How many Saturdays are there between the birth of a child and when he or she leaves for college? Exactly 940 as calculated by Dr. Hartley A. Rotbart, a University of Colorado medical school pediatrics professor and author of “No Regrets Parenting.”
Must those family-time Saturdays morph into fond memories when the kids depart for college and jobs? Not for Dr. Rotbart and his wife as indicated by the title of his article, “Planes, Trains and Automobiles: 8 Tips for Keeping Adult Children Close.” The Colorado Rotbarts strategize travel plans so they overlap weekends, vacation days and school holidays with their adult children who attend college and work on the East coast.
In addition to promoting regular family get-togethers, Dr. Rotbart offers other suggestions including:
•“Microbursts” of communication, encouraging our kids to call us during their walks between classes. This keeps us in the loop with the developments in their lives and gives us a chance to celebrate or commiserate about the big game last week.
• We ask them to send us papers they’ve written…or to recommend books they enjoyed reading for class so we can keep up with what they’re learning and thinking.
•Skype and FaceTime are wondrous for getting through the birthdays, holidays and other milestones we miss. We get virtual tours of their dorms and apartments,
•We made a “rule” (we’re still the parents!) that the kids should touch base with one another, preferably by phone rather than just texting or Facebook, at least once a week. And we subtly check up to see that it’s happening.
Apparently some New York Times readers thought Dr. Rotbart came across as rather controlling and excessively “needy.”
Mary Poppins wrote: If you control your children to this extent, how do you ever feel they’re seeing you because they want to, or does that not matter?
Others wondered if it was possible to, in effect, demand sibling togetherness.
Nancy wrote: “Their sibling relationships….belong to them and need to be respected as independent from their relationships with their parents.”
Perhaps the comments were a little harsh, and not quite in touch with the reality of parenting in a technological age. A Middlebury College poll found that college students text, phone and email their parents an average of 13 times a week. An informal survey of my undergraduate class last year came up with similar results. The 20-somethings and their older siblings may cut back to less than daily chats but they still maintain much more contact–virtual and physical–than previous generations.
Based on anecdotal evidence, we’ve found that many parents will move heaven and earth to stay close with adult children and make sure they coordinate regular visits if they live far from the family home. Maybe they have not formalized the relationship to the extent that Dr. Rotbart has but they practice much of what he preaches.
Of course, with many adult children, the communication and get togethers are on their terms: you text instead of talking on the phone, you coordinate vacations when it’s convenient for them; you gently remind them via email of their siblings’ birthdays and life events.
But that’s the wonder of technology; they are communicating with us—and we with them–more than we ever did with our parents: Skyping, sending articles via email, texting while standing on line, using the speaker phone in the car on the way home from work. And it doesn’t seem intrusive because that’s how they live their lives.
Is Dr. Rotbart, and many other parents, excessively needy to want to spend a occasional Saturday with family in one place at one time, even if the planning seems equal to Mars mission? What do you think?