It was the moment every Sunday afternoon I had come to dread. More often than not, I would be busy cleaning up whatever Category-5 mess my kids had created earlier in the day, and they would be elsewhere in the house, busy creating another one. My husband would pull out his iPad with a hopeful/delusional look in his eye, and announce, “Guys, let’s FaceTime with Gaga and Papa!”
My heart would sink. Not because I don’t love my in-laws; I hit the jackpot with them, and I have come to appreciate them even more seeing them as grandparents. But video chats invariably brought out the worst in my three kids, as they yelled, bickered and tried to one-up each other for attention in the least flattering ways. I would eventually position myself behind the screen, out of view, silently imploring my husband to just put a stop to the chaos, and the 15-minute sessions seemed to last an eternity. We would end the calls exhausted, frustrated and having conveyed zero intelligible information to our remote loved ones.
It got to the point where my older two kids would quite often run and hide when the prospect of FaceTime came up, leaving our toddler to babble enthusiastically at the screen while her obliging grandparents pretended to understand (there was a lot of nodding, and “Oh, wow!” happening on their end). Given that my children worship all of their grandparents, it was clear that the problem was the way we were going about connecting them.
So we stopped family FaceTime. Or, to be more specific, we stopped FaceTiming as a family and started setting the kids up for one-on-one virtual chats, in their own rooms with no siblings allowed. It may have taken us embarrassingly long to come up with this strategy, but it was a complete game-changer.
Any parent with more than one child realizes pretty quickly that the worst sibling behavior is often rooted in competition for their parents’ time and attention. A little alone time with a child goes a long way toward restoring harmony throughout the household. So why would it be any different with a grandparent or other special person in our kids’ lives? Expecting siblings to share the spotlight on a video call is like expecting them to take one cookie and politely pass the plate around, rather than madly grabbing as many cookies as they can possibly fit in both hands before their brother or sister gets one.
Now each child gets the spotlight, no sharing required. They tell their grandparents about their week, describe the plots of terrible TV shows in meticulous detail, list all the things they want for Christmas (even though it’s six months away), and generally have a ball, just as they would if the interaction took place in person.
I wish I could say the newfound Zen of our FaceTime calls translates into a quiet, peaceful Sunday evening. That is rarely the case. But at least the bad behavior is only happening off camera. I’ll take that as a win.