I learned a long time ago that I was a much better parent before I actually had kids. I thought picky eaters were the result of indulgent parents. (Guess what! I introduced my duo to the same foods at the same time off the same spoon and one only eats things that are beige and crunchy. He came like that, I didn’t do that to him.) I also thought my kids wouldn’t watch a lot of TV. That one makes me laugh now!
While we are at it, I also sort of thought I would have ONE baby at a time and well, that didn’t happen either.
I am not ashamed to admit thatI use TV as a tool to give myself a break and distract my kids from mayhem. I have been home with them since they were one, and with no family nearby and no babysitters to speak of, I rarely had any time for a break. Not long before my boys turned three I started trying to work from home. I had a small Etsy shop and did custom sewing. I enjoyed the quiet time while they slept and the creative outlet helped me refresh. I was able to use the 2-3 hours they would nap to work on projects and promote my business online.
In contrast, while these two were awake, there was rarely a quiet moment. Here’s a small snapshot of the chaos my duo managed from a very young age. I didn’t include any of the photos where there was blood — and there was blood, more than once. Nor did I include any naked shenanigans, which was also incredibly common. You’re welcome.
Remember when I said my kids weren’t going to watch a lot of TV? That didn’t last. They were nearly two before we ever turned on the TV for one single half-hour of something with educational merit each day. But then guess what? They turned 3 and all bets were off. Three, in our house at least, was the worst. Ever.
But before that, when my boys were not even two, they figured out and verbalized to me, “There is one of you and two of us and we want to do this!” when I was home alone with them. Most of every day they worked together to outsmart and out-maneuver anything I did. They overcome any childproofing efforts we made and they were giving up naps.
They gave up their nap long before I gave up their nap.
When they were awake, which quickly became all the time, they were in constant seek-and-destroy mode. BUT, when the TV was on they sat, quietly and slack-jawed and provided me a brief respite. They weren’t trashing toy bins or flooding the bathroom. They weren’t trying to escape baby gates or scale cabinets. They just sat. And it was quiet.
In the beginning, we stuck mostly to educational stuff. They were picking up songs and letters, colors and numbers. And more importantly, they were giving me the break I needed to do crazy indulgent things like shower and cook meals.
At age 5, they still watch mostly stuff with educational merit, but there are more and more mindless shows thrown in there too. By age 4 they could each name 100 superheroes (give or take) and they knew all sorts of crazy phrases and giant words they probably wouldn’t have learned otherwise. They have picked up all sorts of cultural references and they incorporate storylines and theme music into their play.
So there’s the truth: My kids watch too much TV. Way more than they should, for sure. But it helps me get things done and it keeps them from clobbering one another or trashing our house. Judge if you want, but TV in our house keeps the peace. Now that they know how to turn on the TV and navigate around, my work is done and I can retire from Mommyhood.
Allow me to share some things I have learned since becoming a Mom who uses TV for distraction to get a little time to myself. (It’s OK, I give you permission* to use TV as a tool to entertain your kids.)
- Streaming is awesome. Get yourself Netflix or Amazon Prime or something on-demand. My kids have only ever watched on-demand shows either from Netflix or from our own personal video library, which we stream to our TV via AppleTV. They also have channels on the AppleTV you can stream if you do have cable. (We don’t. We canceled it when I was pregnant to cut our monthly bills.) Plus there is a PBS channel my kids love too.
- Paying for a streaming service means my kids don’t watch commercials, ever. They never have to flip through channels, hoping there is something decent on. They just pick something and watch it. We stayed in a hotel recently and they were so flummoxed not being able to control what was on, but subsequently asked for every single thing each commercial endorsed. That was only about an hour’s worth. I can’t imagine living with that every day. Netflix is less than $10 a month, a fraction of the cost of cable and without the commercials.
- Making them agree on a show and take turns picking has helped them understand sometimes you do what someone else wants. Is it always peaceful? Nope. But then, neither are kids sometimes.
- Netflix streaming truly is unlimited. Believe me, we’ve tested it. More than once I have thought, “Gee I am glad we don’t get a monthly usage report showing we watched the same episode of Octonauts 437 times so far.”
- Use parental controls. I mean, if you are going to plop your kids in front of a neglect-o-magic, at least be a little parental. My kids have their own profile and they are locked into ratings for 8 and under. They can’t accidentally watch Orange is the New Black.
- Be careful trying to replace paid streaming content with YouTube. It’s crazy easy for kids to click on the next thing YouTube thinks is related and find something you’d really rather not have them seeing.
- Not everything on TV is terrible. My kids are actually pretty smart and know a lot of things because of TV than they would be otherwise. Sometimes they will start talking about some creature they learned about and will tell me 32 facts about it and I am blown away they retained so much. They also smash things like Hulk so there’s that.
- Try to quiz them after they’ve watching something to make sure they are actually learning. Tell me something about [whatever] that you didn’t know. It makes them recall what they learned and it creates a dialogue. Even the mindless stuff has morals sometimes. How do you think he felt when that happened? What would you do if that happened? Especially great for kids who might struggle with emotions.
- When they were in preschool in the afternoons, we had a no-TV-before-school rule, because sometimes it is hard to turn off without a fit. We made the rule and stuck to it. It was disputed the first week or so then they accepted it. Now with them starting Kindergarten we’ve made a no-TV-on-school-days rule so they can stay focused on their schoolwork and activities. They know it’s the rule and it’s non-negotiable. (Exceptions made for sick days.)
- We do a LOT of stuff that isn’t watching TV, I promise. They are exposed to lots of things in real life too. We try to get out of the house every day and we’ve filled the past 5 years with tons of educational and mind-broadening activities. And a lot of TV.
I know the recommendations of nearly everyone who recommends such things say kids should limit screen time, and TV is not a babysitter and it’s bad for developing brains. All of which is probably true. But in our house, my kids watching TV is essential to MY mental health.
* Permission granted in this instance has zero actual authority and is offered without guarantee or responsibility.
From August 31 to September 4, 2015, How Do You Do It? is running a series on “me time” for mothers: why we need it, how we make it, what we do with it. Find the full list of posts on the theme week page.
Have you blogged about mommy time on your own blog before? Are you inspired to do so now? Link your posts at our theme week link up! We’ll do our best to share them on Facebook,Pinterest, and Twitter with the hashtag #metime.