Grandparenting Through Text Message

by Clint Edwards
Eva Katalin Kondoros / iStock

I sent my mother a photo of my youngest daughter on a swing yesterday. She’s 2, with blonde hair and big blue-green eyes. From what I understand, she looks a lot like my mother did at that age. I told her so in the text, and Mom sent back an “LOL. Yes, she sure does!” Mom is in her early 60s and only got a smartphone a couple years ago, and honestly, it’s been the best thing for our relationship.

This isn’t to say that we hate each other. We don’t. But we do have a complicated history. When I was 12, three years after my father left and seven years before he died, I secretly moved out while she was working her second job. Things were really messy and confusing back then, and I couldn’t stand it anymore. I bounced around for a bit, tried to live with my father, but that’d didn’t work out too well, and I eventually ended up moving in with my paternal grandmother. This was a woman whom I loved and my mom hated.

There is more to the story, naturally, but the point is, our relationship never really got over that. Now, at age 33, I have three children, and I’d love to have my mother be part of their lives. But there’s a problem: When when we talk, it feels like our conversation is soaked with bitter feelings from the past. I want her know what my kids are up to, and I want them to know about her. I want her to come visit, but our relationship is so tainted from past decisions that make it hard for her to be the grandmother my children would love to have, and the one I know she would love to be. The really sad part of all of this is that because of the mistakes, my children are missing out.

Right now, my mom lives in Utah, and I live in Oregon. She visits from time to time, and I visit her, but honestly, if I were to put a number on how many times she has seen my children in the seven years since my wife and I left Utah, it would have to be somewhere between seven and ten. I know she wants to be involved, but the distance and our past has made it difficult, so rather than having hard conversations over the phone, I send her pictures once or twice a week of my kids playing in the yard or eating ice cream—happy moments that all grandmothers want to see. Sometimes I send her videos of my kids acting silly or playing sports, that sort of thing. Our text conversations are never all that long. She often tells me to tell my children that she loves them. Sometimes she sends me pictures of this or that from her house to show them. Sometimes she asks what they want for their birthdays. Everything is through text.

As strange as this situation sounds to friends who have rewarding relationships with their parents, this is, honestly, the best relationship I’ve ever had with my mother. It feels like all the past tension is filtered out this way. We don’t rehash the ugliness of the past. Our conversations are not filled with stretches of awkward silence that often comes when two family members are trying to chat about everything but the elephant. We just share pictures and emoticons, and it almost feels like none of that old stuff matters anymore. And best of all, my kids don’t notice it. They have never commented on the strange tension that often comes up when we have Skype chats online or when she is around. But my wife has noticed, and both of us realize that it’s just a matter of time. My kids are still young. All three are under 10.

Perhaps this is a common thing for children of divorce. Perhaps a lot of families have the same relationship through text and photos. Maybe it’s just me.

Recently my mother got on Facebook, and while she is a decade behind the trend, I think it makes her feel young and cool. And it has, without a doubt, given us yet another avenue to share our lives. She comments on my photos, and I comment on hers. We don’t chat all that much, but there is something about a “heart-like” from her that feels warmer than one from anyone else on my social media. I show my kids photos from her life, and she comments on theirs. And it seems like more and more, when my children see me on Facebook they ask me to show them what Grandma is up to or ask if she’s said anything online.

None of this is ideal. And I don’t think grandparenting through text message and Facebook is how either of us would like it to be. But after years of struggling to make our relationship work, this has grown into a wonderful option. And honestly, when I think about that, it makes me want to work harder to get along with my own children. And it also makes me hopeful that maybe, just maybe, using text and social media to reconnect with my mother will change things. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a rebirth for our relationship. One where I can call her for advice. One where we can casually chat and love each other without thinking about old tainted memories.