In most family breakups, shared care arrangements for children become the norm. This means your kids will live between two homes and spend time away from the other parent. It’s hard for them. And it’s hard for the parent who is not with them. The solution: Video calling apps.
Luckily there are plenty to choose from and most of them are completely free or have a free option that is enough for this purpose.
But which video chat app is best for you and your family?
In this article we provide a list of the most popular video calling apps, alongside what they offer, why we like them, who they would suit and pros/cons.
We’ve also recently updated the article to include handy tips to ensure your children’s video calls with dad are a success. Because, those of us who have co-parented for what feels like a million years (aka: me) know that video calls can go downhill fast if both co-parents are not committed to make them happen on time and to make them a pleasant experience.
So keep reading and find out everything you need to know to keep your separated family communicating in a way that works for everyone.
Facetime is the number one video calling app for iOS users. It’s pre-installed in iPhones, it’s free, and works great most of the time if you have a strong connection.
Facetime lets you online chat with up to 32 people from anywhere in the world over cellular data, but it works best for one-on-one calls or a small group.
Probably the best thing about Facetime is the HD quality video calls (up to 1080p on Macs). The image is crystal clear compared to similar apps, especially if you have a strong WiFi connection. And even if Facetime isn’t running, you still receive incoming calls without opening the app.
Available via: Apple
Cost: Free over Wifi
Pros: Easy to use, invite up to 32 people, lots of fun features, high definition video
Cons: Requires an Apple device, works best for one-to-one calls
You will love this app if: You’re an iOS user who wants an easy-to-use app to check in on kids, parents and grandparents
Next on our list of video calling apps: Bunch combines video chatting with games and Snapchat-like filters to make virtual huddles a fun experience.
The user interface pops with colour and there’s a lot of filters/animations that you can use to customise your screen. The games are fun and range from easy peasy to super difficult. There’s a drawing game similar to Pictionary, a billiards game and a trivia game. You can also play third party games like Fortnite, Roblox and Minecraft.
Pro tip: Installing the games on your first go can eat up a lot of time. Skip this process if you only want straight video online chat.
Available via: Apple, Android
Pros: Fun games and video chat for the younger crowd
Cons: Installing games can take a while
You will love this app if: You’re a gamer or you have kids who love games
Ever wanted to share a cool video with your friend while you’re on video chat? Airtime lets you do that and more. You can chat and watch movies, TV shows and YouTube, listen to music and share photos.
Plus, you can create private rooms and party rooms for different people, as well as customising your screen with animated stickers. Airtime lets you chat with up to 10 people at the same time. It’s a fun way to connect with friends and family during isolation, but not ideal for younger kids without supervision.
Overall, the app is easy to use and set up, and it’s completely free. Just remember that the app collects a ton of information about you based on what you share with others. All up, a good choice on our list of video calling apps.
Available via: Android, Apple
Pros: Fun, easy to use and set up, great for teens and young adults
You will love this app if: You have teens and young adults who want a fun video chat tool
We – I mean us and two billion active monthly users – think WhatsApp is one of the best video calling apps to help with co-parenting. It’s free to use with mobile data or Wi-Fi, user-friendly, and safe.
The chat is very reliable, and you can use it to share different kinds of files. It’s also easy to create a group chat with over a thousand members with the community feature.
The downside is that it’s owned by Meta, so if you have an issue with the company’s data collection and monetisation, you might be turned off. If you’re okay with that, definitely give WhatsApp a go.
Available via: Android and iOS
Pros: Sending messages and media and making voice and video calls are free
Cons: There were various security flaws previously, but those had been resolved.
You will love this app if: you want something more feature-friendly than Messenger
You’ve probably used Zoom for work. It’s one of the best video call apps for large teams and families–you can invite up to a hundred people for meetings and classes. It is the go-to video app for many professionals working from home.
If you’re a co-parent with lots of kids, Zoom is perfect for connecting with multiple family members at the same time. Setting up Zoom is easy if you already know your how to use Skype and similar apps.
Plus, you can customise your screen with fun backgrounds, effects and the popular grid layout.
Available via: Apple, Android, Website
Cost: Free version available, premium version starts from $149.90/year/license
Pros: Invite up to 300 people (paid version), screen sharing, record meetings
Cons: App can be hard to use and navigate in the beginning, free 40-minute call limit can be annoying
You will love this app if: You work from home or you’re already familiar with video conferencing tools
Skype’s massive user base and brand recognition are hard to beat when it comes to video call apps.
Nifty features like a clean layout that’s easy to navigate, multimedia-sharing, video call recording, live captions, call translate and end-to-end encrypted messaging make it a great app for separated families to connect with each other. It’s also free and lets you invite up to 50 users for a meeting.
Just a note for iOS users: currently you can’t run Skype in the background to receive incoming calls (might change in the future with an iOS update).
Available via: Apple, Android, Website
Cost: Free option, paid version starts at $6.99/month
Pros: Feature-packed, easy to use, good sound and image quality
Cons: Not the best video call app for iOS users
You will love this app if: You are new to video call apps or you already use Skype to connect with co-workers and family
You’ve probably first heard of Discord from your favourite streamers on YouTube or Twitch. Or maybe you’re already part of a cause-oriented Discord community.
If you haven’t heard of it before, Discord is an easy-to-use tool for instant messaging, voice calls, video calls/chats, file transfer and more.
It works on mobile, desktop, and even gaming consoles, so you can reach your little community – that is, your ex and maybe your kids – whichever device they’re on.
Available via: Apple, Android, Website
Cost: Free to use (but you can also opt for premium extras)
Pros: A free user can create up to 100 servers, while a paid subscriber can go up to 200. You can host up to 25 people on a video call whiles there’s no limit for voice calls.
Cons: No integration with third-party calendars, which can be useful when co-parenting
You will love this app if: You are a professional or business owner who wants to monetize videos or online lessons
If you’re already using Gmail (and who isn’t), give Google Chat and Google Meet a try. I promise they’re one of the best video calling apps to help with co-parenting. They are accessible on desktop and phone and easy to use even if you’re new to video conferencing.
Google Chat lets you send DMs and create group chats. You will need to install Google Meet to start video conferencing. Then, you can just go to your Gmail account, find the chat function, create a meeting link, and send the link to everyone in your family GC!
There’s screen-sharing options, so your kids can show you their pictures and videos. It can also host up to 100 participants, allowing your extended family to join.
While not perfect, Google Chat and Google Meet are extremely easy to use even for the tech-averse, and you can start chatting with family, friends or colleagues in seconds.
Available via: Android, Apple, Website
Pros: Easy to use and accessible for Gmail users
Cons: No grid layout, users report connectivity issues, you can get randomly dropped from large group chats
You will love this app if: You already have a Gmail account and want an accessible video call app
Last but not least on our list of video calling apps: Whereby is a professional collaboration tool that lets you set up meetings with team members easily.
It’s geared towards professionals and businesses instead of families, with highly-rated audio calls, video conferencing and muting features. The app also supports polls, scheduling and annotations.
One of Whereby’s best features is that guests don’t need to download or sign in. They can connect right away and start chatting. Whereby is an excellent communication tool if you mostly use a laptop or desktop.
Available via: Apple, Android, Website
Cost: Free option (limited functionality), paid version starts at $6.99/month
Pros: Easy to use, guests don’t need to download or install software, video conferencing is done via web browser
Cons: No app version, can join other groups/calls by mistake
You will love this app if: You are a co-parent who runs a small business or a professional connecting with clients and partners
There’s nothing more anxiety-inducing than logging in your group chat for your scheduled video call and discovering you’re the only one there. Equally, there is nothing more annoying than getting on the call with your kids, to find that their dad isn’t there.
To prevent this happening and avoid the negative emotions that come with it (as well as the confusion and upset it will cause your little ones) be sure to have a clear schedule with your ex as to when video calling will take place.
It might be that call times are outlined in your parenting plan or consent orders. If you have a verbal agreement be sure to confirm by text or email so you have a thread to rely on if things go wrong.
As is often the way with technology, our eldest had the best idea and recommended using an in-app calendar. Some video calling apps to help with co-parenting come with shared third-party calendar integration. Lucky we have someone in the family to keep us organised!
Of course, even with the calendar, there are times when someone just forgets the call. Once, my ex and the kids completely missed our call because they were too engrossed with, guess what – washing the car!
Sending a reminder to everyone an hour before the call is a necessary hassle. But if you’re uncomfortable being the one to send these reminders – who knows who will *jokingly* call you a nagger – there are platforms that send email reminders. Calendar apps can also show notifications so there’s no excuse to miss your scheduled family chats.
As much as we love technology, it can let us down. Particularly with video calling.
We have had many ruined calls because the app is glitching, as well as many laughs when it freezes when dad is pulling a face like gorilla … and not even intentionally!
Be prepared for this to happen, and know your strategy.
We would always have a backup video calling app to try first. However, if this didn’t work either, we’d assume if was a WIFI issue and do a voice call instead as these use less data. If you have more than one child, put the voice call on speaker so everyone can join in.
If your children are in your home and are making the video call to their dad, you have more control than you realise to ensure the call goes well.
Firstly, remind your kids about the upcoming call several times – the day before, a couple of hours before, an hour before and then 10 minutes before.
While reminding them, ask them what they plan to talk to dad about and help them with ideas if they can’t think of anything.
When the call time comes around, make sure they are in a comfortable, quiet environment where they can hear and see their dad clearly.
Note: I get that these calls can feel like an inconvenience and the last thing you want is your exes voice booming across your living room, but don’t let on to your kids. They need to feel supported in their communication with dad, and you are in-charge of making that happen.
Sometimes, especially in the beginning, it can be awkward to be in a video call with your ex. Break the ice by allowing your extended family in the call.
It’s also a great thing for the kids. The divorce might have separated their immediate family but they still have their beloved grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Having them in the video call will not only make you and your ex more comfortable – it can also be a nice virtual family reunion.
And, who knows, maybe your former mother-in-law misses you!
If you plan to include many people from different parts of the world into your family video call, some of the best video calling apps to help with co-parenting will be those that allow a large number of participants.
Children are extremely sensitive especially to the feelings of their parents. If they sense you’re sad that they’re with the other parent, they will feel it. They will feel sad, too. You don’t want to be the parent ruining their stint with their dad.
Video calling apps are not perfect, and here’s how you can use their imperfections to your advantage:
Another tip to get through a highly emotional video call, is to get your children talking. Choose a topic you know they love and leave the chatting to them. Just HOLD THAT SMILE.
No one was sure how to make long-distance relationships work … until video chat came. Thanks to video calls, LDRs, remote work, divorce, and shared parenting have become infinitely easier.
Sometimes you wonder how it was possible to successfully co-parent without this technology. I’m also sometimes jealous that my kids have this to communicate consistently and maintain a good relationship with their dad – something I did not have growing up coming from divorced parents.
So what’s the best video calling apps to help with co-parenting? Well, it depends on what your family needs. Do you need screen-sharing capabilities? Third-party calendar integration? A video calling service that come with games? Or just the basic stuff? Free or paid?
Alongside finding the best video calling apps to help with co-parenting, making this practice pleasant for all parties is also important. Missing scheduled video calls, just like real-life appointments, is not just annoying but also disrespectful. That’s why everyone has to be committed to this strategy.
Setting a shared calendar, sending our reminders before the scheduled call, and making room for technical difficulties are useful to make sure everything is in place. You might also have to prepare your children for the call, involve other members of your family to make things more comfortable, and prevent your negative emotions from showing during the call. These can help ensure your communication lines are smooth even amidst the separation.
I hope that my ideas and list of top video calling apps will make your shared parenting a little easier. Remember, like everything, this is just a phase because soon your children will be old enough to make their own contact with dad, and you can breath a sigh of relief that the video app calling days are well and truly over.
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