A few days before my children moved from Munich to Hamburg in July 2011, we made a deal: We will phone every Tuesday and Friday evening. My children agreed to it, even if I felt it was only for my sake. Because it was actually my wish - or rather my desire - to agree on this regularity. At the time, my fear of losing touch with my children was far too great.
But this agreement helped me to say goodbye to my children on the day of their departure and to wave after them without being in tears. I knew we had a deal and would keep in touch, despite the huge distance.
On the first Tuesday after moving, I called my children as agreed. First I talked to my daughter, then to my son. Both told me about the long drive to Hamburg and about the chaos that of course still prevailed so shortly after moving in. Much of the furniture hadn't been assembled yet and cardboard boxes were piling up all over the new apartment.
I didn't have that much to report myself, everyday life had gone on for me. I deliberately didn't want to talk to my children about my sadness and my fears. We talked for a while anyway, because my children were bubbling like a freshly tapped spring. When the conversation came to an end, I knew that we would be on the phone again in three days at the latest, which I was looking forward to.
On the following Friday it was that time again. As agreed, my children called me and told me that they had already explored the surrounding area. My son had even found a new best friend, which I found very funny on the one hand, and which also made me happy on the other. My daughter hadn't met anyone yet. At first she concentrated on furnishing her new room and organizing her little kingdom.
To hell with the rules
These phone calls ran regularly for a few weeks, until one day the agreed call from my children failed to happen. I waited all evening, but the phone remained silent. At first I was surprised, then anger rose up in me: “Damn it, we have a deal!".
The next day I called my children and asked, disappointed, why they had not contacted me. In response I heard: “We didn't know what to tell. There is nothing new!".
I explained to my children that this was not my intention. An appointment is an appointment, and it was very important to me to make regular calls. I still had the agonizing fear of losing the connection with my children or my children themselves. And that shouldn't happen under any circumstances, which is why I insisted on the regular phone calls.
So we kept going on every Tuesday and Friday until I ran out of breath myself. At some point I saw it coming, but I didn't want it to be true. Until I couldn't ignore it: One day I didn't feel like talking to my children on the phone. Such a crap! And what to do next?
On one hand, huge fear of losing my children and, on the other hand, no desire to call them. I was desperate and helpless, but I realized that I had to face this reality. I realized that it couldn't work to process such phone calls on a schedule. My children had noticed this much earlier, but “par ordre du mufti” kept going on.
What now? I definitely didn't want to lose my children, but that's exactly what would happen if we stopped talking on the phone regularly. I couldn't just let go of the reins! Or could I?
I talked a lot with my current wife about my dilemma. She advised me to only talk to my children on the phone when I felt like it. And vice versa, of course: My children should only call me if they really wanted to.
Sounds simple and somehow natural, but it triggered enormous internal conflicts for me. Would that work? I felt very clearly that I lacked confidence in the connection between my children and me. I thought that if the rules fell away, then chaos would break out, or in our case stop of contact. Could I or should I risk it?
On the other hand, it was clear to me that we could not continue as we were. I didn't just have to let go of the reins, I had to put them down completely. Many hours later, full of brooding, I spoke to my children and informed them that there should be no more rules in the future - NO DEAL. Telephone calls at set times should no longer be made, instead telephoning according to one's mood should be implemented. I hoped that this pleasure would come as regularly as possible.
What can I say, there were and are times when my children and I do not hear from each other for several weeks. In 2011 that was completely inacceptable to me, today it is absolutely okay. There is a long period of time between “inacceptable” and “okay” in which I learnt to deal with what was not that easy. Today I call my children when I feel like it, spontaneously and without looking at the calendar. My children do the same, with my daughter calling more often than my son, but that's not a problem - because it's honest and authentic.
When we talk on the phone today, we do it because we want to hear from each other or have something to say. We talk on the phone because we long for it or we want to hear the other person's voice. And now I've also learnt that I don't have to be afraid of losing my children. Even if there has been no contact for several weeks, this is by no means a cause for concern.
The preferred means of communication
Nowadays there are limitless possibilities for short and fast communication in between. I belong to a generation which grew up without a cell phone. For me, communication is associated with different values than for my children. Personal conversation still comes first for me.
Writing an SMS is cumbersome and kind of annoying in my opinion. It takes way too long to type a correctly worded sentence into this miniature keyboard. Still, I occasionally picked up my cell phone and sent short text messages, but rarely got a response from my daughter or son. And even when my children got in touch, several days passed. Of course I asked them about it one day.
Their answer was: "Oh dad, nobody uses SMS these days. We are all on WhatsApp! ”. Excuse me?
What does it help: Although I really wasn't a friend of it, I've become a real friend of it! Why? Because at least I get answers from my children via WhatsApp, subito. I was amazed at how quickly my children react when I send a question or share something via WhatsApp. And often a kiss or a red heart comes along.
The same applies to social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Co (I have probably forgotten the trendiest of them all). Sure, we used to have real friends, and we met and played with them in the street. We argued and made up again, without any keyboard or screen.
You may have a different opinion about social networks, you may philosophize for hours about security breaches and privacy, and you can rave about the good old days when everything was much better. But if your child is important to you and you want to maintain a functioning communication with him, then leave it alone and set up a user account. It's best to ask your child where and how!
What is still very important to me is the handwritten personal letter or postcard. Nowadays it may be old school, but the ritual of sitting down with a pen (preferably a fountain pen) and paper and writing a letter by hand is so cumbersome and almost antiquated that it becomes extremely valuable. I really rarely do it, but when I write a letter it makes me feel solemn as I write it - and I hope so do my children as they read it.
As you can see, there is a wide range of options for communicating with one another: with text, with images, with sound. The crucial question is not which option you choose, the main thing is that you communicate at all. In my experience, it's smart to use the same medium that your child uses with their friends. This increases the success rate or decreases the potential for frustration - believe me!