Contract work requires actually showing up at the office from time to time. So while I’m on road I decide to make the most of technology and skype with my family back home. First lesson about parenting via skype: get a better camera! After two weeks away from home and trying to determine which shadowy figure was my son and which was my daughter, my new computer arrived. Ahhhh, that’s better!
Next trip, I was able to actually make out who was who. And, as it turns out, it wasn’t a wobbly camera, it was the kids continually attempting to push each other off the chair as they sat in front of the computer. Each evening the kids have swim practice, and on Mondays my husband plays hockey. So one Monday night as I’m chatting with the kids, I ask “how was swim practice tonight”?
My 13 year old son: “good”
My daughter who’s 9: “I didn’t go because Daddy had a hockey game”.
Me: “You didn’t go to swim practice?”
My daughter: “No, I went to Dad’s hockey game because he didn’t have time to take me.”
My son whispering to his sister: “Oh great, now you got Dad in trouble.”
Me: “Ahhh, guys I’m right here, do you think I can’t hear you?”
Let me just clarify, nobody got in trouble for missing swim practice! When I was out of town, everyone had their hands full, and we all just did the best we could.
Eventually I was tired of watching the kids attempting to push each other off the chair, and the whole skyping thing was not giving any of us, as far as I could tell, any real connection. I like the idea of video calls, but it wasn’t working. I didn’t feel connected to anyone at the end of the calls.
The next night after watching them pushing each other on the chair, I asked my son if he had the headphones for his iphone, he said they were up in his room, and I asked him to go get them. When he got back I had him put them on, and I told everyone else; my husband and daughter, to leave the room, and told my son to plug in his headphones. Then I asked him about his day at school.
I had noticed when we talked that the kids weren’t looking at me, they were looking at the computer screen, where my image was. It made it seem like they were distracted and not paying any attention at all, and I realized I must appear that way to them as well.
So as I addressed my son, I looked directly into the camera, as I asked him about his day, his classes, his teachers, any tests he had coming up, the book he was reading. Getting him to talk still required and long list of questions but he started to engage, at one point I think he was actually enjoying talking to me. It worked! I felt connected.
Then I did the same with my daughter. I think the whole looking directly into the camera thing helped to engage them, well that and the fact that they had the chair to themselves!