‘’Never feel bad about having to go out to work, and do what you have to do, because you’re teaching your children work ethic,’’ Masechaba Khumalo, Media Personality and Spokesperson to the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, recapitulated the words of the late struggle icon Adelaide Tambo. 

On this parenting feature, we get into grips with the dynamics of parenting from afar, and look at ways to successfully navigate long distance parenting through personal experiences and expert advice from Clinical Psychologist, Viwe Dweba.

Family dynamics differ across many households. In the same light, there are several reasons why in some households, parents are unable to be physically present to raise their children. One of them being to pursue work related interests in order to provide a better life for their families or to set their children off to secure a better future.

The Experience of Parenting from Afar 

According to a Stats SA report, the Gauteng province is estimated to have received the highest number of in-migrants between 2016 – 2021. The predominant pull factor is Gauteng’s economic strength. This leaves a lot of children being raised by their relatives as their parental figures. 

Masechaba Khumalo was raised by military veterans who travelled from country to country. When she was living in Oakland, California she was a latchkey child. This taught her independence from an early age because her parents could not be there 24/7, as they were working multiple jobs to sustain their lives in the US. ‘’They instilled so many value systems in me, including the knowledge that we’re not only here to make a living, but to create a legacy,’’ Khumalo explains. 

Edith Masakona is Principal vocalist at Disneyland Hong Kong. ‘’For me to give my children a comfortable life, I had to continue doing what I was born to do while I still could.’’ She has two children who live in Johannesburg while she works hard to provide for them in Hong Kong. It is a no brainer that most mothers want to be actively involved in their children’s lives, however this has been slightly difficult for Edith as she is thousands of kilometers away. Technology has bridged the gap, ‘’from the time they wake up, they video call me. I watch them as they prepare for school, and because of the time difference, this usually happens when I’m backstage preparing for shows,’’ Masakona explains. 

Clinical Psychologist, Viwe Dweba explains the effects of not having biological parents fully present, highlighting the importance of consistent presence of a parenting figure. “If there isn’t any parental figure, that can compromise the quality of a child’s attachment,’’ says Dweba. She further emphasises that direct biological relation has no significant impact on the effectiveness of parental figures. This is especially true in our South African context where children are often raised by relatives or even close family friends.

Khumalo also had the pleasure of being raised by her grandmother, and other comrades. ‘’To be raised by uGogo, is so precious because they have indigenous knowledge that we need to feed from,’’ she says. When you are not available for your children 24/7, it is vital to ensure that your child is surrounded by people who have the potential to instill the right values in them.

Challenges brought by Parenting from Afar

Parenting from afar does come with its own challenges for children. 14-year-old Dzhavhelo Nekhavhambe shares his experience of having his parents work far, “it is hard because I tend to miss and need them sometimes.’’ On the brighter side, Nekhavhambe also said that he understands that his parents are working hard so that they provide for him and in turn, he will get to explore the world when he passes matric. Dzhavhelo lives in Venda while his mother and father work in Polokwane, and Pretoria respectively. 

“The lack of physical contact can be incredibly difficult for a child, as this is also part of what fosters healthy attachment to a parent. However, one can temporarily manage this situation if needs be. Consistent, predictable communication with children is important. It’s also important to speak to your child about the distance and to always make room for that conversation so that you can help them process their difficult feelings around it,” says Dweba.

The challenges of parenting from afar are not only faced by children. ‘’The most difficult experience for me right now is when my children ask when I am coming home,’’ Edith sadly shares. This sentiment ties in with Dweba’s statement about the presence of parental figures in a child’s life. 

After the birth of her first child, Khumalo decided that she will not work on weekends as she wanted to spend time with him. However, her children are older now. ‘’Always bear in mind that the decision you make today is not necessarily a permanent decision. You can change your mind to suit where you are at a different time in your life,’’ she says.

In conclusion, here are Top five tips to keep in mind if you are parenting from afar:

  • Make use of the technology available to keep the connection alive. Daily video and telephone calls
  • Show interest in your child’s life by being involved even in the small decisions.
  • Encourage open conversations about how your child is feeling about the distance.
  • Plan and follow through with physical visits whenever you’re able to do so.
  • Keep your child on the loop about your personal life and developments.