Two LDS women, an attorney and a hotel executive, recently had the following exchange:
“I probably put in 50 hours a week. But I text my kids all the time, and I honestly think I keep better track of them than if I were home.”
“Oh, definitely. I work about 70 hours, and I can find out in an instant what they’re doing. I remind them to practice the piano, do their homework- I know exactly where they are.”
Has it really come to this? Are some of us becoming Text Parents? Both of these women are justifying their absence because they can communicate with their kids electronically.
There are several problems with their notion that texting is good enough. First, it presupposes that their kids will answer truthfully every time. And some kids would. But how many, when asked, “Are you home?” will answer, “Yep,” even if they’re at the mall, or at a friend’s house?
Second, it assumes that a reminder to practice an instrument or do homework, will be swiftly obeyed. Why not just tack a sign on the fridge that says, “Be sure to do your laundry and study for that mid-term.” Maybe it will happen, maybe not.
Third, if texting helps you keep track of your children better than you would if you were home, what on earth are you preoccupying yourself with when you’re there? Are you really saying you tune out and ignore them when you’re home?
But what most saddens me about parents who have relegated their duties to a few key strokes, is that they think directives are all there is to parenting. They have discounted the nuances, the laughs, the physical pats on the back, the example of their own at-home actions, the one-on-one help, the encouragement and teaching, and the praise for observed behavior, which can only happen if you’re there in person. And it goes for dads as well as for moms.
How can you enjoy your son’s personality unfolding as he retells a funny incident that happened on the playground, if it’s reduced to the choppy, voiceless texts we’ve all seen? He probably won’t even try to edit that down into a message at all. You’ll ask how school was and get a “fine” in return. Or “Ok,” to save even more time.
How can you advise your daughter about how to field tough questions about her parents’ divorce, or her testimony, or her moral standards? How can you gage whether these questions upset her and bring her to the brink of tears? How can you ask questions that would reveal whether she’s trying to be popular and fit in, when you write, “What did you tell Mattie?” That sentence could be read with a dozen different tones in mind.
How can you seize the opportunity to do sudden service for someone you see? If you’re in the car together, or on the street where you live, there are moments when you can teach Christian kindness. Those don’t happen when you’re texting from two different locations.
Watching your children interact with each other, and intervening if one child is mistreating another, cannot happen long distance. Teaching courtesy, manners, and how to love and help one another, is infinitely more effective in person.
“Did you go to the office and meet with a counselor?” might get a “Yes.” But what if this meeting was to discuss the child’s high school schedule, and she’s on the fence about whether to take AP classes next year or not, and isn’t sure she wants to major in engineering after all, and would love to talk about other options with a caring parent?
What about teaching the kinds of skills that build self-esteem and make kids confident? What about sharing hobbies and working together on a project that forges a friendship and the kind of respect that will last all their lives?
It’s as if these moms are astronauts and are communicating, via NASA, through a crackly intercom system that’s anything but intimate. Moms who text directives might be able to mentally check off the “fix dinner” box or the “do your homework” box, but where’s the relationship? A robot could parent as well. They simply aren’t being realistic.
I know there are moms and dads who would love to be home, but simply can’t because of circumstances outside their control. For them, texting is a blessing-at least they can have some contact, and some is better than none. But for moms who are pursuing optional careers when their children need them, and are using texting to justify their abdication of a sacred duty, I think it’s time to make a course correction, and beam themselves back home again. The same goes for dads who lengthen their workday unnecessarily. Give your thumbs a rest, stop pressing the “send” key, and see what happens when you switch those out for some actual face time.
Listen to Hilton’s radio advice show at blogtalkradio.com/jonihilton on Thursdays at 2 pm PST.
Joni Hilton is also “Your YouTube Mom” and shares short videos that teach easy household tips and life skills at
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
She is currently serving as Relief Society President of her ward in Northern California.