College kids and young adults communicate and share more with their parents than in past generations. Some of this is the changing relationship between the generations and some of it is technology. Research shows our children are happier to talk with us and more comfortable sharing information about their friends, relationships and finances than we were with our parents.
Yet, as our kids leave for college or when they move out of our homes, we need to take more deliberate actions to stay close. We look to maintain the one-to-one relationship with our kids as well as the family relationship amongst parents and siblings. While there are many factors that may intervene, divorce among them, in the years to come we will spend far more time apart than together, so here are some ways to help remain close.
How did anyone parent in the 20th century? Texting with teens and grown kids is a communications lifeline to a generation who has no interest in talking on the phone. But family group texting is a laugh and a way to maintain the family dialogue. At first I made my kids participate, and by that I meant they needed to chime in and share what was happening in their lives. It could be something funny that they saw, a random memory or just a plan for the next time we would all be together. Last year my kids were living in three different cities, with us in a fourth, yet we had an ongoing conversation. Do they always respond? No, not at all. Do I need to prod them sometimes? Yes, and by prod I mean threaten not to pay their cell phone bills.
Schedule breaks well in advance so that they include family time
With three kids in three different schools we had years in which the only time during the academic year that they were on break together was the days around the winter holidays. So family time meant all of us going to one of their colleges for a visit. Was it ideal to travel to cold northeastern cities in the winter, uhm, no. But when family breaks clash it seems a small sacrifice to spend a few days together. My kid’s ridicule me endlessly about my obsession with family dinners and weekends together, but I am just hoping that one day, when they are fathers themselves, it will all become clear to them what I did.
Schedule Skype with everyone once a month
I don’t actually use Skype but have heard from so many parents how the video chatting platform keeps them in touch with their kids. Skype or Google Chat or Facetime all seem like great ways to keep your family close and have the added benefit of letting you see how your kid is faring. Parents who video chat say they get to see their kids surroundings (this, of course, could also be viewed as a negative) and family pets can be on the call.
Short and sweet
In their world, dominated by SnapChat and Instagram, they want to keep in touch with people, but they want it short and sweet. I am not comparing parents to one of the zillion contacts they have on social media, but I do think college kids and young adults are happy to see us and hear from us more frequently, if the visits and contact are not overly lengthy (unless they have a problem and then, of course, they have all the time in the world!)
I can make contact with my kids many days a week, or even most days, as long as it is brief. A quick photo of something funny in the family text group? An “all well?” text to them? A two-minute phone call. I think our kids are happy to have us in their lives but at certain stages are not happy to have us take up their lives. Technology offers us a way to keep in close, frequent but unobtrusive contact. As parents it is nice to read a text, “Love my new seminar, tell you about it on the weekend,” or “Work is good. Call you next week” than to hear nothing at all.
For parents who have to travel great distances at considerable expense, there is no easy solution to the short visit. You don’t travel from Dallas to New York for dinner. But parents who make brief visits might find that their kids are thrilled to show them their campus or their new neighborhood, share a meal and introduce them to a few friends. At one time I bribed my kids with stickers and chocolate, now it is meals in a restaurant.
Finally, as parenting experts all tell us, there is nothing more important than listening. Everyone loves to talk and parents can be a refuge for their college kids, a place for them to share insecurities, worries, as well as aspirations. We can be a sounding board for our young adults if we just remember to sit back and listen.
For decades we have told them what to do, both advised and directed them. But as we enter the longest stage of parenting, the relationship between two adults, our closeness may depend less on what we say and more on what we hear.