When Charley was born, I fiercely protected her. I don’t think I’m different from any other mother in this… it’s simply a mother’s instinct to give your child the best chance at life.
My drive to protect her included her health, her mind, and her development. I was so convicted that I didn’t want my baby girl to watch any screens that any time my husband was watching TV, I made sure she didn’t have sight of it, blocking her view with a Pack & Play or blanket. I had seen the damage firsthand as a pediatric occupational therapist of screen-obsessed kids who couldn’t concentrate in school let alone talk about anything but their favorite shows and video games and I was determined to make sure my daughter had a mind free from the intoxicating draw of screen time.
10 months later I was pregnant with her baby brother.
My pregnancy was good, so we continued our days of playing, crafts, and outings. I enjoyed the simplest of tasks with my little girl, as even a trip to the grocery store was a joy with her bubbly little personality shining bright. We listened to the birds. We painted. We soaked each other in.
When Gavin was born, things changed. A LOT.
Anyone who has gone through this phase of first-to-second baby knows. It’s SO HARD (especially with two so young)! The conflicting emotions. The massive changes. The depth of sleep deprivation.
Making the transition even more difficult was the 5-letter curse word: Colic.
Gavin screamed and cried for HOURS a day. Hours. Sometimes he cried for 8 hours straight while we took turns attempting to console this extremely unhappy baby who had disrupted our way of life.
We entered survival mode.
More and more the screens came on.
More and more we found relief from the silence of a television babysitter.
Less and less we monitored the hours our babies spent with eyes glued to the stimulating images.
At the same time, I took on an administrative role in the business we recently launched, and having help for the kids only one day per week and a job that requires me every day, I was at times relying on the TV to watch my kids just so I could get pressing tasks accomplished.
As Gavin’s 2nd birthday approached, I realized with sadness that he typically had more television time in one day than Charley had her whole first two years of life. He wakes early and takes us straight to the drawers with the DVDs. In our fatigued stupor, we turn it on, hoping for just a few more minutes of rest while he’s kept quiet by Thomas or Paw Patrol or the latest Library rental. Charley then wakes up an hour or so later. We fetch breakfast. The TV is still on. We start our day. The TV is still on. And before we know it, the TV has been on for hours. I turn it off, feeling ashamed at how lax I’ve become, but also knowing I’ll probably find peace in it again later this afternoon when they’re driving me crazy and I just need a break.
I can’t tell you how sad this realization made me once I saw it juxtaposed with my original intentions for my precious babies. It’s hard for me to admit even. But I consider myself an intentional parent. And that means always checking in with myself on my standards, my values, and my actions. In this case, I was not living up to my own expectations. I was getting lazy.
So. I decided, along with the support of my husband, to do something extreme.
Ditch the TV.
As we readied to leave for vacation, we knew we had several precious days ahead of playing hard all day, running on the beach, and swimming in the pool. I imagined a week in our resort where the TV didn’t even come on. We determined that the transition of coming back from vacation would be easiest since it would do us the favor of breaking the habit.
So here we are, back at home.
We arrived late last night, put the kids to bed, and hid the TV in the basement.
This morning was Day 1 without TV, and as I noticed differences in our morning, I started jotting them down in a notebook. As I continued to make observations, I determined it would be fun to share them with Charley’s Circus readers. My hope is to continue to update as I make observations in my kids, in our habits, and in myself. I have hopes for what it will look like in the end, but I’m also hoping for good surprises that I didn’t anticipate.
I’m reminded that when Chris and I were first married 5 years ago, we went the whole first year of our marriage without a TV. On purpose. It was a decision we made so that we could be more intentional with how we spent our time together. I always wanted to write about the experience but life happened and I never did. I now find myself 5 years into marriage, two kids, two moves, a home renovation, church plant (& fail), & business start-up later and aching for the same thing. Intentionality. Face to face time. Creativity.
Honestly, I personally never really watch TV. It’s boring to me.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t find this a sacrifice. It helps me. It quiets my kids so I can have a complete thought. It keeps them in once place so I can tend to my tasks, or cook dinner without someone reaching for a hot burner. For these reasons, I LOVE TV. (But I also hate it, lol.)
And – don’t get me wrong – I am not trying to paint some picture of black and white thinking on television or screen time. This is my family’s journey and what we have chosen to try for a season with hopes for more intentional play and creative time. I am not here to say that no TV is the “right” thing to do. There’s also the related battle against the screen time I spend with the device that’s always in my pocket. (I now manage the events and social media for our business so I’m always on my phone… & Charley is actually on her tablet right now playing games so that I can write this!)
Screens are a part of our culture, and they’re here to stay, this I can’t deny.
But if we’re not careful, they can begin to rule us, and that I’m not okay with.
So for now, the TV is in timeout.
And this mommy is nervous. But this morning has also given me hope.
So welcome to the journey…
Gavin was up early as usual. I brought him downstairs, and he took me by the hand and led me straight to the drawers with the DVDs. I tried to show him that the TV was gone, but he didn’t seem to compute what I was saying, and kept searching for a movie. I let it play out to see what he’d do.
He chose a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD. I was going to wait and see if he would attempt to put it in the invisible DVD player, but he was distracted by having to poop and ran to the bathroom.
The distraction allowed me to make coffee, grab snacks, and head for the front porch. It was a beautiful, cool morning. The first we’ve had since we were in Florida when the official first day of fall hit. Crisp and 63 degrees.
We enjoyed watching people walk by, counted school buses, waved to neighbors leaving for work, and watched the busy squirrels across the street.
Charley woke up, and we made warm bagels and toast and headed back to the front porch with a blanket, which they snuggled under on the porch swing while they ate their breakfast.
They were captivated by a guy speeding down our street on roller skates.
A cool breeze blew and a bunch of leaves fell from the trees in the lot across from our house. Charley excitedly exclaimed, “Gavin! See the leaves falling off the trees?! It’s almost fall!”
They called for the Groundhog we’ve lovingly named Jack who lives under our front porch.
They pointed out airplanes and listened to all the different sounds that different kinds of birds make.
As I sat sipping my coffee, I realized… these are the moments we would have missed.
And we’ve only been awake an hour.
At 9AM, Charley finally acknowledged what no one had yet. I overheard from the other room: “Daddy, where is the TV?” He explained that we decided to put it away for a while.
And that was that.
We took a trip to the grocery together, stopped to pick up a stack of newspapers (where Daddy is on the front page for our business!), and came home and play play played. We rearranged the living room to put the piano (that hasn’t had a plug available to it since we moved in) in the place where the TV was, and I absolutely love it. Charley turned it on right away and began to play.
As the day continues on and my energy runs lower and lower, I pray I’ll draw strength from a place I haven’t seen in a while. I know it’s there.
It might sound silly, and someday I’m sure the TV may come back out, but really, I just want to break the habit. And sometimes cold turkey is the only way to do it. If it’s not there, it’s not an option. So without the crutch of TV, I’ll draw from the deep well of my passion for motherhood, and point my children in a new direction. Give them new ideas and opportunities to explore their world in new ways.
Most of all, I want to encourage and grow what’s already in them – the ability to play, create, and imagine.
Gavin woke from his nap, interrupting what I had been working on for this entry, as well as a few work things I really needed to finish. I tended to his needs, gave him a snack, and asked him to engage in some play so that I could finish up what I was doing.
He proceeded to throw a massive fit, made a mess all over the office, and I got very short with him.
I felt that tug like, “UGH, I would SO turn on the TV right now if I could. Just for a few moments of silence so I can finish what I need to.”
But. I cut my work time short, decided to save what I could for later, helped Gavin clean up the mess he made, and took the kids outside to play.
Our friends were on their way to out house, and the chaos seemed to continue growing. I needed to quickly get myself ready, make dinner, and get everything and everyone ready to leave for an event before our friends arrived. I basically had 30 minutes. I tried to get the kids engaged in playing with their toys downstairs, where it’s a more novel play area, but Gavin wouldn’t leave me alone. I caved. The tablets came out.
I gave them a half hour to watch Paw Patrol, and as soon as I was finished getting ready, I turned them off.
When the doorbell rang, Gavin was actively screaming.
My friend and I took the kids downtown to a festival and to see their daddies working. It was a nice walk there and the kids were great while we walked around. We walked back home and went straight to bed, with no mention of TV ever made.
I was up early with Gavin.
He seemed kind of lost as the day began, wandering over to the piano, where the TV used to be. I asked him if he wanted to play it, but he said no.
I engaged him in making a pot of coffee and breakfast with me, and we headed to the front porch, like Day 1. Because it was Saturday, there were no school busses, and there was a lot less to watch going by, but he snuggled me in the rocking chair, and we sang songs like his favorite – “Wheels On the Bus” and Pat-a-Cake.
When Charley woke up, I asked as I made her breakfast, if she wanted to join us on the front porch. She said no, and asked, “Can we have our TV now?”
Ugh… this addiction might be worse than I thought.
And this transition has been harder than I thought. Especially after the afternoon we had yesterday. But I totally believe it will be worth it in the end.
This morning was rough. Really rough. I am noticing that I get the most frustrated with my kids and wish I had a TV when I’m trying to complete a task. Any task. The kids are constantly underfoot, and it feels like they won’t leave me alone for their never-ending needs. Like… can’t you just PLAY?! Have you forgotten how??
But. I put my tasks aside and got out some art supplies. We began creating a “city” on craft paper nailed to the wall, which kept them busy for quite some time. We then got ready and went to our local town’s Marathon to cheer on the runners and visit their daddy at work. When I arrived I was so drained, I told my husband I just needed a moment. I am usually pretty extroverted but I was already so spent I didn’t want to talk to anyone, not even him.
I took a breather, and then walked the kids down to the finish line. It was such a moving experience. 26.2 miles… man, what triumph of human ability and determination. My heart melted as my kids cheered on complete strangers as the rain sprinkled on our heads.
We just got home and are feeling super refreshed after the hard morning. I’m going to let Charley have a little tablet time while Gavin naps and I tend to some business things.
I’m realizing that without the TV as a crutch, I have been more present to tend to my children’s needs (more likely wants). That sounds silly, or maybe even a bit awful, but what I mean is, instead of distracting them with the TV so they’ll forget about the latest snack they want or what more they can ask me for, I have made myself available to make sure all needs – yes, actually NEEDS – are met, and then I know if they are being extra needy, I can draw a more firm boundary. You’ve have 45 snacks in the last hour and dinner is in a half-hour. I think you can wait.
Instead of TV time before/while I made dinner as was typical, the kids and I had a pillow fight, wrestled on the living room floor, & buried each other with stuffed animals. While I made dinner, Charley quietly played with her toys using her giant imagination. I caught her lovingly combing her new Bo Peep doll’s hair. Gavin was pretty whiny while I cooked dinner (story of my life x the last 2 years), but I engaged with him and he was able to redirect to another task instead of crying to be held.
After dinner, I played the piano for the first time since we moved in this house (3 months!) and the kids danced along. We then switched, and let them play around on the piano while we danced and laughed (I freestyle rapped, lol). It was the perfect way to end the evening.
They didn’t ask for TV one time this whole afternoon.