We turned off the TV

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.

Sally plays

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.

Pin me: We turned off the tv

 

Forgive and forget? I wish I could.

So your kid has a meltdown. The kind of meltdown that has everyone screaming. The kind of meltdown where he says all the meanest things he can think of, where he hits and shoves, where you find yourself with a throat raw from yelling. The kind of meltdown that makes you want to throw in the towel. Walk out the door and never ever look back.

And then he has his time alone in his room to calm down and you have your time alone to calm down.

But you don’t calm down.

Luke can bounce back from this kind of thing in a way I just can’t. He comes back wanting to hug, just forget it and move on. But I can’t forget it and move on because my blood is still boiling. I lost it and have not found it again.

Maybe you can’t relate. Maybe you can count to ten and calm down like all those know-it-all experts suggest. But not me. I can count to ten again and again and still feel nothing but rising rage as my child tells me to shut up. It takes me a long time to cool back down from that kind of flagrant, outrageous misbehavior. A much longer time than the offending child.

I ought to demonstrate forgiveness and moving-on-ness. I know this. I probably shouldn’t be so pissed off in the first place. I probably should stay calm and cool and focus on the behavior and not the child doing the behavior. That’s what “they” say, right? But the thing is that I’m a person first. I’m the person I’ve always been. The person who doesn’t want or know how to cope with an irrational, obnoxious person telling me to shut up. But because I had kids I’m supposed to be this new person who doesn’t fuck up or get really mad, whose feelings don’t get hurt, who never wants to throw in the towel and walk out the door and never ever look back.

And then the grief hits- the certain knowledge that my kid needs a mother who is like that new person I didn’t become. He needs some other, better mother who would demonstrate the right things. Some mother who can handle a daily onslaught of shut ups. Some mother who might not incite them in the first place. This mother is failing him. This mother is not doing it right.

Am I the only one floundering this way? Did you all become that new person when your kids arrived? Am I as awful and deficient as I feel? Or are you reading this and relating? If you get mad, can you forgive and forget as quickly as your kids want you to?

Mirror, Mirror

woman-and-mirror, reflectionWe all know that children are sponges. Their developing brains and impressionable psyches pick up everything. And like sponges, it’s not just the good clean stuff. They absorb the ick too. Parents aren’t infallible people demonstrating only the best conduct. No. We’re sometimes grumpy, overtired, petulant, sulky, angry, stressed, or otherwise inappropriate. Kids absorb all of this and add it to their developing repertoire of behaviors. Our children become tiny mirrors showing us our worst selves. We see them set aside our best moments, our good parenting advice and wisdom, and instead assume our lowest personality traits.

In my house it’s the yelling. I tell my kids all about using their words, treating others fairly, counting to ten, walking away. But then I lose my temper and I yell. Guess what they do when they get mad? They reflect. I see my own angry face made out in their little features, and it hurts. They shout out their frustrations, they take out their stress on one another, they act like me at my worst and I hate it more than anything.

Then comes the spiral of self loathing. I shouldn’t shout like that. I’m ruining the children. I am the worst mother. Other mothers don’t do that. Why can’t I control my temper? What is wrong with me? I will be better. I must be better. I need to be better so I can help them be better.

But I’m not better.

We talk it out, hug, apologize. But eventually, for one reason or another, I find myself losing my temper again. I might shout right into one of their little faces. Maybe they did something terrible. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe it had nothing really to do with them. Surely other moms don’t do this. Surely I am ruining my children.

And then they yell at me. They yell at each other. In my moments of calm clarity I tell them all the right things. I tell them that we are not to treat one another that way. I tell them that we are a family, and we have to take care of each other. I tell them that feeling angry, frustrated, sad, stressed, worried, hungry, or tired is no excuse for being mean. I do all this parenting expecting them to learn from it, but then I blow it all by acting exactly like a little kid myself.

I know that it has to start with me. I know that until I change, they won’t. I can see it clearly. How can a mirror reflect what isn’t there? Mirrors are honest whether we like what we see or not. Until I stop putting The Ugly in front of them, they will continue to reflect it. But it feels too hard. It’s hard enough to get all of the basics done on a daily basis, who has time, space, energy for major self overhauls? So my pattern continues.

It isn’t constant screaming in my house by any means. The time in between is filled with normal family things- we chat about our days; we cook and eat meals together; they play; they wreck the house; “we” clean the house; they watch TV. But eventually the constant noise creeps under my skin. The bickering, so much bickering! The couch cushions strewn everywhere. The dropped milk. The careless swinging of some toy which inevitably smacks someone in the face. And I lose it. I yell. I scream for them to be quiet, to clean up, to stop fighting… And I feel like all those in-between moments are erased, undone. All that’s left is mommy yelling. And so they yell. They continue to hold up that mirror showing me my worst. And it sucks.