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Long Distance Dad

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Taken from Growing Concerns -- A childrearing question-and-answer column with Martha Erickson of the University of Minnesota.

Question: I have just accepted a new job that will require me to be away from home for long stretches. I have a close relationship with my little girl, but I'm worried that I'll lose that closeness when I travel. She's 18 months old. Is there anything special my wife and I should do to be sure we don't lose what we have?

Answer: It's wonderful that you have had time to form a strong attachment in these important first months of your daughter's life, giving you a solid foundation on which to build. Although there's no substitute for being together, there are steps you can take to preserve the close relationship you have established. Especially, as your daughter's language skills develop over the next few months, you will be able to communicate with her from a distance.

Before you leave town, make audio tapes or, if possible, videotapes of you reading your daughter's favorite storybooks. Then when you're away, she and your wife can snuggle up together and listen to a bedtime story from Daddy.

Frame a picture of yourself and your daughter doing something fun together and put it in a place where your daughter can see it from her crib or high chair. Encourage your wife to talk to your daughter about you when you are away, helping her look forward to the times when you will be home to play with her.

Although it's hard to have a meaningful phone conversation with an 18-month-old, your daughter might enjoy having you sing a lullaby or tell a story over the phone at bedtime. Gradually she'll learn to sing you a song or tell you a story about her day.

Send your daughter picture postcards from the places you go. As she gets older and develops more understanding, she may like to follow along on a map to see where your travels take you.

During the times you are at home, do everything possible to be the one who feeds your daughter, bathes her, dresses her, and takes her to doctor's appointments. Certainly it's important to play with your daughter, but in the early years children develop strong connections with parents who meet their basic needs. It will take a special effort on your part to become a part of the fabric of your daughter's daily life. It will be well worth the effort, for both you and your daughter.

Editor's Note: Dr. Martha Farrell Erickson, director of the University of Minnesota's Children, Youth and Family Consortium, invites your questions on child rearing for possible inclusion in this column. E-mail to mferick@tc.umn.edu or write to Growing Concerns, University of Minnesota News Service, 6 Morrill Hall, 100 Church St. S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55455.
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