Two years ago, my family dynamic changed dramatically: After my husband and I decided to end our marriage, he moved into a separate home, and parenting got complicated.
Raising kids from two different houses was harder than I imagined for so many reasons. The hardest part, by far, was communication. It felt like there was constantly so much to organize between the two homes—from playdates to pickups, to school, to appointments. For a while, it seemed like my ex and I were in constant contact even though we were living apart. It was a dynamic that we both knew couldn’t continue.
We had to shave off some nonessential communication between the two of us, but we wanted to stay in close contact with our kids. They were young at the time—8 and 4—and we didn’t feel like a harsh “no contact except for emergencies” policy would fit.
But my ex and I doing all the communicating back and forth was exhausting, and, as a result, we were getting along worse than ever. A quick text or phone call all too often led to spats and arguments and had us both ready to completely give up on talking to the other parent. The truth was, we were living in two separate homes but we hadn’t anticipated how much planning it took to keep everything running smoothly.
Relay seemed like a great way to stay connected to my kids while minimizing contact with my ex.
One option was getting our kids cell phones, but we didn’t feel ready for them to have that much freedom and responsibility in the palm of their hands just yet—that much we agreed on. Then one day I heard about a gadget called Relay. I was shocked that I’d never heard of the device before because it seemed like a great way to stay connected to my kids while minimizing contact with my ex—and it appeared to be easy enough for them to use, too.
What is Relay?
Relays are like small super-powered walkie talkies. At first, I couldn’t imagine that this thing would be a good substitute for a phone, but I figured it was worth a try—anything to break the toxic communication cycle between me and my ex that had gone on for far too long already. Plus, I loved that it had GPS tracking, so even when my kids weren’t with me, I’d know exactly where they were.
How much Relay costs
I was also shocked to find out that Relay is pretty affordable. It was definitely cheaper than adding two cell phones to my plan: A Relay costs $49.99 with an additional $9.99 a month to connect the service to your cell phone (or a couple of cell phones). Essentially, it’s a device that has all the features of a phone without the addictive appeal.
What we love about Relay
It’s easy to use
When I got my hands on the pair of Relays, the kids were excited to check them out. My daughter nicknamed hers “Mint” for its light green color. Mine was “Blueberry.” The kids took a walk together around the block while chatting to me on Mint the whole time. All they had to do to communicate with me was push the center button.
They narrated their entire walk, which was honestly pretty great because it gave them more freedom than they’re used to. They ended up playing at the park down at the end of our street until I hit the button on Blueberry and said, “Okay, Mint. Come on home. Over and out.”
The whole family can be connected
Later that night, after I downloaded the Relay app and set it up with my phone, the kids took both Blueberry and Mint to their dad’s house. Now, not only could they talk back and forth between the two Relays, they could also talk directly to my phone, too. Eventually, my ex connected it to his phone, as well, so it worked between four devices.
Immediately, I was blown away at how awesome the new system was. They buzzed me a few times just to say “hi” or just to tell me something they really wanted to tell me and knew they’d forget by the time they got home.
When bedtime rolled around, I buzzed them, and we exchanged goodnights and air kisses. We’d never really had the ability to do that before, without the ex calling us, which, let’s face it, really feels like an interruption to their bedtime routine. The kids quickly buzzing me on their own was easier and way less stressful.
You can leave voice messages
Another feature of the Relay that worked for us was the ability to leave voice messages. If I was busy, they could leave a message for me to check later. That way, I still had my freedom as a single parent to have a life on my off-duty nights. I made sure my kids understood that—that sometimes, I might be busy but I’d always respond to them when I could. Though, at one point we did have to have a conversation about leaving me 40 messages in a row.
It has great safety features
While we’ve (thankfully) never had to use it, I do like the SOS feature that enables kids to send immediate emergency alerts from their Relay to my smartphone.
It streamlines the schedule
In the past year, we’ve used these devices for so many things that I can’t really remember how we functioned without them. Over the summer, my daughter used it to contact me when she was ready to be picked up from camp. For me, that meant I didn’t have to spend half my day waiting around her water ballet rehearsals like some of the other parents—whose kids didn’t have phones—did.
I could take my son on errands or do things that were fun for him without worrying about being late, or cramping my big kid’s style while sitting around her camp. My daughter also has a flexible school pickup schedule and different afternoon activities, so pickup times frequently change. She can easily chat with me from school now and I can tell her when I’m pulling in for pickup.
It soothes my anxiety
During times of stress, like say, in the middle of a pandemic, people generally want to talk to their kids more often. For me, that’s definitely been true. My kids probably buzz me a little more now when they’re at their dad’s house and I do the same. Checking in on my kids and making sure they’re not feeling overwhelmed by everything going on in the world helps us all breathe a little easier.
Why parents need Relay
Ever since Relays have come into our two homes, we haven’t had to worry nearly as much about our immensely stressful communication issues. Yes, my ex and I still have to communicate. However, not having to communicate every time the kids want to chat, on top of everything else, really simplifies things. The kids have the freedom to talk to us whenever they want, while our ex-spouse really doesn’t have to play a role in it at all.
Having the kids be in charge of their own communication with each of us, and having a way to reach out to them without calling the ex, is pretty crucial and, as a single mom, it’s liberating.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.