Parenting a Child Living Away From Home

The shiny, happy recruitment brochures don’t share the sad reality that some adopted children must live away from home. Whether for a season or long-term, there are times when trauma, mental and behavioral health issues mean your best parenting is from afar while your child lives under the daily care of professional caregivers.

This is our current reality. We’re a little over a year into our away-from-home parenting experience. There are very few “how-to” guides for this business and fewer who openly discuss it. We’re thankful for a handful of folks who have guided us well in how to love and parent our children while they’re tackling challenges far greater than can be done in outpatient therapy programs.

Woman talking on phone.
Using phone calls with your child is an excellent opportunity to build family bonds.

Distance parenting is not a scenario any adoptive parent imagines. But, it doesn’t reflect on your parenting. On the contrary, it reflects well of your parenting to see that a child has to work through trauma, behaviors or mental health issues outside of the house.

Here are five important pillars of parenting a child when they’re not living at home.

Breathe

Whether via a hospital admission, a social worker decision or a realization by a therapist or other caregiver, the first thing is to breathe. This is a heavy moment. God created your emotions and you have the full right to feel every one as they come. Just don’t forget to breathe.

Again, it’s not an indictment of your inability to be everything this child needs. And, it’s likely for a season. Maybe a few days at the hospital or a few months in an intensive treatment facility. Maybe it’s the beginning of a long-term arrangement– regardless, you can do this. Just breathe. This is step one.

Gather

Second, don’t walk this road alone. It’s heavy for you, your spouse and the child. It’s heavy for others in your home as well as those in your immediate circle. Gather your people — those with whom you can share this experience. These folks who can help you through the hard days and with whom you can share the highs and lows without judgement. Find people who will listen to you, pray with you and provide support for you and the child.

And, gather the facts. What is the goal for this arrangement? How long? What type of facility? What are my rights as parents? What should we expect as far as treatment? What does discharge look like? Take notes, keep records of conversations, gather every piece of information you can to make this painful experience as successful as possible.

Advocate

Parenting distantly means advocating earnestly. When a child is admitted, there’s likely going to be tons of opportunities for you to speak with the family care representative, a social worker, therapist, psychiatrist and any other host of professionals caring for your child. This is your moment to be honest. I mean, be ugly honest about the issues that led to this moment. Don’t sugar coat things in fear of making things worse for your child. Don’t exaggerate either, but they need to know everything in order to have the right information to make the most of this time.

Participate in every meeting/opportunity you can. We have monthly CFT (child/family team meetings) where there are multiple representatives from the facility and even Medicaid, our insurance company. We also have weekly interactions with the therapist and we have biweekly family therapy sessions. Use these wisely in order to maximize the opportunity to best set your child up for success when they leave. Ask questions. Offer opinions. Share concerns.

Impart

Quality time with your child will become very hard. Take advantage of phone calls, video sessions or in-person visits. Impart your love and encouragement to them often. Your child may be upset with you at the beginning, but resist the urge to get mired in that. Instead, make big things of small accomplishments. Remind them that you’re on their team. Use therapy sessions for the “why” questions and hard talk that may ignite emotions. Use nightly phone calls to keep family bonds strong.

Trust

It is hard to place your child in someone else’s care. But a few weeks in treatment can make the difference in your child thriving independently for the thousands of weeks in the rest of their life. That doesn’t mean much in the moment, but trusting the professionals (while advocating) is necessary to make this difficult situation work. Doing so allows you to get through the requirements of your daily life such as going to work, taking care of other children, having moments for you.

It’s also necessary to trust in your life’s anchor. For us, that’s our faith in Jesus to order all steps in our lives. Distance parenting flat out sucks. He’s a safe place to take our hurts, doubts, fears, worries and our hopes. We may not have the answers today, but we know that he’s working all things for our good in accordance with a plan that’s so much bigger than us.

If you’re in a distance parenting situation, you’re not alone. If you are friends with someone who is, love on them, support them and be there for them.

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