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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

Mothering at Mid-Career: Communication
September 14, 2009 - 10:04pm

Updates from my daughter, now in her second week of college, come in the form of facebook status updates and text messages. We’ve talked a couple of times as well, but we’re certainly not having the daily phone conversations that some of my friends and colleagues have reported as the norm between college kids and their parents. This doesn’t really surprise me: we’re text people, in our house, vastly preferring to compose our thoughts in words on paper (pixels on screen?) before we send them out into the world. I blame my father, who claims a phone phobia that dates back to an early experience reaching the school principal on the operator-assisted call when he was trying to reach a friend.

I suspect the story is apocryphal. Still, I rarely talk to my parents on the phone; instead, my dad sends out a letter each week to all his kids, and has done so since we started leaving home in 1974. In those days, he hand wrote them, but he was not surprisingly an early adopter of all kinds of print technologies, from the electric typewriter to the Osborne computer (remember that one? it looked like a sewing machine) to a variety of laptop and notebooks computers and now, voice-recognition software. It’s obvious, then, whence my preference for print derives.

I haven’t adopted the weekly letter yet with my daughter, though I do see its charms. But the facebook status update has its own pleasures — I knew within hours when my daughter was accepted into the a capella group she’d auditioned for; I know what her first college paper will be about; I get a glimpse of her day when I see that she’s added eight new friends recently. (No, I don’t click on their profiles; stalking has its limits, despite this hilarious piece from the Onion.)

But text alone has its limits, too, of course. Indeed, this very blog post was interrupted by an hour-long phone conversation with my daughter (it might have been shorter, but somehow the connection kept dropping out). On the phone, we could follow up on interesting thoughts, ask another question when things weren’t quite clear, and hear the emotional resonance behind words that can, on occasion, mean very different things. (Think of all the tones with which you’ve ever said, “I’m fine,” for example.) The same thing is true in my communications with colleagues; we often keep our doors closed while we work, e-mailing to folks across the hall or one building over, but at times we need to pick up a phone or walk across campus to discuss things in person.

We’re contemplating a big change in our curriculum this week, and the e-mails have been flying as various constituencies express their views, urge alterations in the plan, and try to muster support. But we won’t stop there: we’ll have a formal meeting at which we hash things out. In the interim, we’ve also been stopping into each others’ offices, checking in over the phone, and otherwise keeping the lines of communication open. No, I am not comparing my colleagues to my daughter — but when it comes to communication, I need to remember that not everyone shares my preference for print, and keep the options open.


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