OK, it's happened. One way or another you have been physically distanced from your children. You are no longer able to see your children on a daily, or even frequent, basis. Perhaps they are very young and you are afraid that they will start to forget you. Perhaps you are afraid that the physical distance will start to turn into an emotional distance. Unfortunately, these are often very real dangers. What can you do?
Note: Since this article was written, webcam chat has become very common. We highly recommend Skype to do video and audio chats with children who are too distant to visit often. Skype is free, easy to use, and works extremely well.
Put that camcorder to good use, that's what you can do. If you don't have a camcorder, invest in one. If you don't currently have the means to invest in one, tap your resources and see if you can borrow one. Failing all of that, a tape recorder is the next best thing.
"OK, I have a video camera or tape recorder. Now what?"
Welcome to NCP Media Productions. What follows is a list of creative ways to maintain frequent contact over a distance, ways to include your child/ren in the entertaining and daily sides of you.
Everything here can be done on audio (cassette) tape, you will simply need to be much more verbally descriptive to make up for the lack of video. Sending standard photographs of the event along with the audio tape is helpful. You can number them on the back and talk about "In picture number 1……" and describe what was going on or what it is, etc.
"Breakfast with me."- Pick a day when you have some time to spare. If it's not actually breakfast time- no problem. Any meal will do or you can have breakfast for lunch or dinner. Be creative. Have breakfast with your child/ren. The trick here is to engage them even though they're not there. While the conversation will have to be one-sided, you can pretend to pass them the milk or other items. Use the time to update them on what's going on with you- from the exciting to the mundane.
"Storytime"- This works best with younger children. If you don't have any children's books- get some. Read your children a story. The best perspective when using a video camera is to film from the front so that they can see you. Show the pictures in the book by facing the book outward between reading pages. Play it up. Make up voices and use a lot of facial expressions. If you have props- use them. Act out the story using stuffed animals or dolls as the characters.
"A Day With Me"- Take your child/ren to work or the zoo or any other place (well, any place they'll let you take a video camera). Film "snapshot" footage of parts of the day. Describe what's going on, where you are, what you're filming, etc.
"Happy Birthday"- Celebrate your child's birthday (if you are otherwise unable to do so in person). Go "whole hog". Pick a theme and get the appropriate paper plates, cups, hats, party favors, etc. Bake a cake and decorate it or buy one already appropriately decorated. Light the candles and tell them to "blow them out" (while someone off-camera, kneeling in front of you and under the camera works well, blows them out). Sing Happy Birthday. Talk about the things that have happened in the past year- funny incidents with the child, milestones, moments that made you proud of the child, accomplishments, etc. (In the format of "Hey (child) do you remember when you………that was SO funny!", "You know (child), when you ………that made me SO proud!" etc. Talk TO your child, not just ABOUT him/her.) For best effect, send the child his/her party favors, hat, etc. along with the videotape.
"Letters From Me"- If your child is too young or too busy to READ a letter from you…..well, let's just say that just about EVERY child makes time to watch TV or listen to music. Put your letters on videotape or cassette tape. Remember to talk TO your child- not just AT them.
"Let Me Show You How"- Have a son who almost old enough to start shaving? Have a daughter who is almost old enough to start wearing makeup? Have anything you want to show them how to do? Show them how YOU do it. Videotape it, step by step, as YOU do it. Describe what you are doing and why. Start with the supplies they will need and end with cleaning up the area after they are done.
Finally, be creative and look for opportunities. Are you having a family gathering where lots of extended family will be present? Put them on tape too! Have them talk to the child/ren. Grandma, grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. Have them say "hello" and tell the child/ren what they have been doing lately.
Afraid your ex won't give your child the tapes? Save them up and send them home with your child on the next visit. Let him/her watch a few first. Chances are at that point that even if your ex confiscates them upon the child's return home, your child will drive your ex crazy wanting them back. You can also make a copy to keep at your home and letting the child/ren watch them at your house in case they aren't allowed to at your ex's. This will probably result in the child/ren asking your ex what happened to the tapes you sent but, as a wise person once told me- The innocent require no protection and the guilty deserve none.