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Coping with long-distance parenting

By July 23, 2014December 8th, 2022No Comments

We live in a highly mobile society.  The exact number of South Africans living abroad is not known, but has been estimated recently at about 1.5 million.  Many of us have grown-up children who have made a life for themselves abroad.  Even parents whose children live in another province believe that they might as well be living in Timbuktu, given the fact that they see them infrequently.

Does this situation sound familiar to you?  Do you find yourself envying the parents whose children, their spouses and their grandchildren live down the road, and family dinners, braais and the celebration of all milestones is an absolute given?  The effect on parents who are left behind can be dramatic and devastating.  The loss is tantamount to bereavement.   Not everyone is lucky enough to be able to afford the long-haul trips, the local flights and maybe don’t even have the time or the health to be in a position to make regular visits.   It’s a hard pill to swallow for those who are left behind.  Even if you do have sufficient resources to visit your family regularly, it’s just not the same as having them live down the road.

Lyn’s youngest son has relocated to New Zealand from Johannesburg.  Her initial reaction when she heard he was moving to New Zealand was one of happiness that he was experiencing his independence at last, although she felt sick to the stomach with the thought of not being able to spend quality time with him on a regular basis.  Since he left, Lyn has experienced many emotions that come with the “Empty Nest Syndrome” – feelings of abject loss, total helplessness at times, an absolute numbing fear that she can’t get to him quickly if he gets sick or is involved in an accident.   Christmas, Easter and birthdays are the most difficult for Lyn and her family.  However, with all negatives, come positives – Lyn believes that her son has matured in leaps and bounds, and he realizes the importance of family now, more than ever before.

Jill has two sons living in the UK.  She admits that she battles to see her friends surrounded by their family and the adoration and the involvement they have for/in their grandchildren.  Jill’s emotions are mixed with extreme sadness and fear for their emotional and physical well-being , as well as immense pride that they have become successfully independent.  Having always had a very close relationship with her sons, she naturally wants to be on hand to give guidance and emotional support through their hard times and be involved in their day-to-day lives.  She has realized that albeit from a distance, and with the help of technology, she has, in fact, been able to ‘be there’ for them, albeit remotely, and “it’s wonderful that they still come to Ma for advice!”.

YEI recently went to a seminar titled Living Oceans Apart.   All of Lyn’s and Jill’s emotions described above, and more, were expressed by the folk who attended the seminar.   In a practical way, Living Oceans Apart offered hope and encouragement, while dealing with this reality of children, family and friends living so far away.  Delme Linscott is a Minister in the Methodist Church, and he has taken the time to reflect on this huge issue, and now gives Living Oceans Apart seminars around the country on this deeply emotional and fearful subject.  He has also published an encouraging and hopeful book that has assisted many people in this country to deal with this difficult time in their lives.

In his book, Delme shares a few stories from men and women who are dealing, on a daily basis, with similar emotions to Lyn.  A widow shares her story of personal struggle:  “I have been widowed twice and have lost various family and friends over the years – all of them much loved.  However, as no stranger to bereavement, I can state, without doubt, that I find the fact that my daughters are so far away much harder to bear than any loss through death.  I think that one comes to terms with death, and eventually makes a new life without the one who has died.  However, knowing that my loved ones are still around, but not here, is more painful to me”.

Some of the solutions that Delme suggests are:

  • Form a support group exclusively for parents whose children live abroad or in another province.  There is healing and encouragement when a group get together to share stores in an informal way.
  • Organise get-togethers or outings on the major holidays – Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day etc.   And if you are in a position where you can entertain in your home, consider inviting folk who may be on their own, due to their families being abroad.
  • Become a mentor or surrogate parent to young people in your community who may be desperate for love.

If you would like to find out more about the Living Oceans Apart seminars, or you would like to order the book, please contact:  Delme Linscott,  email:

Are you in this situation?  Do you have advice or comfort to offer other YEI readers?

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