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Long-Distance Parenting 101

a woman's hands holding a phone

(Published with my child's consent.)

One recent morning, just as I got into the office, I saw a text that made my heart drop. My son, a freshman at college, in his second week of classes, had texted: “Can I call you after class today?”

Our family had just talked with him the day before, setting the phone on the table between us, listening to stories about his class schedule and weekend activities. He’d seemed fine. So why a text at 7:15am asking to talk?

I texted back that I was in the office today and would be home at the usual time. I asked: “Are you ok?”

“I feel fine physically, if that’s what you mean.”

No. That’s not what I meant. I mean, sure, I wanted to know that. His roommate had been sick the week before, so it was possible he was calling to let us know he was feeling under the weather.

I texted back: “I meant all kinds of ‘ok.’”

His next text came through without an answer to that. He wrote: “I want to discuss something with you.”

A myriad of possibilities flew to mind, none of them good. Roommate trouble, girlfriend trouble, or maybe he wasn’t as happy at this school as he’d expected.

I told him he could call Dad anytime today, since he was working from home. I let him know what time I could take a break at work, just in case it lined up with a break in his classes, but it didn’t.

The effect of knowing my son wanted to talk but not being able to immediately put a damper on my day. I knew logically that the issue couldn’t be too huge, since we’d just talked. Yet, I felt a low hum of anxiety all day.

I let my husband and mom know, trying to spread the anxiety thinner like it was too much butter on my bread. I offered up prayers throughout the day whenever I felt worried.

I realized how far away he was.

His college is an eight-hour drive from home, but even if it had been closer, I would feel the distance. After 18 years of knowing his daily life, I felt the separation acutely.

When he was a baby, I knew every minute of his day, every food he ate. Then, when he started school, I was there at the end of each day to hear about it. Now, the minutia of his life was a mystery to me. Who was he eating meals with? What was he reading? What was bothering him?

As soon as I got home that day, I texted and let him know I was available.

He replied: “Can I call you after rehearsal?”

Of course there was something else hindering our conversation. His classes, my work, his rehearsal, a different time zone…it was so frustrating!

But I keep my cool. Texted: “Sure, when is that?” Foolishly, I hoped for an actual number.

“I don’t actually know.”

Goodness, what torture.

It turned out he could call before rehearsal. My phone rang and I jumped out of my seat, running to the bedroom where we could have a private conversation.

“This might have to be cut off abruptly,” he warned me.

I didn’t care. Just tell me what’s going on.

“I’m thinking of dropping Calculus.”

That’s it? That’s what I spent the day worried about?

That was definitely not worth the anxiety it had caused me all day. Although, the question was probably causing him a good bit of anxiety. He wanted to make the best decision.

We talked through the implications of the schedule change, but ultimately I left the decision up to him. “If you feel that your course load is too heavy, we trust you to make that decision.” My son had never been one to shirk from work during high school. If he thought it would be too demanding, he was probably right.

Ten hours after getting the initial text, our ten-minute conversation was decidedly—and blessedly—anticlimactic. And so, we made it through our first away-from-home crisis, because, thank goodness, it wasn’t a crisis after all.

Those may yet come. I’m sure that in the all the future years of parenting, I will encounter this gap again—times when I know something is wrong but can’t talk to my child yet. For my sake, we’ll both have to learn some skills to manage these moments.

I’m going to need to ask him how to text a bit less vaguely. Like, “Can we talk about ____ later on?” so at least I have some sense of the level of seriousness.

Whether he does or not, how I respond during the gap is up to me. I can fill the gap with fear, or I can give the gap to God, trusting that even when I am far away from my child, God is not. When I can’t console my worried child, the Comforter can. When I’m not immediately available to offer advice, the Counselor can guide.

As I wait for the moment until I can finally do my Mom Thing of being available and helpful, I need to do the other Mom Thing and pray like crazy.

Philippians 4:6-7 is an often-quoted passage for good reason:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

The promise here is not for a prayer answered exactly the way we would like. The promise is for peace of heart and mind, in spite of whatever situation is causing us anxiety.

As I get used to this new phase of motherhood, I will have new lessons to learn, new scriptures to lean on, and new prayers to pray. I guess this is my own 101 class: Introduction to Long-Distance Parenting.

Photo by Pexel on Pixabay


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