Worth Every Mile: Tips for Long-Distance Friendships

2 kids on a path from behind

No one that I know of ever started a friendship thinking that friend was going to move hundreds of miles away, even though no one stays put these days. We travel from place to place for education and jobs. Navigating long-distance friendships is almost a necessity for many. How do we learn to cope with the inevitable?

One is Silver

I remember a song we used to sing in Girl Scouts: “Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other’s gold.” Those lyrics have been playing in my head lately, as one of my dear friends just moved to the East Coast. It’s funny the things that stay with us. This new season of our friendship means figuring out how to stay close while I am here, and she is there. To add another layer to the situation, her daughter and my two youngest were also friends. This grieving feels a little heavier because it’s not just me.

It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye

When my husband was in the Air Force, the hardest part of military life was that people were always moving on. We would do life with people for a little while, and then the news would hit that they got orders to go somewhere else. If it wasn’t them, WE were the ones moving away.

Here We Go Again

Since living in McKinney, my younger children have already had the experience of watching friends move away. We’ve only been here three years. Those memories of military life and people leaving have come flooding back. I don’t think I was very helpful to my older ones as we navigated those times. I just wasn’t sure how to handle it.

The First Time

I still remember the first time I experienced a friend moving away. There was no warning. One day she just didn’t show up to school. We were best friends. I was about 10 years old, and I was devastated. There was never a goodbye.

I don’t know if my mother knew she was leaving. It’s not like our moms were friends. Who knows if they even knew each other. But I would have loved for someone to talk to me about the loss of my friend.

With all these not-so-fuzzy feelings around goodbyes, I am taking care to try to make these experiences something other than devastating and sad. I think it’s important to try to equip my children with tools for what has become more and more common. And also, to demonstrate that every goodbye is not the finale. You can look forward to how your friendship might evolve.

What Can You Do?

When friends are moving, there are some things you can do to help make it a little easier. Obviously, it may look different when you are an adult vs. when you are a kid. As parents, we really need to be involved in the situation if it’s going to work for our little people. Whether it’s you or your littles, here are some things to make the transition better:

It’s Ok to Be Sad

The first thing you can do is let your children talk about how they feel. My littles openly talked about their feelings. They said they were sad. They weren’t expressing anything complicated. No matter what, I wanted them to know they were ok to talk about it. Most importantly, I didn’t want to talk them out of being sad.

My friend did something similar. She let her daughter express how she was feeling. In her nine-year-old way, she kept saying that it was just A LOT she was feeling on the inside. She needed her mom to just listen. Most of the time that’s all that is needed.

Me, I told my friend how sad I was she was leaving. I had to get that out. Yes, I was excited for her and the new adventure ahead. But I was going to miss her being close.

Sometimes I think we want to push past this part because you know you can’t FIX it. I have been guilty of that. I don’t want my children to feel sad. (It’s so hard to watch!) I may try to hurry past it. We want to get to the other side where they are happy again. But the healthiest way to get back to happiness is to walk through the sadness. (Didn’t you watch Inside Out?)

“No one can go through life feeling amazing all the time.”

Looking back, I wish I had thought to ask my older children how they were feeling about a friend leaving. Or how they felt about leaving friends behind. My oldest son left a lot of friends behind when we left Virginia. Upon arrival in Texas, I think I focused too much on moving on and starting fresh, almost acting like Virginia had never happened…because I didn’t want him to feel lonely or have any other negative feelings about the move. I think it was more I didn’t want to face how sad and lonely I was feeling.

Bearing Gifts

The second thing we did was schedule special quality time before move day. We planned one last play date. Not only was it good to just have fun but it was an opportunity to say a final goodbye. (Hard as it was!)

As part of the final visit, we came bearing gifts. I thought about the general idea and laid out some guidelines. Then, my kiddos got to choose. They really enjoyed looking through items to find just the right thing! Who doesn’t love receiving presents? It also allowed my littles to express love to their friends. Sometimes it’s hard to say the words. A gift can say it all.

Although we had gotten together with a few other friends, I was able to have some one-on-one time with MY friend at our kids’ play date. Just getting to talk with her in person one last time was special to me.

The Hard Part

The third part is the hardest, because it requires consistency and some effort. I do have a few friends who are long-distance. We’re still very connected after moving away over 10 years ago. But it has taken effort. Phone calls, letters, and texts have all made the difference. (As I am writing this, I have been texting my newest long-distance friend.)  Physical visits have happened a few times, but schedules and finances sometimes make that difficult. You do the best you can with what you have. If you really want it to work, know that it can.

We have shared life long-distance in so many ways, the joyful times but also the hard times. My friends have gotten recordings from dance recitals. I’ve received graduation announcements. One friend’s son, with who we are very close, introduced me and my husband to his fiancée via Zoom. (THANK YOU technology).

The hard times can be tough. When my friend’s brother died unexpectedly, I hated that I couldn’t be with her. A phone call was all I could offer. I did the best I could being so far away. She understood and she was grateful.

Sometimes, it doesn’t work so smoothly. A few friends have faded into the distance (pun intended). All that distance and time were too much. It didn’t happen because we wanted it to. No one was angry. It can be the same as any other friend. You just drift apart. Life keeps going.

You’ve Got Mail

My daughter and her friend decided they will be pen pals. In the gift, my daughter included a card with her full name and address. One letter has already been written. I hope the correspondence continues. I know that I will have to help her put effort into sustaining that friendship. It’s also helpful that my friend wants them to keep in contact, too.

My desire is that they remain friends for a long time. I don’t know if that is practical, but I would hate to be the reason it doesn’t happen. During our military days, a friend of mine decided to start a special correspondence with my daughter. They would write in a little diary and send it back and forth. It was relatively short-lived because as a military family they were moving constantly, but it was great while it lasted. They would even sneak in little items as presents.

The point is, friendships require work whether you live close or far. But they should be cherished, and that extra work it takes to continue a long-distance friendship is not something I have ever regretted. There have been some sweet reunions. Mostly there has been gratitude in knowing that it has been worth every mile. That is the lesson I want my children to learn.

Read More: How to Make Mom Friends in Midlife

I'm Angela Vaughn. I have been married to Jonathan for 20 years and we have 6 children. I am a Chicago native born and raised. We moved to Texas in 2009 from Virginia where my husband was stationed at Langley Air Force Base. We originally lived in Greenville where I homeschooled and taught theatre and dance for several years at a local dance school. I am a performer/ actor by trade and I am so excited to be finally getting my degree in theatre, I am graduating from Texas A&M Commerce in May. I have worked with several theatre groups in the Greenville and surrounding areas. I serve on the board of Stomping Ground Comedy Theatre which is located in Dallas. I am an aspiring author working on my first children's book that I hope will be finished this summer. I am an ambassador for Noonday collection helping to advocate for people living in vulnerable communities and helping to provide a market place for them through entrepreneurship. We moved to Mckinney almost 2 years ago and we are really enjoying it and hoping to make some friends while being more involved in our community. After moving so much I really believe you have to bloom where you are planted.

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