Am I A Better Parent Via Text?

by Amy McElroy
Originally Published: 

“Uncle Bryan thinks we can’t see Pitch Perfect 2, but obviously it’s not even bad, but I’m texting you anyways. So, we can, right? I mean obviously, it’s Pitch Perfect 2.”

Sigh. I replanted my feet firmly by the fence. Pitch Perfect 2 could wait. After my husband swerved through the transition, I sprinted through the trees to watch him douse himself with a cup of water and plunge onto the run course.

The heat and humidity were crushing that day, even for a spectator. I found a shady spot to sit and pull out my phone.

“I’m 99 percent sure you can see the movie after I get back,” I texted my daughter. “But can we just not have a conflict while I’m gone? I don’t want to pull rank and cause tension. Does that make sense?”

I braced myself for pushback, for an argument I had no energy to fight. Within seconds, as I walked to an air-conditioned restaurant for lunch, she responded, “OK, yeah that’s fine.” I read it twice just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating.

After I reached the cool air of the restaurant, I was struck by the rare rationality and peace with which the whole situation resolved. No accusations, no back talk, no threats, no tirades, no justifications. Just straightforward communication and resolution with mutual understanding and respect.

This wasn’t the first time I’d parented better by text. When my children nag me for a privilege—a last minute change of plans after school or new clothes from across the mall—a firm “No” via text, perhaps accompanied by a brief explanation, followed by radio silence, allows me to avoid the circuitous trap of arguing and manipulation that inevitably lead to me losing my temper. Silence after a text allows me to practice that silence again when we meet, refusing to discuss the matter any further.

At its core, the built-in delay is the primary value of the text to me; it’s like a filtering device. By the time I’m finished texting, I’ve already thought about whether it’s really what I want to say before I press send. The “parent time-out” is invaluable when you can make yourself take it, but parenting by text creates that opportunity every time.

There’s a reason I’m a writer. I need time to think about what I’m going to say, to revise and delete. I’m that person who rewrites a Facebook post 10 times before posting it or deleting it altogether. I’m no good off the cuff; that’s why my resume reads former attorney.

In law school, I always imagined attorneys would have scripts—like the theater I did in high school and college—or at least enough rules to know exactly what to do. But alas, the secret to law is: Every case is different, and there’s no rule book to make sure you get it right.

Unfortunately, neither of my children came with rule books either, no magic guide to tell me why they were crying or what they needed.

In a few weeks, they’ll both be teenagers, and there are still no guidebooks on what to say. And I haven’t found the magic pause button to keep me from sometimes blurting out things I shouldn’t because I’ll regret them later.

Except for when I’m texting, and there’s a magic time-out button at my fingertips. I know it’s not really a full-time solution. But as they grow more and more independent and spend more time away from home—and me—perhaps texting will prove handier.

And, maybe when we’re together in person, I can hold my phone in my hand while I talk to them, and that magic texting “pause” button will remind me to stop and think before I speak.

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