I kind of hate the television.
As a hopeless bibliophile and a passionate early literacy enthusiast, I will reach for a book over a remote whenever possible. I invest a hefty chunk of change in our family library, I incorporate (read: force) reading time into every day, and I have no problem telling my kids to “go play and get over it” when they whine for a show.
And yet despite my aversion to the boob tube, perhaps one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned in my short tenure as a parent is that sometimes, you just have to get over yourself.
Yes, I hate the screen addiction our society so readily enables. Yes, one of my greatest goals as a parent is to instill a love of literature in my children. And yes, I deeply desire for them to know the unfettered joy of running through freshly cut grass, chasing butterflies, rolling down hills, and playing outside until their freckles pop out.
But I also know our limitations. My eldest daughter struggles with severe seasonal allergies and asthma, and I know that one deep whiff of freshly cut grass can easily send us to the ER with a constricted windpipe.
I know that my fiery two-year-old likes to bolt from my side any chance she gets, and the amount of supervision she requires quickly drains every last drop of my energy.
And I know that the only predictable characteristic of this season with littles is that it is totally unpredictable.
We all have those days. Days when there are a million things to get done, when the kids are sick, when it’s raining, when nobody slept the night before, etc. We roll out of bed with good intentions, but before we know it, life has kicked us in the pants and our kids are glued to the television while we scramble to recover.
I used to drown in guilt on those days. I used to calculate the number of hours my girls had spent in front of the TV, subtract that number from their desirable IQ scores, and convince myself that I was actually witnessing the slow decay of their healthy brain cells.
At this point, I want to reiterate that I am ALL FOR restricting screen time and instilling a love of literature and imaginative play in our children.
But I also want to suggest that maybe, just maybe, an extra hour of television is better than a mama who’s losing her stuff.
Because it’s one thing to limit screens when our day is ruled by peace, activity, and adventure. But it’s another to impose limitations when our day is ruled by agitation, stress, and shame. And if we’re yelling at our children to be quiet and stop asking for shows before Mommy has an aneurism, well… we’re probably not accomplishing much in the way of character training, are we? (I may be speaking from experience here. #momfail)
We put so much pressure on ourselves as mothers. Buy the organic produce, cook the clean meals, use the chemical-free cleaners, read for 2 hours a day, limit exposure to screens, and the list goes on and on and on.
But maybe we would all be better off if we just let ourselves off the hook once in a while.
The Budget System
I’ve come to view our television consumption as a deposit/withdrawal system. On the days when life is actually going according to plan, when allergens and happy attitudes are on our side, we deposit as much as possible into our entertainment bank. Trips to the park, stacks of books, and museum visits all count as mini deposits into our TV fund. And the more we leave that fund alone and let it grow, the more we find we can function just fine without it.
But when unexpected circumstances dictate our day, when things like illness, dinner disasters, work deadlines, exhaustion, or maybe just a good ol’ case of burnout creep in, we allow withdrawals from the entertainment budget. (Incidentally, my children are watching a movie as I write this article.) Having a metaphorical framework in place has given me the big-picture perspective necessary to determine when we can effectively power through and flex our screen-free muscles, and when we need to loosen the reins and allow a little leeway.
I’ve also learned to regulate my children’s TV viewing not just by time, but by quality. Because let’s be honest: I think we all know there is a qualitative difference between a day spent watching cartoons and a day spent watching material that actually stretches our kids’ brains and exposes them to art, culture, and character training.
We are big fans of classics at our house, and I’ve been delighted to discover that when I limit the variety of movies my girls are allowed to watch, they learn to love family-friendly favorites like White Christmas, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, Little Women, Summer Magic, and Anne of Green Gables. And if you’re a family of faith, I cannot recommend JellyTelly highly enough – it’s basically the Netflix of Sunday School programming, and for $5/month you get unlimited access to VeggieTales, What’s in the Bible?, Gigi: God’s Little Princess, Theo, and much more. This is a personal favorite of mine because I know I can select any show from the menu and not worry about content if I need to leave the room. (Great for sneaking in a quick shower, mamas!)
Embrace the Seasons
When I was pregnant with my second daughter, my morning sickness was so severe I could do little more than lie on the couch with my two year old and watch PBS Kids. All. Day. Long.
I vividly remember sobbing to a friend about how my sweet toddler was subsisting off of dry cereal and Daniel Tiger reruns, and I was surely the worst mother on earth.
My friend laughed in my face, y’all.
“Come on, Brittany,” she said with a grin. “Your toddler gets to eat junk food and rule the T.V. for the next nine months. She’s living every kid’s dream!”
And in spite of myself, I giggled.
Because I realized that our lives are made up of seasons. And seasons are temporary. Some will find you rocking all the Pinterest activities, and some will find you binge-watching those Daniel Tiger reruns with your kiddos.
But no matter what life throws at you on any given day… just let yourself off the hook once in a while, mama.
When the day is good, pat yourself on the back and whisper a prayer of thanks.
And when the day is bad?
Get over yourself and turn on The Great British Baking Show. I promise you’ll feel better.