deeply for leaving my daughter no matter what the circumstances were at the time, and living in the past hasn’t served me well. To try and have a fulfilling life with such a critical part of myself missing has been an uphill climb.

So I decided to jump in, grab the reins, and do everything I could to make the long-distance relationship not only work but thrive. 

Things like sending fun mail (confetti, anyone?), being the queen of asking questions, and letting her know with all her heart she can tell me anything. She doesn’t hold back. The heart doesn’t have a shut-off valve just because we don’t live in the same zip code. 

Each conversation is one more opportunity for me to teach her even though she’ll be 18 in August and will know everything. Or it’s the chance to listen to what she’s going through in life. Or it’s just because I want to know if she has yet hung that good-smelling thingie in her car.

2. I try not to dwell on the things I’ve missed

As the impact shook my insides, the years passed, and I knew I’d need to let go of any vision of a perfect ending. 

I could dwell on it and have a daily breakdown or accept it and do my best with the situation. As the years ticked by, I had plenty of unhealthy moments loathing myself for the choices I made and berating myself for doing something no good mother would do…Leave their child.

But I’ve tried to stay focused on my daughter, doing everything in my power to let her know she’s the most important thing in the world to me.

I’ve learned we don’t have to live in the same house to be a family.  

It’s a conscious decision to compartmentalize thoughts that come up like “I wish I had been there for her prom.” What I do is handle it the mature way. By bugging her to death to send her prom pics which included threatening to video call daily until she sent them. Sidebar: I received them the next day after I made good on my promise. 

3. I’ve learned what a good mother is

Good moms do everything they can to make life better for their children. An urge we’ve felt since the moment someone said, “You’re pregnant.”

They know their child’s North Star and would chew glass if it meant that would make things easier for them to reach it. No one knows what makes a child tick quite like his or her mother.

There are traits that are universal for every good mom:

  • They have bullet-proof devotion to their children.
  • Good mothers constantly learn when to stay close to their children and when to back off.
  • “Sacrifice” is their middle name. Their children usually come first.
  • A good mom says “I love you” often and shows it constantly.  
  • They know their kids won’t fully understand our feelings and decisions unless or until they have children of their own.      

Who is my daughter now?

I do believe I’ve taught her important life lessons. Here are a few that have molded her:

  • To do what you love, even if it’s working at a gas station.  
  • To be inclusive and always welcome all kinds of people into your life. 
  • That compassion and empathy are more important than History and Spelling. I homeschooled her for three years and focused on the mind, heart, and soul.
  • Never make fun of someone. It’s cruel, painful, and shows a lack of intelligence.
  • I wanted her to have healthy self-esteem, so I never shamed, mocked, or did anything to let her know she wasn’t already a miracle.

No amount of distance could silence the teachings I’ve instilled in her.  

So who and what has she become? Fiercely independent, she’s also an incredible friend to her tribe and has a huge heart. She’s funny, kind, and reliable.  

Note: She happened to be a phenomenal baby, toddler, and little girl as well. I know. Kid jackpot! 

She did hit the tweens early at 9 years old, and I was introduced to one of the Holy Grails of the Teenager Kingdom…The eye roll. Despite that, we continued to respectfully communicate with each other. 

And just when I think she hasn’t inherited any of my passions in life, she pulls away in her car the last time I saw her with “Sweet Home Alabama” blaring.   

Can I ever forgive myself for leaving?

I’m probably at the mid-point if “will forever blame myself” was on one end and “completely forgiven” was on the other. I try hard to stay in the moment instead of thinking about what I’ve missed but choosing to leave her is the one regret I have in life. 

I need to forgive myself one day. 

Will I ever go back home?

Next month I’ll be moving back to my hometown where my daughter lives! The irony is she will be leaving for college 3 hours away the same week I arrive. I’ll be going with her to help her unpack. And to boo-hoo on the way back.

I’m going to try to stay optimistic and think about how much more often I’m going to be seeing her. I explained that it was awful timing and explained the main reason why — my marriage had shattered. She understood, but we needed to talk about it again in depth. So we did. 

She wanted me to know that she’s been without me for all these years, so it might take a while to be with each other regularly. Ouch. I didn’t like her attitude coming from her largely-not-yet-formed prefrontal brain and told her so. 

We hashed it out and reached an agreement that made us both happy. I would respect her space, and she would spend time with me when she could.  

This exchange wasn’t just one that worked because we lucked out. It came from years of working through our differences, admitting when we’re wrong, and always making sure we talk about things until they’re resolved. 

Does living so far away from my child mean I’m an awful parent?

Must we be close to them on the map to have a solid, impenetrable relationship with our children? Absolutely not. You must, however, be available and accepting, not judgmental or preachy. Be encouraging and thick-skinned, and refrain from having knee-jerk reactions.    

And finally…

I would change so many things about the journey that brought me so far away from my sweet daughter, but I’m trying to focus on the exciting beginning that lies ahead. 

It will be the reunion of a mother and daughter who lived too many years apart but are doing everything they can to move forward together. I’m extremely proud of the person my daughter has become. And I’m working on feeling the same way about myself.

Deep down, I do know one thing. I’m a good mother…who will revel in the fact that sometimes her daughter listens to Lynyrd Skynyrd.  

More Great Reading:

When it Comes to Parenting, Divorce Changes the Conversation

About Jenn FlattOsborn

Jen Flatt Osborn was born with a pen in her hand and a deadline. She considers writing a vocation, an art, and a release. This Tennessee girl loves football, banana pudding, and dogs. She currently lives with four delightful canines who encourage her to put her head out the car window more often. 
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