Empty Nest 102: 7 tips for staying in touch with your kids when they leave home

Right about now, all over America, mothers of college freshmen (and kids taking [international] “gap years,” studying abroad, or leaving for mission trips) are dampening tissues and handkerchiefs, perhaps even the pillows in their children’s bedrooms, with copious tears. If you’re one of those mothers and you’re worried about staying in touch with your kids when they leave home, fear not. I’ve got plenty of ideas–7, to be exact–for keeping connected. 

If it helps, please know I’m right there with you. Our third and youngest child—Junior Man–left home last week to embark on his collegiate academic adventure. Since he is our last child to leave home, not our first, I know stuff, staying in touch stuff. My main recommendation to you is this:

Embrace technology. 

And social media. Because chances are, your kids have embraced one or more of the social media “platforms.” Grab a pen and paper because I’m now going to spill all my secrets for keeping in touch with your kids.

Tip #7—Texting, texting, 1, 2, 3

For the most part, there are two kinds of people in America: iPhone users and Android users. You can send text messages on either, but the iPhone offers a number of advantages over the Android.

If you and your kids have iPhones, you can always text one another, from anywhere in the world, as long as there is WiFi, of course. This is not possible if one or both parties utilize(s) Android phones. 

Another perk for iPhone users is the ability to FaceTime. Everyone’s face appears tiny on the screen, but even seeing your darling baby’s face postage-stamp-sized is way better than merely reading their words on a screen, or even hearing their voice across the miles.

On iPhones, you can also double tap the texts you receive to send back responses like Haha, or a heart, thumbs up or down, and more. I love this feature. But this is me. I’m easily amused.

Tip #6—Build a wall, a Facebook wall

Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with your kids. If your kids are on Facebook. Any more, younger kids are not utilizing Facebook because so many parents and grandparents are on there.

If your child is on Facebook, though, they can use their wall to let people know where they are and what they’re doing. Using Facebook Messenger, your child can also send you private messages. You can even hold a text-like conversation with them in real time. 

This is how we communicated with our middle child, an Android user, when she backpacked through Europe last year. When she remembered, she’d sent a quick update: “I’m here with this person.” Or, “I went to a poetry slam in Austria and it was awesome!” One day she Facebook-messaged me in a panic: “Mom, there’s a problem with my flight back to America. Please fix it!” Messaging back and forth, we were able to quickly resolve the issue.

Facebook also offers your child a great place to post pictures of their incredible journey(s). Here is a picture of our two daughters when they went to Peru a few years back. First they taught English in a small mountain town. Then they visited Machu Picchu.

Empty Nest 102: Image of two teenaged girls at the top of Machu Picchu.

Check out the two pictures below, both taken in front of the same bench in Amsterdam—27 years apart. Guess which picture is me in the 80s and which one is Sandwich Child last year. 

And here is my young friend, Mason. He and his darling wife moved to Thailand this summer to teach English as a Second Language. I bet his mother checks Facebook every five minutes to see pictures like this.

Staying in touch with your kids: Image of a young man teaching ESL in Thailand

Tip #5—Instagram-ification

Instagram, a free photo and video sharing app, is currently the social media platform of choice for many young people. A lot of parents I know have an Instagram account but have yet to post any photos. They only use their account to view their kids’ posts. The technical word for that is “stalking.” Hahaha!

The picture below is actually from my Instagram feed. This shot is of my trip to Scotland last year. I wonder if my kids stalked my Instagram feed while I was gone?

Empty Nest 102: Instagram image of rainbow in Scotland

Tip #4—Snap, Crackle, Chat

A few years back, our kids convinced Tony and me to join SnapChat. Once he and I had accounts, our family formed a SnapChat group named “Ohana.” According to the Disney movie Lilo & Stitch, “Ohana means ‘family.’ And family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten.” Sniff!

On SnapChat, you can send pictures and videos. You can also text. Warning: Snaps disappear forever after a few seconds. However, there is the option of replaying a snap once or taking a screenshot of a Snap you really love. 

Some days everyone in our family will send a Snap of one moment out of their day. I love when we do that. It really helps  me feel connected.

Recently our son sent a snap in each of the airports he traveled through on his way to Africa: Boston, South Africa, Qatar, then Zambia. I took a screen shot of each of those Snaps. And peeked at them several times while he was gone.

Empty Nest 102: SnapChat image of a young man in a South Africa airport.

 Tip #3—Cloudy with a chance of child

This tip probably sounds weird but actually, it’s one of my favorites, especially when multiple kids are out of the country simultaneously. 

Whenever a child travels away from home, briefly or long-term, I add their location under ours on The Weather Channel app on my cell phone. At a glance, I can tell what time it is wherever they are. No more counting hours on my fingers. Yay!

And of course, I can see what the weather is like where they are. Here’s an example.

Empty Nest 102: Image of the Weather Channel app

Tip #2—I can see (you) clearly now…

There are a couple of ways you can talk face-to-face with your child when they live or travel far away. As I mentioned above, if both parties have iPhones, you can video chat using FaceTime. But soon after our daughter and her husband moved to the other side of the world for nine months, we discovered another option. Video Chat on Facebook Messenger.

Helpful Hint: If you use an iPad or laptop computer for Facebook video chats, you can see your child’s face way better than if you use your cell phones.

Tip #1—You’ve got (e)mail.

As I mentioned in last week’s post, when our daughter and her husband lived overseas, email was a great way for us to keep in touch. We emailed back and forth almost every day. Emailing daily and video-chatting weekly did wonders for my aching mother’s heart. For the sake of your aching mother’s heart, I hope your child will agree to a similar schedule with you.


Let me know if you have any other tips for staying in touch with your kids when they leave home. I’d love to hear them!

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