Small talk has big consequences for the relationship between parents and their children.
Dr. Stephanie Rollie Rodriguez, Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication and Media at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, conducted in-depth interviews with parents who do not live with their children to understand just what is missing from the relationship when they don’t have a chance to interact with them on a daily basis.
“Research on relationship maintenance shows that day-to-day small talk is important in sustaining relationships, however, not all relationships have opportunities to engage in regular interaction,” said Rodriguez. “Participants who have limited interactions struggle to ‘know’ their children while those with frequent interaction with their children have access to the mundane stories of their children’s lives, which helps to maintain the relationships.”
Rodriguez’s participants revealed several major issues regarding access to information about their children. The major issues dealt with parents feeling like they had to play “catch-up” in order to get information about their children’s daily activities. Often when talking on the phone, they reported their children would not provide information about themselves or only share weekly highlights. This caused parents to have to dig for information to learn details. She noted, too, that parents who have regular interaction with their children during their time apart find it easier to maintain those relationships.
Rodriguez said she first became interested in this topic during a Family Studies course she took as a graduate student at the University of Iowa where she earned her Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Communication Studies. As a student, she was exposed to research which revealed divorced dads were often the least satisfied parents. This information led to her desire to understand what factors into maintaining a good parent-child relationship when one of the parents does not live at home. Although Rodriguez’s study results focus on the parent-child relationship, the findings could be applied to any type of relationship.“This has implications for all kinds of relationships,” Rodriguez said. “It reinforces the idea that a lot of relational maintenance and a sense of ‘knowing’ someone comes from daily interaction and small talk.”
Rodriguez is currently working with researchers at Kansas State-Salina on a study that looks at how separated parents and children connect through technology. If you are a divorced/separated parent or teen aged 12-17 with divorced/separated parents and would like to participate, please contact Dr. Rodriguez at Stephanie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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