Reconsidering the humble family text thread
That stream of minor updates and silly memes is more important than it may appear
Last week I trotted out the old empty nester trope that my young adults don’t call often enough. I should fess up — I was having a little cheap fun at their expense. The relatively low frequency of our calls isn’t really a problem because we text.
We have ongoing threads: a family group chat among the four of us, chats (Rael + me) with each of our kids, and private individual conversations.
These motley streams of updates, memes, links, emojis, photos, GIFs, and bids for recognition are part of the background hum of our days.
It’s not perfect, of course. Keeping in touch with our adults is a dance. How many texts are too too many? Do periods of silence mean “busy” or “trouble” or “Sorry, I didn’t see it?” Plenty of our texts go unanswered. Does following up read as loving concern or parental neediness?
For all I know one or both of my kids turn off notifications and roll their eyes at our dorkiness. But our threads continue nonetheless.
The other day, I read State of the Children Address in.
Brad shared a nugget from a recent presentation he made with Dr. Junlei Li, co-chair of the Human Development and Education Program at the Harvard School of Education. The presentation was to the American Academy of Pediatrics about early literacy, which Dr. Li connected to the larger topic of relational health — the overall health of a child’s relationship ecosystem. This ecosystem extends beyond family to include caregivers, teachers, and other caring adults.
As Brad explained:
There is a paradigm shift happening in pediatrics. It’s been building for a while, but in recent years there’s an increased understanding that a child’s relational health has a profound impact on all of their health.
What builds the relationships that improve a kid’s relational health? Simple interactions.
“To me, relationships are made up of the little interactions we have with each other,” says Dr. Li. It’s in studying these small moments shared between human beings that we gain insight into the big ways our lives are woven together. We matter to one another in ways we so often miss.
In other words, when it comes to nurturing healthy relationships, it’s the little things.
The building blocks of healthy relationships aren’t flashy and won’t necessarily make for great posts on social media. It’s just showing up lovingly in the little moments every day.
We’ve heard it before. But Brad’s particular way of talking about these small relational “touches” brought it home in a new way for me.
It got me thinking about my family’s text threads. They’re just streams of updates and nonsense. But when I look at them through the “simple interactions” lens they become more than that.
Our text threads are artifacts of my family’s connection.
They’re visible demonstrations of our care, curiosity, and delight. They give us a way to share our interests in real time. They allow us to reveal different sides of ourselves to each other. They’re a place to see each other and be seen.
Brad ended his State of the Children Address by inviting us to imagine the impact our simple interactions could have, not just on our kids, and not just in our families. How might our schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and public spaces change if we pay closer attention to our simple interactions?
Our best hope forward is not in using our imaginations to escape reality, but using our imaginations to create a better reality. There’s the world that is and there’s the world that could be. There’s also a you. There’s also a me.
There’s no bigger point here beyond the fact that the tiny ways we love each other matter.
Parent of Adults by Asha Dornfest is a newsletter & community about life after the kids grow up. Weekly posts are free — subscribe now to have them delivered.