Saturday, July 11, 2009

Parenting by Phone ...

How does one parent by phone?

Some parents are, on occasion, separated from their children due to military deployment or long-term hospitalization. Others are away from home due to job-related travel and similar circumstances. Other parents are at the other end of the line due to divorce or separation. These parents find themselves parenting by phone. Hopefully, they do so faithfully so their children will still feel they are loved and connected.

Then there are those children who have grown and left the nest. How does one parent by phone then, and how do we do it in a way that encourages our children to stay connected? This is a whole new ballgame we're talking here. The turf is unfamiliar and the home stadium is echoing with an eerie silence.

It's not the same as hands-on parenting. When raising your children, they sleep under your roof and stick their little feet under your table. You don't have to wonder what your children are doing, feeling, thinking, planning -- usually! Because you are connected pretty much 24/7, you can read their little hearts by looking into their faces.

Parents with young children at home have a lot of responsibility -- and many privileges. They get to see their sleepy smiles, watch their eyes light with discovery, hear them whisper, giggle and even guffaw now and then. We wipe their tears away, bandage their boo-boos and are on call as parent, counselor, nurse, teacher and official cleaner-upper.

When your children live away and you see them less frequently, you take a quick course called "Parenting by Phone 101." The professor is life, the course is difficult and the grades are awarded by the children themselves.

Parenting by phone doesn't mean you call them five times a day (or even every day) just to "check on them." Because they are growing and maturing and learning how to live life on their own, you give them a little breathing space. You've had 18 years to impact their lives, and now is the time the love and life lessons you poured into them comes into play. So you step back a bit.

Especially if they are married, you must (!) respect their priorities and schedules and try not to hover or hound them. You must often squelch the temptation to put on your Mommy robe, grab the phone and growl, "Just wondered if you were still breathing ... "

This parenting-by-phone thing also means loving your children in creative ways. If you can't see them in person, you love and support them via email, snail mail, UPS, Fed Ex, and any other means available. If a friend is going their way and calls to offer delivering a basket of fresh-baked goodies, by all means grab your apron and get in the kitchen fast! Try to avoid putting ads in the paper to ask strangers who are going that direction to deliver you and/or your goods.

Parenting by phone means you remember their birthdays, but you don't necessarily wait for calendar dates to do something special. I have been known to send a package of goodies or sillies just to get a toe in their front door now and then -- via Fed Ex. They open it, laugh at it or gobble it up. And then their conscience stirs and they gasp, "Mom ... I've got to call Mom!" This is known as creative parenting.

As we parent by phone, we find ourselves listening "between the lines." Are they discouraged? Do they seem extremely fatigued? Are they a little depressed? This is where it gets a bit touchy. You must not play the part of an overly-concerned parent and assume your child wants a mother-load of wisdom. "I told you to take your vitamins..."

Next time, caller ID will betray you when the urge to check in and counsel overcomes you -- and they may decide not to pick up the phone. Hang in there, moms, they know you are just a phone call away if they need you. Tuck in your chin, throw your shoulders back and repeat after me ... "I will not hound my child, I will not hound my child..."

Parenting by phone is extremely difficult when your child is injured or ill. Do you jump in the car or grab a flight and just go? If someone's life is in danger, you hang up the phone and make plans to go. And as you go, you remind yourself to respect the position and privileges of the spouse, if your child is married. This is not the time to take charge and give advice on medical situations without weighing the results very carefully. In other words, you won't don your Mommy robe and assume your child is waiting for you to make these decisions. Your biggest role is to just be there, quietly supporting your child and his/her family.

If they are not in danger, but they've got the cruddy ol' flu or have fallen and broken a leg or have a possible kidney stone, you give them the chance to ask you to come. If they don't, you remind them that you are only a phone call away if they need you. In other words, you respect their ability to handle a tough situation as an adult. They might ask you to come, and they might not. That's the tough part of being a parent -- giving up the right to take charge.

Parenting by phone is possible, even if it's not as much fun. Yes, you will miss out on those megawatt smiles, but you can still see them in your mind's eye when they call to share good news! You may not be there when they are exhausted or sick, but you can still send some good ol' homemade encouragement via packages or handwritten letters and cards. Today, these are considered rare and precious gifts in one's mailbox.

But mostly, parenting by phone means listening. You are a sounding board for this fine adult you've raised, and their keeping the lines of communication is a way of saying you did a great job. There will be times when you are asked for personal input. Take a very deep breath before you open your mouth. While you are exhaling, remember the invitation to advise is a privilege and not a right. Proceed with care.

Parenting by phone means you are unable to see their faces -- but after all these years, you can still read their hearts. As the conversation winds down and you anticipate the goodbye and disconnect, there is one other requirement for those who parent by phone ...

You never hang up without giving your child what they really called for all along ... a sincere, heart-felt "I love you ... "


  1. have wisdom. Knowledge is wonderful...and wisdom is better.
    What a wonderful parent you must be.
    Hugs and smiles from Jackie

  2. Very good post. You'll always get it right, Nan, you're that kind of person. I've found that the further away they are the more contact we have with each other. I worried unnecessarily that it would be a cutting-ties situation.

  3. This made me smile. I still need to talk to my mommy and daddy on the phone, and always walk away happy that I did. :-)

  4. Hi Nan. I haven't heard from you in a while, and I wanted to check in and see if you are doing well. I send you a smile......


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