Two things I know about myself: I am inherently lazy; and I am predominantly grumpy.
Sure, I can be motivated and cheerful, but it’s a fight. As an insomniac, I’m also usually tired and the extra effort required to overcome my natural grumpy laziness takes even more energy. So it doesn’t happen first thing in the morning very often. Which sucks if you’re my kids. (And probably my husband.)
My kids wake up happy! and excited! and energized! and all things exclamation pointy! I wake up grudgingly. It’s not always actual waking up, just a change from being angrily awake in bed to being angrily awake not in bed. Add to this mix the fact that Luke is an early riser, and you have a recipe made for watching morning TV.
Over the years, each time my kids plugged into early morning TV I felt a pang of guilt. For the longest time I kept the programming to the PBS variety, and it made it feel alright. “It’s OK if they watch a little Arthur or Martha Speaks before school. They’re learning stuff. And, mmmmm coffee.” But “a little” was actually “a lot” and eventually the shows were not of the PBS variety.
So we slid down the slippery slope of children’s programming, and soon my kids were watching obnoxious TV shows and were acting obnoxious accordingly. As much as I’d like to deny it, the truth is that they watched hours of TV on most days. We don’t have to leave our house for school until 8:20 or so, and with Luke’s love for 6AM, you can see how the hours might accumulate.
It does not take a parenting guru to see the correlation between my kids’ behavior and their TV consumption. The change in them is pretty immediate. Happy children sit down in front of the TV, cranky children walk away from it. Every time. Something had to change. But to take away morning TV meant that I would have to step up my game. Did I want to do this? While they plugged into their thing, I plugged into mine. After taking care of breakfasts and lunches, I’d sip coffee while catching up on Facebook. Technology ruled our mornings. Any change was going to be rough on all of us.
And then, just like that, I had enough. It was a typical weekend day. Beautiful outside. I decided there would be no TV. Sally balked but then quickly busied herself with her toys.
Luke balked, then fought, then complained, then cried, then fought, then complained, then tried to sabotage Sally’s fun, then fought, then complained, then cried… This went on for five hours. See, not only did I say no TV, (or any iDevice,) but I also insisted that he entertain himself. No, Daddy would not play soccer and no, I would not play games. Mom and Dad were busy.
Five hours. It took five hours for my 7.5 year old to figure out how to play without the help of technology or the undivided attention of an adult. Five hours where he tried to spread as much misery as possible. Somehow, my husband and I stuck it out, not knowing if it would ever end. We paid him as little attention as possible, knowing that, for him, negative attention is just as good as any.
After those five terrible hours something amazing happened. Luke noticed his long ignored Legos. Both kids played with Legos for hours – in between snacks, fights, and meals. The day closed with both kids happy.
That night I told the kids there would be no TV in the morning. We hid the remotes, the computer mouse, and the iPad just in case a sneaky early riser “forgot.” The kids were surprisingly accepting of the morning’s dearth of technology. They never even asked. They played. I certainly couldn’t go sit at my computer, so I busied myself with chores I normally leave until after they’re off to school.
Is this what it’s like to be one of those nice families?
OK, so that’s one day. Surely this will get hard. That night we again told them there would be no TV in the morning. We again hid all the things. They again didn’t ask. This time, we played several rounds of Uno together. The kids were DELIGHTED. So much so that I felt like the world’s worst mom.
Look how happy my kids are just to get a smidge of attention from me in the morning. Holy shit have I sucked for all these years!
It’s now been nearly two full weeks of no TV in the mornings. This means no computer time for me too, and I have to muster up a lot of friendliness before I’ve finished even my first cup of coffee. I can’t tell you how much of a difference it’s made. Just starting our day with a little more effort helps us all have better days. Leaving the house for school requires so much less reminding, rushing, and nagging on my part and involves so much less complaining on theirs. They haven’t been asking for much afternoon TV either. Will things change when the weather gets colder? Possibly. I hope we land somewhere moderate. Things had really gotten out of control for a while there.
Could I have done this as successfully years ago? Maybe, maybe not. I don’t see much point in looking back though. There were a couple of years when survival was the name of the game. I’m happy to report that we did indeed survive them.
Many of you are probably thinking, “Of course things are better! And yes, you were a shitty parent all those years!” Fine. Judge away if it makes you feel good about yourself.
But for anyone reading who is thinking, “I could never do it. I need that morning TV time for my sanity!” I have something to say: That’s OK. I needed it too. And then, one day, I didn’t.