We decided to cut down on the TV watching in Ben’s life. For the last year or more, I have been letting Ben watch videos around dinnertime. This helps me juggle two boys more efficiently, make dinner, run a tub, tuck the baby into bed, without completely losing my cool at every turn. It was totally my way to cope and Ben was completely on board. Endless episodes of the Backyardigans and Sponge Bob, Scooby Doo and the Wonder Pets are his crack cocaine.
And like any addict, he was devastated when I broke the news. “Hey Ben,” I said a little tentatively, “We’re not going to watch any videos today and we’re going to stop for a while.” He was outraged. He sobbed in the back seat of the car and told me he was going to pack some snacks and leave. He said he was going to move to another house, with another family. He told me that he’s sorry, he knows I’ll be sad, but I can visit him if I want.
I tried not to take this too personally. And considered locking the doors when we got home, just in case.
But the beauty of being 5 is that he forgot by the time we got home and when I suggested a bath with his brother he cheered a joyous, yes! and we all had a sweet time. There were more tears, for several days after school while we were breaking the habit, but it was much easier than I had thought.
My word of the year
I should back up and add one more thing to the background of all this. My word of the year– connected. I chose this word for many reasons, but one of the people I most want to feel connected to is Ben. As often happens when a new baby is born, my cozy relationship with my eldest was disrupted. I noticed it immediately in those first weeks back from the hospital. I literally had a baby in my arms or at my breast all the time and as much as I tried to stay connected with Ben, something shifted. There was literally another human standing between us! We have evolved since then of course, but the fact remains — our relationship is different now. We are navigating our way through the dynamics of a family of four. The shift was natural, but I feel a loss.
I have been wanting to spend more one on one time with Ben, have special dates with him, be sure that our connection stays alive and strong. I’m amazed how one little hot chocolate date at the cafe up the street, or a ride on a bus together to the kite festival can loom so large in his mind. “Remember when we went to the kite festival together mama? Just you and me?” he asked me the other day.
I had an intuition that this TV thing was one of our barriers, so in the spirit of connection, I bit the bullet. Unexpectedly, the first thing I noticed was how tired Ben was at the end of the day. Suddenly, without the option of a video, he started begging me to put him down at 5 or 6pm. His seizure medication has the unfortunate side effect of fatigue and we had to increase his dose recently. The 5pm videos were keeping him stimulated enough to stay up and neither of us actually noticed how tired his little body was. I was so glad to be more connected to how he was actually feeling and to know that he was connecting in to that too.
He still asks and protests this new policy regularly, but it has fostered what I had hoped– a connection that I thought I might have lost when Nico was born. And Ben has been outside more. Building his treehouse empire, practicing his ninja moves and taking more baths at night to chill out.
I would be lying if I said I don’t miss those videos! It was an easy way for me to get some much needed quiet time, get some work done in a pinch or tidy up the house without it being ransacked. But I’m clear I have gained something I wanted much more than a clean house or tidy inbox– the chance to connect, play and engage with one of the more adorable five year olds in the world.
What is your policy about TV in your house? or video games and other media? What have you noticed about it? Just for the record, I am not against TV, but very curious about how we use it and what my limits should be around it (both for myself and for my kids)
What have you noticed about your connection to your kids and screen time?