Some parents share weekly phone calls with their adult children while others communicate via Facebook, Instagram and emojis. Getty Images
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My daughter called me the other day from Vancouver and I flipped out. As I was swiping to take the call I was imagining a million different accidents and about a billion emergencies. Was she hurt? Safe? Happy? “Is everything OK?!” I sputtered immediately. She said, laughing at me. Everything was fine. She was just killing time on the ferry from Vancouver to Vancouver Island. She’d been talking to her beau, who calls his gramma back in Calgary regularly, and it suddenly occurred to her that she should give me a call. Once I recovered from the panic, it was lovely to chat with her.My kids and I follow each other’s adventures on Instagram and we connect pretty much every day by text or on our family What’s App chat, but we rarely pick up the phone. Texting is easier. And when my thumbs get tired, I tell them to go to Marco Polo, a video app, where I narrate tiny documentaries about the dog, the cold and the laundry. They send back equally gripping documentaries about the weather on their respective Canadian coasts and what they made for dinner. It’s all very modern-day Norman Rockwell.Back when I was away at school, long before video apps, it was harder to keep in touch. I remember writing and receiving letters full of chatty news maybe once a month and the occasional phone call for something really important (like the time I really needed my mom’s recipe for honey chicken). But apparently, my classmates were hearing from the homestead more often. “In the 1980s, just over half of parents reported any type of contact with a grown child once a week or more often,” writes Karen Fingerman, a professor of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin, in The Psychologist magazine. Those rates have “increased dramatically” over the decades. Now, more than half of parents are in contact with adult kids daily or nearly every day.While it’s obviously way easier to keep in touch these days, the trend of closer communications between grown-up kids and their parents predates FaceTime. Researchers have noted that increased contact between the generations started in the 1990s, about the time the term “helicopter parent” was coined to describe those parents who hover over their children, doing everything for them and impeding their independence.The helicopters have since been joined by the lawn mower parent (who cuts down every problem in their child’s path) and, for those with grass allergies, the curling parent (who sweeps away any obstacles) and finally the Zamboni parent (for the families with hockey bags in the back porch who push away all their kids’ troubles). These terms “reflect the sentiment that parental support is smothering young adults and that dependency among grown children reflects weakness and failure,” says Fingerman.There’s a big difference between helping your kid write a cover letter and wanting to sit in on the job interview. Granted there are more than a few university professors and employers rolling their eyes over parents that can’t stay in their lane — mom calling her kid’s school demanding her precious gets a better grade and dad wanting to negotiate Junior’s first grown-up salary — but texting your kid dancing girl emojis isn’t exactly hovering. You may just like each other. “Young adults and their parents typically report feelings of affection for one another, particularly given the high levels of involvement and support that characterize these ties,” Fingerman writes.Another factor in our increased communication is the “changing nature of young adulthood” where kids are going to school longer and looking for jobs and mates later. Delaying marriage means a delay in bringing home those strong emotional bonds. “What marriage was to the 20th century, parent/child bonds are to the 21st century,” says Fingerman. That may sound a little creepy, but don’t worry. The data shows that once kids get married they talk to their parents less. I’m hoping if (when?) the day comes that my kids have kids that they will call me up and ask me to babysit the grand-punks. But I am getting a little ahead of myself.After she called from the ferry the other day, my daughter and I thought we should try to chat on the phone more often. We surveyed our friends and found that lots of parents and their faraway kids talk at least once a week. Sunday nights seems like a popular time. We decided that was a good idea and we should give it a go. But not this Sunday. We’re busy with other things. So I’ll just check her Instagram story to see what got up to and maybe I’ll fire off a Marco Polo of the dog chasing snowballs in the park.