How to be close to my young toddler son.?
July 21, 2010 8:48 AM   Subscribe

How to be close to my young toddler son.?

Iam kind of separeted from my wife, and we have a toddler son, who I was only with for first 5 months, and then wife and son went to India, due to some personal reasons. Iam based in NYC. After that lot of drama followed, and I have only seen my son ever since once, when he turned 11 mnths. Now he is almost close to 2 years. Will be 2 years old on Nov 16th this year.
I have missed him all this time. We are not very close, me and my wife, since it was arranged, and only lived with each other for one year. I do try and support them financially to some degree, every month. They live with her mother.
How can I be more a part of my growing son? I wish we could do webcam, but I do not think it will work in this situation. Any other ideas?
posted by jassi to Human Relations (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: How hard and sad. It's important and good that you want to be more connected. I have a few ideas:

Letters: Write a letter once a week. It can be short, the important thing is the regular schedule. Tell your son a little about what you did or saw that week. Enclose a cute drawing or a picture of an animal from a magazine or something else a toddler might enjoy. Ask you ex or your ex mother in law to read the letters to him. This will be hard because he won't write back, and maintaining motivation is hard when there's no response. But over time, these letters will be a regular reminder that you are a person who thinks about him. When he is old enough that it's possible for him to have his own relationship to you, he'll have some way to connect with you, because he'll know you from the letters.

Call when it's possible. I know it's expensive and I don't know if your ex has phone access, but when you can, get a few moments to hear each other's voices. Toddlers and young children do not know how to talk on the phone, so it won't be a real conversation. Instead, it will keep you both in each other's minds.

Visit when you can. Again, I know this is not something that can happen often, but real time together is invaluable.

Do be consistent about sending money - even if it's only a small amount. Never let the frustrations you may feel towards his mother make you withhold money that could help your son. Even from far away, you can show him a model of a man who is responsible and compassionate - so he can emulate that model.

Good luck to you and your son.
posted by serazin at 9:01 AM on July 21, 2010 [13 favorites]

Is it the logistics of a webcam (time differences? equipment?) that makes you think that it won't work, or that you think a two-year old wouldn't be interested. Because my daughter is the same age, we are in NYC and her grandmother is in New Zealand, and skype is great - my girl is fascinated by it.
posted by gaspode at 9:15 AM on July 21, 2010

You have to make the time and money to visit.

If I were you I would check into becoming an air courier, or some other method of getting cheap flights over there.

When he gets older, pay to have him fly over to visit you.

Spending time, being in his presense, is ultimately irreplaceable.
posted by Flood at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2010

Please don't just write and send the letters, scan them as you go. Back this file up.

As the result of tons of family drama, I have two things from my childhood: a book I received for Christmas in 1989, and one photo of myself from when I was (I think) 3.

There is also the possibilty that your letters may not get to your son when they arrive.

If you can show him at a later date what you sent him, it will be very meaningful. (also, it will help you, because at some point you may begin to worry that you say the same things over and over. you'll be able to ease your own fears.)

Regarding money. If you ever suspect that anyone is mishandling the money you send, please consider paying for things directly. School fees, clothing, utility bills may be things you can handle from NY. Do not, under any circumstances, tell your child you aren't sending money because someone near him is wasting it. (why yes, this did happen to me. and yes, I'm still sad about it.)
posted by bilabial at 9:24 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: You could try video or audio taping yourself and sending them to your son. My Dad used to audio tape himself reading stories to my sister and I when he was deployed (back in the 70s) and nowaday's I know parents that video tape themselves doing the same thing. It may or may not make a big impact now but we've still got some of the tapes of my Dad almost 40 years later.
posted by macfly at 9:24 AM on July 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have some experience with this. I was a Navy Brat growing up and my father would be away for long deployments (A year in Antarctica, 9 months in the South Pacific, etc.) back in the 70s. My own son was kept from me by his mother during his younger years, as well.

When I was a kid, to talk to my dad required going to the M.A.R.S. station and hoping they could get a decent relay for a 5 minute conversation. It was unreliable and ephemeral. (super awesome to be sure, and I loved learning about radios and science!). But it sucked. So, my mom would have us kids talk into a tape cassette recorder and mail them to him. He'd mail another cassette as a reply.

That was awesome. I would listen to those tapes all the time. It was reliable, it was convenient - and most important for a kid - it was repeatable. I didn't have to struggle to remember what my dad said; it was right there waiting for me. I didn't have to struggle to recall what I was going to say to my dad - when I had an idea, I just fired up the cassette and let loose. Every few weeks my mom would mail it off, and a tape arriving from Pago Pago or McMurdo sound was better than Christmas, New Years, Easter and your Birthday all rolled into one.

What I learned from that, and from my experience with my own son is that while it's nice to have a close relationship with a child from the start, and there are certain advantages, it is not at all necessary. With any luck at all, your child will love a long life - there is lots of time to make those connections and be a good parent. So keep your chin up.

As long as you communicate when you can, remind them that they are important to you, and then act as though they are to the extent practical, you will win what you desire - to be an important person to your child.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:25 AM on July 21, 2010 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Another option for the recording idea:

I've heard of a program for kids who's parents are deployed where the parent will read a story on tape for their little kids, then when they send the tape they also send the book. This is truly one of those things that can be repeated over and over, and your little guy can follow along with the book.

You can start out with small board books and as he gets older move on to longer books, then books with chapters. I heard of one mom who read Harry Potter to her twelve year old, so this can go on for literally years.

If you can get your ex-wife to go along with it your son will get a bedtime story from you every night. I know a lot of Dads who's only interactions with their young kids are to give them their baths and read a bedtime story because they leave for work before the kids get up and don't get home until right before bedtime. You wouldn't be doing too badly if you could get those few minutes a night.

I also recommend sending lots of pictures of yourself. I grew up as an Army kid (luckily my dad didn't leave us for more than a month every year) so I didn't really get to know any of my extended family until I was about 10. Coming "Home" to all these people who wanted hugs and kisses was a little startling when I'd never seen them before or the pictures I had were 5+ years old.

Okay, so here's what I recommend:

Get in the habit of sending letters and postcards at least every week. Bilabial's idea to scan as you go was a really good one. Think of it like making your own scrapbook to give him when he leaves for college, he may keep some of the letters over the years but things like that tend to get lost.

Send a new book and recording every month. In the box I'd add lots of pictures of yourself, especially candid pictures. Send a picture in a frame and ask his mom to display it near his bed. Send new pictures that are the same size and ask her to change them out. If she'll do that then your little guy will always know what you look like. (You might also have to send whatever device is needed for your son to actually hear the recordings.)

By sending things on a regular schedule you're showing your son that you are reliable and that you're somebody he can count on. I grew up with lots of kids in different divorce situations, and the ones who actually wanted to spend time with non-custodial parents were the ones who's parents showed that they cared consistently, not just at Holidays and Birthdays.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:11 AM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Joining the others in expressing my sorrow for your situation. I haven't much to add to these great ideas except to point out that when fathers—for whatever reasons—withdraw financial support, mothers and their relatives often use this to support their own withdrawal of access. It becomes a vicious cycle of rationalizing bad behavior that ultimately hurts only the child.
posted by Mertonian at 11:49 AM on July 21, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you everyone for the brilliant ideas. Some of them I could not have thought of myself. I like the idea of sending a handwritten post card weekly, and sending audio tapes of books, or other personal recordings with pictures, for my little "Gavin".
posted by jassi at 12:04 PM on July 21, 2010

You should do whatever necessary to go to India and see them at least twice a year if financially possible. I am Indian, and in these cases where there is separation, it looks very bad for the father not to try to see the child as much as possible, and may give her side of the family more ammunition to bad mouth you, which they should not do, but probably will, especially if you two end up divorcing. If not financially possible, call as much as possible even if the boy is not verbal yet. You have to show them you care and things will be a lot easier.

There was a similar situation in my extended family and what made the difference was the father was always trying. My aunt badmouthed him a little bit, but I think it was how much he tried to maintain the connection that made all the difference, and kept them closer than feeling like the father was more than some kind of fair weather family friend.
posted by anniecat at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

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