My Story: How I survived a long-distance family relationship

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A long-distance relationship between two people has always been touted as a challenge.

It isn’t easy. You miss the in-person connection you enjoyed on an almost daily basis. You grapple with your emotions and the reality that you won’t be able to see your other half face-to-face in the near future. You hope that plane tickets won’t burn a hole in your wallet when you plan for that short getaway to visit them in another region. It sucks when you’re having a bad day, and you can’t meet up for a hug at the end of it. Sure, there’s video calls and texts, but it only dulls the ache.

Long-distance relationships don’t last forever, and in my personal opinion, could well be the litmus test of whether a relationship is rock-solid or lacklustre. Why do I say so? I was one such individual who sustained a long-term relationship for almost six years before we got married.

We did it! Or so I thought.

The Covid curveball

After casting our long-distance hurdles aside and deciding we’d never be apart again, then came the curveball that was COVID-19. This time, the long-distance relationship applied not just between husband and wife, but between father and children too.

And boy, if I thought dealing with long-distance relationships on my own was tough, adding the trio of kids to the mix was a whole new level of difficulty altogether!

The effects of physical distance

Source: Swapnil Bapat on Unsplash

The reason for our separation was straightforward. My husband worked in Singapore, and as the borders were closed, he had to stay there while we continued our daily lives in Johor Bahru. We have three kids: Jeanelle (9), Julian (6) and Joaquin (3). The day my husband left for Singapore was emotional. We had tight bear hugs, tear-stained cheeks, and hearts that felt like they’d taken strong blows, and then some.

Life was never quite the same after that. My kids reminded me that my husband wasn’t at home in more ways than one. They threw in tough questions that I had to figure out how to answer with tact and care:

“Mummy, will Daddy be home for my birthday?”
“Mummy, I think I’m starting to forget how Daddy looks like. Yes, I can see him on the phone, but I think I can’t remember how he feels or smells like anymore.”
“Mummy, can we please go and see Daddy in Singapore?”
“Mummy, please don’t go out without me. I don’t want to lose you too.”

As a mum of three, I am used to hearing my kids call out for me throughout the day. It was exhausting being a solo parent, though. I was bearing the brunt of all the arguments, fights, emotional breakdowns, and at one point, I did feel lost. There was a bottom line that needed to be addressed. I needed to help the kids ride their emotions, and not let their emotions take them on a ride. I also needed to take time and care for myself.

I spent time pondering how to pull us through a long-distance family relationship. Here’s are some of the things I did that helped us as a family:

1. There’s always a solution; never stop looking for one

Source: Raj Rana on Unsplash

My kids were constantly asking for more time with my husband – the elder two, especially. So what did I do?

  • I created a chat group for them on WhatsApp to communicate exclusively with their father (they’d had enough of me, apparently!). The two-way connection had voice notes with their highlights of the day, photo dumps of their meals and even snaps of lame jokes from Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Joke Book. There were more chuckles and bigger smiles again.
  • I also got them to speak about their emotions. Talking it out with me and their dad gave them an avenue for release. Yes, the separation was unavoidable. It was also not a permanent situation. We just had to take small steps, and take one day at a time.
  • Keeping their minds busy helped too. I bought them a whole bunch of activities from the likes of Daiso, Yubiso and Mr. DIY (especially during online sales). My daughter loved Aquabeads, my sons building blocks and jigsaw puzzles.
  • We also had game nights, where we switched between Happy Family, Monopoly, and Uno. We baked together when I had the time, and I got them involved in gardening when I had time to spare. My garden’s still a mess, but they’re now pros at uprooting weeds.
Source: Sandie Clarke on Unsplash

2. Remember that you matter

I also made sure to take care of my well-being. I found time to read, and I took time to declutter my mind and my home too. This was relaxing in its own way. I also made time for self-care. Just taking that 15-minute break on my bed with a mask on my face and soothing background music did wonders for me.

Source: Lenin Estrada on Unsplash

I also found my support system in a few friends, some of which I had not contacted in ages. We were all going through different spectrums of change with the pandemic and needed that outreach where we spoke on the phone or just through messages.

3. Work on the primary relationship

Source: Lenin Estrada on Unsplash

My husband and I persevered in our relationship as a couple too. It was all too easy for us to go on with our daily lives, but at the end of the day, when our heads hit our pillows and the lights were out, we missed our cuddles before we dozed off.

What worked best? We found a link in things that were funny. We shared memes, funny tweets, and hilarious reels, and the laughter kept us sane. We’d also pick up our phone and call one another just to chat or diss each other, and as crazy as that sounds, it helped too! We basically found our way to make an online relationship work in today’s digitalised world, but with day-to-day things.

The key to unlocking a successful long-distance relationship lies in openness and transparency in everything we do. Communicating our feelings, whether good or bad, helped us bind our hearts together (sounds cheesy, but I wouldn’t put this any other way!).

Navigating the new normal

When the Malaysian-Singaporean borders recently reopened, my husband finally made his way back home for a month. The kids reacted in their own ways to him being back. He’s now pretty much worshipped, and he’s soaking in every inch of it!

The time will come again for him to return to Singapore to work. But now that there are some positive changes with vaccinations and social distancing, I hope to see the day soon where everything goes back to what it was before. In the meantime, we’ll simply have to learn how to navigate the new normal as best we can.

By Annette Rowena

Annette is the editor for a tech/market insights startup. She enjoys working remotely with her three kids (and a furkid!). She loves reading self-help books, and is attempting to find a balance between food and the weighing scale.

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