No long-distance relationship is easy, but it isn’t always an end-all. Around the time that I placed my little boy, I remember wondering over and over again if I had made some monumental mistake by choosing to place with a family that was two time zones and 2,500 miles away. After placement, I never regretted the family—I did, however, often wish they lived closer, and I still do! What most don’t understand is that I am actually grateful that I experienced the geographical distance. I had no choice but to move forward with my life, and it makes it all the sweeter when I see them.
Over the years, I have had birthmother friends whose families moved away after living within a couple of hours. It has been devastating, and I have been asked how I deal with my little boy living so far away. The truth? I don’t know any different. But I do have some words of advice to those who are placing long-distance, or whose families have moved away.
1) Figure out the time difference. Time Zones. Get used to them, and learn quickly whose time is later. During the first couple of months our phone calls, Skype dates, and messaging conversations would either have to be rescheduled, or I would forget that my “reasonable hour” was the middle of the night for them. Panic mode sets in quickly during the first year after placement (and even longer, sometimes), so knowing the time difference makes a world of difference.
2) Take the time to write letters. And actually mail them. There is nothing sweeter than a package or a letter sent via USPS. It’s like a Jane Austin novel. Sure, nowadays letters take 2 or 3 days to get across the country instead of weeks or months, but knowing that something tangible is making its way across the country to reach your baby can give some healing.
3) Find a way to calm yourself. When things are silent on the other end, and you are driving yourself insane wondering what you did wrong (hint: probably nothing, they may just be at the beach for the day), learn how to keep an open and forgiving mind. My favorite thing to tell myself was, “Take a deep breath. Count to ten. Calm your mind before you write again.” The majority of our correspondence was through email, and it took a lot of self-control to NOT send the “Where is my update?!” email. Nine times out of 10, they were busy raising a baby and lost track of the day or time. A 3-day rule is good if you simply MUST remind them.
4) Take a Trip! If your relationship is in a place where visits are welcome and healthy, and both parties agree, make a goal to save up and go visit! It is healing to see where your child lives, what his or her life is like, and observe the family in their own element.
5) Utilize social media. Again, if both parties are comfortable, become Facebook and Instagram friends. That way they can see what you are up to in your life, and you can have a glimpse into their world. That being said, it is probably not a good idea to “like” all 1,613 of their photos dating back to 2007 in one night. Nobody wants to see that many notifications.
6) Find a new hobby. Preferably one that you didn’t have prior to placement, or one that you would like to get better at. When you see other birthparents driving 20 minutes every month to visit their child for an hour or two, as compared to your 5-minute email with picture updates, it is easy to begin feeling like you got the short end of the stick. Instead of dwelling on it, do something. Occupy your mind, hone your talents, create something, or serve others.
7) Make friends. Find and befriend other members of the adoption triad who have long-distance relationships. Sometimes all it takes is someone understanding what it feels like to ease your fears. Sometimes, befriending other adoptive parents can help ease some of your worry. They can give insight into how it feels on the other end. Try to also be there for others who are new to long-distance open adoption. Join support groups (preferably groups that are not toxic!) on Facebook.
8) Finally, be understanding. Updates will be missed, calls forgotten, and cards sent late. You are human, so are they. You will not be perfect in this relationship, neither will they. Relationships grow and strengthen when you can forgive shortcomings and love anyway. Always assume the best—after all, they were chosen to love your child . . . and that is the most important thing.