Long-distance relationships and the impact on children
And when we are apart remember it is not the end
You know enough to know we'll meet again
I'll be waiting by the gate standing just inside
Until I know you've made it home all right
Until I know you've made it home all right
- Red Robin by Clarke Richards
For some families, the reality is that at least one parent is often forced to seek greener pastures overseas to ensure that their needs can be adequately met.
It is even harder when both parents are away and a relative or trusted friend is left with the responsibility to stand in the gap.
Some children, without the firm hands of their parents, tend to break out or lose focus.
Family and Religion reached out to Dr Maloney Hunter, psychologist and director/mentor of Sisters United in Prayer, Healing Empowerment and Restoration, to weigh in on keeping the family together and stable in that kind of situation.
Acknowledging that there is an urgent need for a better understanding of the impacts of family separation on the health and well-being of children left behind, Hunter shared that although migration might provide opportunities for parents to earn significantly higher incomes to the benefit of all family members, it is also accompanied by long-term family separations, which might have direct or indirect effects on children's development.
"Children need safe, predictable and stress-free environments and a strong, caring and reliable primary caregiver in order to reach physical, cognitive, social, and emotional maturation," she shared.
Hunter points out that migration creates emotional displacement for migrants and their children and it can have a detrimental impact on their children's health, education, emotional stability and behaviour.
"Although some children cope well with the migration of their parents, others experience migration as a form of abandonment or rejection, adopting several deviant behavioural patterns," Hunter advises.
"It is, thus, imperative to address the question of being left behind and achieve a full understanding of the dimension of this phenomenon," she adds.
Sharing her personal experience, Hunter said she was left with close family members while her parents migrated to better their lives.
"Not everyone is lucky enough to grow up with both parents, or parents, for that matter. Though no child will simply fail to survive because of this, it definitely causes repercussions. It leaves a mark. Especially for a daughter who is forced, for whatever reason, to grow up without a mother, the lasting effects can be scarring," the psychologist shared.
Hunter said daughters who grow up without a mother stand the risk of that affecting all of her decisions in life.
"Some of these consequences can be troubling, but some can be empowering. Growing up as a girl may be easier to navigate with a mother, but it's not impossible without one. There's a missing piece, and it leaves the girl in a place where she needs to find something to take its place," states Hunter, adding that without a mother, the daughter doesn't have someone to ask about her changing body during puberty.
"But this isn't the end of the world. The beauty of extended family (including close friends) is the ability to have an outlet for situations like these," she notes.
NOT ALL BAD
However, it is not all bad dealing with a parent overseas, as Hunter says, there are plenty of ways that a parent can still be actively involved. "If he or she consider sending some favourite children's books to their child. If you have a copy of the same book on your end, you might even be able to read it to them via Skype at some point for the younger children," advises the psychologist.
In conclusion, Hunter says absent parents will do what they think is best, including making sure that their children have everything they wish for.
"It certainly helps to fill the empty void for both parents and child. While a child's needs might be more of an emotional one, it is important that a parent makes sure that communication lines are open," states Hunter.
"Remember, giving too many gifts isn't the only way to spoil kids, but it can lead to entitlement. We create the norm in their lives and set the standards for what they should expect," she adds.