Two days ago, I “crossed a Mommy line.”
I had ended the day shouting at my kids (again) because no one had done anything they were supposed to do when they were supposed to do it, and I was sick of nagging, and we’d had a five-car emotional pileup of all our “supposed to do’s” at the end of the day.
I was so mad at everybody, and so mad at myself for shouting (again) that I decided I needed to do something drastic, something I hadn’t done before: I wrote down the “New House Rules” and put them on the wall where the kids could see them every morning when they come downstairs.
I wrote the rules down so they could remember the things they need to do for themselves, so I don’t have to remind them 1000 times, nag them 1000 times, and blow my stack at the end of the day.
The first rule is the big one about screen time. As you may know, about two years ago we got rid of our television cable. It took me about a year to get the courage to actually do it, but I did it because I didn’t like the influence that television for “older kids” was having on my kids, and now that they were no longer tots, I didn’t have so much control over the remote. I didn’t like having companies advertise directly to my children, making them want things that they didn’t even know they wanted. I didn’t like the flashes of sex or commercials they would accidentally see, the ads for “adult medications,” news bytes about “how fat a celebrity is or isn’t”. I didn’t like the fear-mongering on the newscasts, or the undercurrent of misogyny on many programs. I hated all of it, and I had this sick, gnawing feeling that something needed to change – for over a year – before I finally pulled the plug.
When I finally did pull the plug, my husband and I felt such relief, as parents. It felt like we now had some ability to filter out 80% of the crap that was filling their minds. I hadn’t taken everything away – we found Netflix, so they can watch children’s programs and “mindless” stuff like Thundercats or Scooby Doo online, when they needed some downtime. We can watch commercial-free family movies together when we want to.
Fast-forward two years later to today, one of them has an iPod, the other has an iPhone and a MacBook.
I’m having that same gnawing feeling of “uh-oh, this is getting out of control” that I had with TV. I’m not into them playing video games in general, but they’ve downloaded apps so they can play them when we’re waiting in lines, or for doctor’s appointments, or whatever, and the apps have bred and had babies. They’re everywhere, and so is access to Netflix. Somehow the apps and the Netflix shows have crept into our daily lives to an extent that I am extremely uncomfortable with. (I do wonder sometimes: am I secretly Amish??)
When they got the techy gizmos, I didn’t lay down any rules, exactly, because this was new territory for me. So I know that I set myself up for this – and now I need to be the “heavy.” For the last couple of months, since they got all these electronic things, I’ve noticed that they don’t hear me as easily as they used to (why? Because they are staring at a screen, or whining about wanting their iPod.). I’ve noticed it’s more of an uphill battle for me to get us to do the things that are important to us – our daily reading time, practicing music, learning time – because people are whining about getting their paws on these electronics.
It’s basically back to where we were before I pulled the plug on the TV.
How on Earth did that happen?
Sometimes I agree with the Amish: electricity is a kind of evil. I know that’s extreme, but really – they do have a point. They believe that it separates you from your herd. It may connect me as a blogger, or as a mom, when my kids are at school and I am online – but when the family is home – not. Ella, our youngest, is the only one who seems to totally get this concept. One day we were all sitting in the same room and we were all on our various computers – together, but not – and she said: “How can any of us listen to each other if we’re all on computers? Are any of us really even here?”
A mom is (often) the heartbeat of the family, the one who is in the driver’s seat for the family’s well-being, the one who has to navigate the big U-turns when things need to change. So I took a deep breath and decided to (once again) change things.
My number 1 rule: electronics may not be used solely for dumbing down your mind with endless Spongebob episodes, or Horseland. Screens need to be used in moderation, and mostly for learning. No one can use electronics until after they have completed their violin practice, piano practice, and their reading time. Then when they do use electronics, they can be used for “fun” learning – Khan Academy, Spelling City, BBC Dance Pad Typing, Jumpstart Math, and so on.
One of the things I wrote down was that if anyone chooses to break this rule, they will not be allowed to use electronics the following day. They understood the gravity of the consequence immediately – it was as if instantly, I had taken myself out of the role of the Nag. After reading it, they both rushed off to complete their chores - without being asked!
It’s been just two days and the difference in our household is amazing. People have been oddly motivated to do their music practice, and to reach for those books. And yesterday by the time we finally did get around to some time for electronics, we found we were having so much fun reading that we just kept right on…reading.
Score one for the mom!
And I know it’s only been two days but so far I have cut my nag-time by 85%! So yay! Will it last? Hope so!
The rules are their guide; the consequences are their reminders. Mama Nag can just step aside and make room for Nice Mom.
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