"Is Daddy coming home tonight?" my daughter often asks.
She usually chooses to ask this question loudly and at the worst possible time, like when we're in a crowded location like a mall or grocery store, the kind of place where she elicits stares as people wonder why a 4-year-old would have to ask whether or not her father will be coming home. Divorce? Affair? CIA agent involved in black ops?
It's not any of those exciting, gossip-worthy scenarios, though. My husband's job in the sports industry calls for him to work late into the evening on a regular basis. He's usually home by 10 p.m. or so on those nights, but given my daughter's 7 p.m. bedtime, it may as well be midnight or later. She sees him for about two hours in the morning before we all depart for our days of work or school, but that is the most "face time" that they have with each other on many days.
Except when they FaceTime.
Both my 4-year-old and her 3-year-old brother periodically speak to their daddy either through my laptop or my phone via FaceTime. It is a way to share how their days have been, to make silly faces at each other, to say "goodnight" and to just generally connect when doing so in person is an impossibility. Rather than only seeing their father for the brief and hectic time while everyone is trying to head out the door, they are able to interact and bond with him through a medium that seems much more personal and "user-friendly" to a preschooler.
They have a similar experience and a wonderful time over Skype with their grandparents. Two nights ago, my daughter "read" a book to my mother-in-law and they sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" -- with the accompanying hand gestures of twinkling stars -- together. The richness of these interactions would have been significantly undermined had they been on the phone, where facial expressions are impossible to convey, and animated conversations with a preschooler (beyond monosyllabic responses) can prove difficult. Even my special needs son was able to have a positive interaction with them -- smiling and giggling as his grandmother and grandfather indulged him by clapping along as he sang "Ooh Ah" to them (it's an original, and a bit repetitive, but the words are a cinch to memorize). It's a connection that, due to his cognitive and language delays, would not have happened without this visual, interactive aspect of their conversation.
So much is said about how much technology is ruining face-to-face relationships and interactions in these modern times, when seemingly everyone's face is buried in a screen, but very little is said about what benefit is gained when there is another face smiling back at you on that screen. With parents traveling for business or grandparents that live 2,000 miles away (or more), technology affords them the priceless opportunity to build these connections and strengthen relationships that may otherwise be weakened by time and distance. So many of my friends who had relatives that lived far away hardly knew them. Often, Grandma and Grandpa were people they saw twice a year -- and therefore, unfortunately, their relationships with them ended up becoming more conceptual, rather than marked by deep, emotional attachment. Aunts and uncles felt like strangers, and seeing cousins on visits or over the holidays seemed like little more than uncomfortable play dates.
Programs like Skype and FaceTime have changed that. I "tucked" my children in via FaceTime from a conference I recently attended in Chicago and they have Skyped with cousins they have yet to meet in London. These are experiences I never had as a child. At a time when many families have two working parents, spend longer hours on the job, the divorce rate is high and extended families are spread out across the country, why isn't more attention being paid to ways in which these relationships are fostered, sustained and nurtured with the assistance of modern technology?
How have apps like FaceTime and Skype affected your children's relationship with their family and friends?
This post originally appeared on Dot Complicated.