We are such weird parents, and I love it.
Maxwell was more than 1 year old before he watched any form of television, and I clearly remember him looking at an iPad and having no clue what it was or how to use it. Up until that point, he was fully engrossed in his toys and books and making art at the kitchen table. That was a really neat part of our parenting journey, and it’s something Zack and I have wanted to get back into.
Somewhere since then, in between raising Maxwell and giving him two little sisters to adore and tumble with, we got a little too comfortable with our family’s TV use. Max started watching it more often, and so naturally Natalie did, too. When I needed to make dinner, it has been all too easy to put a show on for the older kids to watch. Except, has it been?
Fast forward to now: our couch had become a favorite place to hang because of the television mounted directly across from it. Anytime we were away from the house, Max would ask if he and Natalie could watch something once back home. First thing in the morning, their slow-moving bodies hardly to the living room, they were asking to watch “a little show” on the television. It’s like that’s all they could think about, and it became a red flag for us. In the meantime, their toys were deemed “boring”, yet they were always all over the floor. And guess who was cleaning them up most of the time? I’ll give you a hint: not the older kids ;)
So a full week ago, Zack and I decided it was time for a television detox.
I mean, when Zack and I fill our time with activities that are non-challenging, we become cranky. We are impatient and frustrated and absolutely non-creative during our free time. So it made total sense the kids were feeling this way, too! They just don’t know how to process this, or know circle back to the source of their frustration.
We started our television detox on a Saturday so both of us could be home to encourage one another and the new change, and it was surprisingly an easy day. We didn’t give the kids any warning, and any time they asked to watch television we encouraged imaginative, creative, or physical play.
The next day (Sunday) Zack needed to be at church super early, and because of our “no TV” rule, the kid’s behavior and attitudes were easier than they had been in a very long time. They were more attentive to me and our schedule, and we made it to church with happy attitudes.
On Monday, two days into our detox (wink), I spent the entire day organizing the kids toys and making sure the sets were complete. I worked in whatever room the kids were playing in, and because I was right there with them they really didn’t ask to watch TV. I know it was a bit off-routine, but it was generally a wonderful day. From time to time I would go into the kitchen, which is where I had set up a large cardboard box. I put many of their toys in there, especially most of the baby/infant toys. Marigold plays with Maxwell and Natalie’s toys anyway, and we make sure everything within her reach is safe for her to play with. Once I went through the older kids shared bedroom, the nursery, and our living room, I scoured the basement and put away even more toys.
Then on Tuesday, I deep cleaned our house. And it took me very little time! And I worked alongside my kids! And I did NOT clean during their afternoon nap! There has been immediate affirmation for me in storing many of the toys they weren’t playing with. And really, one large cardboard box is all I filled, yet our home has felt so light and so clean and so much more fun. Not to mention, they are asking very little about watching television.
The rest of the week and weekend went very smoothly, and as a parent of three children very close in age (not to mention still very young), I do not regret our decision to remove television as an option to our children. For our family, this has proven to be the right decision.
About five months ago I minimized the kids toy collection by storing un-used toys, but looking in that box for a second time last week made me realize it’s mostly stuffed animals. This time around, I wanted to make sure I included more toys (but let’s be honest, there are a few stuffed animals in there, too).
It’s been more than a week since we cut off all television, organized/minimized our toy collection, and deep cleaned our house. Oh, hallelujah! And let me tell you, it’s been pretty darn wonderful.
What I’m realizing is without the television on, the kids and I have much higher quality time together. They are more engaged with their toys, they are more creative with their art supplies. Their imaginations have blossomed. Yes, they argue and push each other and throw tiny tantrums, but it’s truly 10x better! I’m so happy with our decision to eliminate television and minimize our toy collection. We have lost nothing, but we have gained so much.
I feel so much more engaged/interactive with my kids during the day, and I know they feel more engaged, too.
Just the other day, Maxwell woke up from a full night of rest and went to the dining room table to draw a picture of a dream he had. Natalie has taken playing “baby” to an all new level with Marigold and her dollies, and Marigold spends nearly all of her awake time crawling after her older siblings so they can continue playing together. It’s more than precious, it’s a true gift to watch them interact and slowly develop their personalities.
I imagine in a couple of weeks we’ll pop some popcorn and have a family movie night, but I want to wait a little bit longer before we do this. The lesson we’re trying to show our children is that television is a sporadic activity. It’s not our main activity, and it’s definitely not a babysitter. Actually, Zack and I rarely watch television — maybe 3x/month? We were living in Minneapolis when we cancelled our cable television, and that was about 5 years ago. Instead, we read and write and spend time developing new ideas/creations. And we want to encourage our children to do and enjoy these things, too.
Our relationships with one another have improved, and that alone is enough motivation to keep on going.
But even more importantly, I want to be a weird parent again: more imaginative, creative, physical play with very little screen time.
What are your thoughts?
(By the way, Maxwell is almost 4 years old, Natalie 2 years and 3 months old, and Marigold is almost 10 months old.)