“I think,” My wife said “we should eliminate television for the kids Mondays through Fridays for the Summer.”
“Huh?” I asked, stalling for time.
“Sure! Let them read books in the morning; or dig through some of their toys; or play outside.”
Why don’t we open a foster kennel for dogs recovering from rabies, while also holding therapy sessions for people with acute pet allergies? I thought.
But, like a marriage Jedi, I have learned from past mistakes, and cleverly answered:
I’m free from the prison that is school lunches; free from pulling my son through homework assignments on dreary Monday afternoons (especially on Mondays, when pushing a Jeep with a missing wheel through the Dakar Rally would be easier than motivating an 8-year-old through a page of subtractions); free from setting fire to the vestibule in an effort to encourage my children out the door before the morning bell.
Now, thanks to the woman I love, instead of having a second cup of coffee and reading Dear Abby, I have to interact with my kids?? Isn’t that what Wordgirl and Wild Kratts are for? Three cheers for free digital babysitting, no?
Let’s try diplomacy:
“Sweetie?” I gently approached, “On the days I leave for work early, won’t you miss having that time to yourself in the morning?”
See what I did? I made her the subject of the story. I put her in the position of being the primary beneficiary of morning television. Clever, eh?
“No.” She answered confidently. (Crap; I hate when she’s confident.)
“They’ll have their swim lessons later in the morning, and until we leave they can keep themselves busy.”
I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned to you, Dear Reader, that achieving a ‘playful’ interaction between my son and my daughter can be…challenging; the way carving Mount Rushmore was challenging…and underfunded…and understaffed…and required expertise far beyond my capabilities.
“Okay.” I said, with that tone we use when we want our spouses to understand we think they’re making a big mistake, but we still want the option of defending ourselves with ‘I never said that!’
Thus began the great No Summertime Television Experiment; during which, I have learned as much about myself as I have about my children.
Pediatricians and child psychologists stress television should never be used as a babysitter. They are absolutely right. But, that doesn’t stop me from using television as a babysitter:
weekend mornings over breakfast; the hour before supper to allow me to have the kitchen (and some quiet) to myself; a movie on weekend evenings to tidy the kitchen and write, or catch up on emails.
Although I have noticed these periods of quiet create for me a new form of stress. I tend to closely monitor their television program, always remaining conscious of how many minutes are left in the movie before I must again answer questions like ‘What’re we doing tomorrow?’, or ‘What if something got stuck in my bum for good?’.
As their movie progresses, I get anxious and rush whatever chore or activity I’ve become involved in.
I get frustrated when I feel I didn’t have enough time to myself.
I get resentful when I am pulled away from my free time and am forced to return to my parenting stable.
How would I find any peace without those couple of hours of cable/babysitting?
The answer was that ironic task parents are faced with daily: I had to create new habits in my children.
It is as difficult as it is rewarding to shape new, consistent behavior in kids.
But, within three days the kids had stopped asking for morning television.
Two days later they had stopped demanding my wife and I be responsible for finding them alternative activities.
During that same timeframe, they rediscovered our backyard, removed cellophane from birthday presents 6 months old, and even lay quietly on the sofa with books when they were tired on rainy afternoons.
The change within them echoed the change within me.
Without a defined period of distraction for the kids, I stopped trying to calculate how many minutes I had left to myself. I was no longer rushing them through supper; there was now no danger of the evening’s movie running past bedtime – there was no movie.
Instead, the kids, my wife, and I initiate more family activities. We go for bike rides after dinner, or play Snakes and Ladders.
The kids have actually learned to ‘go play’; and so have I.
On weekends, movies make a comeback; we all love them too much to completely exorcise Hollywood from our living room. They are appreciated even more because they are now only occasional visitors to our home, and not roommates.
Parenting isn’t easy, and no one method can necessarily apply to all families.
But, for us, there is something to this ‘deprivation’ thing.
In fact, it works so well, once the new school year begins in September, I may deny my children shelter and see whether it results in straight A’s.