We are about 12 weeks into an extremely strict telelvision-free rhythm and routine. North was never allowed to watch much television at all, perhaps 2-3 20 minute programs per week, primarily Play School and Sesame Street, however everytime I ever put that television on and watched my active, talkative and spirited boy disappear, lulled to silence by the flashing of the screen, I felt sick with guilt and regret. Why did I find it so necessary to take him away from his unique style of playing and instead allow him to mutely observe adults and puppets playing for him?
Of course I know the answer plain and simple- it's hard work keeping children entertained, busy and occupied for twelve hours of the day. Well.... sort of. It's not that I don't enjoy it, it's that there are a million other things I need and want to get done- a load of laundry, the dinner preparation, the dishes, the sweeping of the floors, a bit of me time, writing time, a 3-minute cup of tea or a row of knitting.
Like every toddler, North prefers that Mama be involved with his playtime, making comments on the speed at which he pushes cars, tasting imaginary eggs and toast and building castles alongside him, but with every day he ages and matures, he is able to concentrate longer on tasks and games without having me there to hold his hand. The rest of the time not having the remote-control-nanny means that I must involve him in my everyday chores and activities. We cook together, clean together, shower together, even go to the bathroom together (at risk of giving too much information, he sits on his potty while I'm on mine). This makes these moments a little more time-consuming and onerous, but in the long term, I know that I am instilling in him a sense of independence and an appreciation for family unity, homesteading and food preparation, and then there's the bonus of him being toilet trained before the age of two.
I must admit the hardest part of this journey was when he was sick with the flu for about 5 days. He was extra clingy, tired but not sleeping and extremely emotional. In darker moments, I was tempted to sit him in front of the tv just so he would stay still and rest for short spurts of time. But instead, I decided to perform his regular bedtime routine- a few stories, a glass of milk, cuddles and a song- then I put him into bed with a bunch of books and let him read and talk to himself for 30 minute intervals. He was happy as can be, resting in bed and I got to have that little time-out to do whatever needed to be done. It taught us both that unwinding and resting does not have to involve a flat screen and couch.
So, before you plunk your child in front of that boob tube, with the thought that a little bit won't hurt, please at least seriously ask yourself a few questions:
Why am I putting the television on right now- for my child or for my own selfish reasons?
How will the adverts he/she is exposed to effect him/her and his/her consumerist choices in the future?
Is this enriching or taking away from my child's day in some way?
What alternatives to this 30 minute show can I think of and offer?
I truly understand and appreciate how hard mothers work with no rest and little personal space and time, but I think we underestimate ourselves and our children when we use the television as a crutch and/or parenting aid.
Be sure to stay tuned for when I am breastfeeding my babe-to-be- I've heard the television is a second-time mama's best friend for these moments. I'll come up with some coping strategies I'm sure, but the temptation will no doubt always be there.