Mara Spiropoulos, LifeWays student and mother of three children ages 3 and under, shares her family’s experience in deciding to go television-free.
As a stay at home mama to three children under the age of 3 and a half, I have very full hands to say the least. I am on my path to becoming a LifeWays graduate, having begun this leg of my life’s journey back in October and am embarking on my second week of training. Some moments at home with my children, I feel quite “LifeWaysian” –my term, not theirs– and other moments I couldn’t feel farther from it. What I love about the training I have already completed is the beauty and peace that comes when you really understand a child’s development.
One of the greatest lessons I have taken away from LifeWays was also one of my biggest hurdles that I can confidently say I leapt and flew across successfully. Having the educational background in the social sciences and education, I have long known that television is not great for kids. That said, I grew up watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers and didn’t think too badly of it. So I thought it okay for my eldest, Ellia, to watch a bit of television here and there while she was really just a baby. We kept it in moderation so I didn’t feel too bad, it was what all our friends did as well, and the grandparents were quite pleased with it.
Then came the unexpected surprise pregnancy of my son Lincoln who was born only one year and three weeks after his sister. I was now a mom to a 1 year old and a newborn. I was a bit overwhelmed and used television as a way to catch my breath and possibly get something done around the house. But a half hour of television evolved into several hours a day, leaving me feeling guilty due to my awareness of the negative effects of television on young developing minds. I was also beginning to see that turning off the television was becoming a battle and resulted in an angry mom and whiny, clingy, and even more dependent children. I was seeing that my children started needing to “watch” something rather than feeling free to roam and explore the many wonders that abounded them in their homes.
Around this time, I also happened to be introduced to “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. Payne states that neurologists have identified three types of stimuli or interaction that babies need for optimal brain growth: interaction with parents and other humans; they need to manipulate their environment (e.g. touch things, move around, feel different objects); and they need to do problem-solving (e.g. a game of peekaboo teaches children that things go away and return). Simply put, television offers nothing in terms of the interaction babies need for their brains to grow. So, I quietly and cautiously approached my husband and said, “Uhm, I was reading this book and I think, well, maybe we should (ahem – clear throat) get rid of the television.” My husband, who had long been a supporter of getting rid of our television, proceeded to exclaim, “Hell yeah!” and you know the rest of the story.
I was terrified at what would happen in our new tv-free household. I assumed my children would be inconsolable when they asked me to watch something and I had to tell them “no”. I also thought I would never be able to complete housework or make dinner again. This didn’t happen. I’d like to say that my children became perfect little angels who entertained themselves quietly and busily for long periods of time, but this didn’t happen either. What really happened as a result of ditching the tv is creativity. We involve our children in our activities, such as cooking and cleaning, a lot more. We also encourage them to play a bit more on their own, while understanding that they are still quite young and sometimes prefer to be close to mom and dad. We get outside more often. We encourage our children to play independently and sometimes it actually works. We read a lot of books, over and over and over again. Of course we have challenging times too – days it seems when the kids want nothing but to sit on our laps and cuddle. These days are hard for me, for I like to get things done around the house. I do my best to include the kids in daily chores but I still have a bit to work on in terms of “rhythm”. Reminder – I am only at the beginning of my LifeWays training 🙂
Since getting rid of our television, we’ve added another beautiful member to our family, who is now 8 months old. After Adella’s birth, I have to be honest and say we regressed a bit in letting the children watch television via the computer. Now being a mother to three children so close together and still trying to be a wife, my own person, and caretaker of the house seemed too much to handle. Allowing the toddlers to watch a bit of television while I nursed Adella, or got dishes done, or took a shower seemed okay in the moment but left me feeling bad afterward. I knew something had to give. So my husband and I made the decision once again to really not let the children watch any more television. My first week of LifeWays training reinvigorated me to stick to creating this boundary and I no longer even think of it as an option when the kids are whining and I’m in need of a break. Once in awhile, the children watch a short music video or nature-inspired snippet with us but there is no guilt when this happens for we are with them and there are strict limits.
So how is our life now that watching television is not part of our children’s lives? It is crazy, chaotic, wonderful, hard, and beautiful. We are forced to be more creative but we are also aware that boredom is good for children. Being bored requires you to think of something to do. Children need to be bored. Since our kids are still quite young, we help them think of ideas of what else they could do. It also requires us to constantly think about our rhythm for children thrive when they know what will happen next in their lives. We incorporate them in the daily acts of living, such as cleaning and cooking. My husband is amazing with incorporating our children into his chores of doing the dishes or helping with the laundry. The perks of being television-free so outweigh any challenge. It has brought us closer together as a family, and has left my husband and me feeling good about our choices as parents. While I know I’m not quite where I want to be as a mom, I know right where I’m at is exactly where I should be. And here in this moment, life is good.
Mara Spiropoulos is a LifeWays student and mother of three children, ages 3 and under. She lives in Milwaukee, WI with her family. When she is not writing, she loves to spend time reading and researching topics such as natural living and parenting. She also loves getting out into nature to reconnect with the spirit that created her and all living things.
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