I wrote this last year, and am republishing it now in light that this summer season has many of us spending long stretches away from our kids, including me. What do you think? Do you talk to your kids every day when they are with their dad? Why? Or why not? Share in the comments!
My kids are halfway through a 2.5 week trip to Europe with their dad, visiting his family there. This is by far the longest we've been away from each other, and I was worried they would miss me — and me them. So far, so good. It sounds like a lot of days at the beach with their little cousins and family dinners of chicken, potatoes and other Greek food. I can easily envision them in the home I visited many times during my marriage, eating the awesome home Greek cooking of my ex's stepmom and enjoying the Mediterranean sun.
Despite my initial plans to call every few days, we have spoken only twice. On Thursday I had fun telling them that our cat caught a mouse (and laid it at the foot of my chair in the dining room), hearing from Lucas about the airplane ride, and getting silly with Helena, surmising what kind of bathing suit our cat would wear at the beach (Would it be a bikini, or a tankini? Duh – a CATkini!). But — true parenting confession here — I only really started to miss them when I hung up the phone. Until then — and mostly since — I have been enjoying my kid-free time, meeting up with friends, accomplishing work and household tasks that otherwise went unattended to, and spending time with someone new I'm dating (more on that later this week, ladies).
I realized: If frequent calls and check-ins make me miss my kids, it probably makes them miss me and home. So if they're having a great time focused on their environs in Greece, why would I want to refocus them to their mom and New York life — especially if they're not asking for me?
Which, I will admit, they are not. And that hurts. But that is my problem. So I told my ex that unless they ask to call, we will keep calls infrequent.
As with any relationship, it is healthy that the kids and I get a break from each other and miss one another. Missing and longing are a healthy part of life. If we deny our kids that, we rob them of the ability to learn patience, memory (which studies find is collectively challenged thanks to Google), story telling and the satisfaction of seeing someone after missing them.
A divorced friend shares 50-50 custody with her ex who expects pictures and updates every few hours when the kids are with her — and nightly Facetime. She enjoys the occasional cute pic in return, but sees no point in the dozens of mundane images of her offspring the dad sends every week — especially since there is rarely a time when the kids go more than two or three days without seeing either parent. “It feels intrusive and controlling, but he says he misses them so much — so how can I deny him?” she complained. That's the thing: he misses them. No one asked what is good for the kids. These parents make it about them, and what they are missing out on. The kids just want to live their lives, be engaged in the people and activities around them and not be interrupted by forced reportage to the absent parent – especially if they can get that parent up-to-date on their shenanigans within 48 hours.
I understand that a lot is lost when you do not see your kids every day. But that is the price that is paid for the luxury of divorce. You don't have to be married to the other party, but you also get to spend less time with your children. But I do not think that loss is so horrific. If it were, people would stop getting divorced in such high numbers. In fact, the idea that you do not know your kids or otherwise are an inferior parent because they do not hear your voice every single day before they turn 18 is a product of the over-parenting trend that stems from the elevation of mother to saint-like status. It puts too much pressure on parents to be intimately involved in every aspect of their kids' lives. Every day.
Which is where a caveat is in order: In instances when one parent lives afar, or is on an extended trip that requires they be apart from the kid for weeks on end, well then of course calls and video chats are wonderful tools for staying connected. In fact, we rely on video chat to stay close some family and friends who live in other parts of the country.
The pitfalls of social media apply to divorced families
While the amazing technology that allows us connect with the world via stream-of-conscious sharing of tweets and posts, researchers increasingly find that technology that connects us also makes us anxious and depressed. In fact, I suggest that the same mentality that compels us to share our every thought on Facebook and Twitter is the same one that drives us to be in constant contact with our kids. All this connectivity has proven to shorten our attention spans, heighten anxiety and weaken relationships. Even a few years ago phone calls were expensive (who remembers a mass of relatives piling on a single phone line to talk over each other to a far-away relative in effort to save on long distant charges?) and the idea of instant sharing of pictures and video chats was the stuff of fantasy.
And yet we survived. Even thrived. And kids of divorce still bonded with both parents, and divorce wasn't so bad that it deterred people from divorcing (and divorcing). Not to romanticize divorce of years of yore, but we stand to learn from ways our parents messed that up, but also see what worked. Which is that kids don't need their parents as much as we may think they do.
And before instituting any communication policy pare ts must first examine their own motivations.
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.