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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Opinion Shaper: Parenting by Text Message

I am an "opinion shaper" for The Suburban Journals in St. Louis. So far, I have written three columns for them, and we'll see if they want me back in 2010. After they publish the column, we writers have the option to re-publish elsewhere. So, I am re-printing them here on my blog, before they disappear forever from the Journal's Website. This was the first one I wrote, back in June 2009. If you would prefer to jump to my personal blog posts, click here.

OPINION SHAPER: Parenting by text message has its advantages

Monday, June 1, 2009 5:11 PM CDT

Text from daughter: Got 87 percent on the German Cinema test.

Response from mom: Not too shabby.

Text from son: We flooded the darkroom today by accident.

Response from mom: Did you help clean up?

When I first re-entered the workforce after five years at home, my kids would call me frequently with a new question or complaint about their sibling. "Can I have a cookie?" or "She won't let me watch Blues Clues." Later it was "He won't get off the computer and I have a paper to write" or "It's her turn to load the dishwasher and she's making me do it."

I call this period in my professional life the "parenting by phone" years. It often felt like a high-wire balancing act. Projects at work were interspersed with calls from home and trips to school to pick up sick kids. I had amazingly patient and understanding bosses, or it never would have worked.

Today, one kid is in college and largely self-sufficient, while the other is in high school with multiple commitments he manages with minimal reminders. And yet, the shorthand parenting I put to good use during the early years continues to serve me well, but in a new context. I call these the "parenting by text message" years.

I have friends and family members who think text messaging is for kids or is a hassle and refuse to add it to their cell phone plans. Others never use it even though they're paying for it. Some people I know get messages from their kids, but the technology confounds them. I am not in any of those camps.

As soon as I discovered it, I instantly loved text messaging and the ability it gave me to communicate a quick idea without the need to make a phone call that might turn into an hour-long conversation. It was also the perfect way to graduate from being the mom of children to being the mom of teenagers and young adults who may have lives even busier than my own.

I'm not exactly what marketers call an early adopter - someone who buys new technologies as soon as they are available. Early adopters serve as a kind of guinea pig for companies, working out the early kinks of products. Remember the people who stood in line for days waiting for the first iteration of the iPhone? I would never do that, but I do gravitate toward technologies that make my life easier.

And I'm not alone. The Obama presidential campaign announced its vice presidential choice by text message.

I originally thought texting was a waste of money and overly cumbersome, but with the aid of a QWERTY keyboard, it makes communication both more portable and more immediate. I can take my phone anywhere, so I can reach my kids at any time, including when they're in class or when I'm in a meeting. My son recently texted me from a friend's house at 1:30 in the morning to tell me he was sick.

I like that I can contact my kids surreptitiously when they're visiting friends without their peers knowing they're being checked on. I can text them from the grocery store to see what they'd like for dinner or send them quick reminders that make all of our lives easier. Best of all, I can send them little notes that let them know I'm thinking about them when they're away or experiencing stress, such as during final exams. "I love u" takes just a nanosecond to type.

Beth von Behren of Olivette is one of 17 West County area Opinion Shapers. Opinion Shapers are guest columnists who submit a column three times a year on areas of interest to them. von Behren is a public information officer for the city of Kirkwood.


  1. I'm one of the two newbie Opinion Shapers who maintain a blog and thought I'd check yours out. You and I have similar writing styles. This particular blog reminds me of my own entitled "Potty Talk". I think the similarities will strike you. I enjoy your writing. I look forward to reading more!

  2. Can you send me the link? Sorry, I don't check back here very often and just found this. I will try and track down a link to your blog. THANKS.