TV was my friend as a child. Then it was just me and my mom and when she had to work, I occupied myself watching “I Love Lucy,” “Abbott & Costello” and “The Smurfs.” I studied it in college and got a degree in TV production. I even made my living for several years as a TV producer. Simply, I love TV.
But now as a mother, to TV or not to TV is the question.
The American Pediatric Society recommends absolutely no TV before the age of two. And then limited after that. I struggle with this question less because of that and more because with a certain sect of parents, any desire I have to place my son in front of the television brands me as lazy, destructive, or desperate.
Now, I agree to occasionally being desperate.
There are plenty of times where I just need a break, where dinner needs to be made, or e-mail checked or laundry folded. Often, to make sure I can get it all done, it is helpful to know my son is in one spot, even if that means seated in front of the television.
Sometimes I don’t even have something that needs to be done. Sometimes, I am just wrecked. Sometimes I have been up at the crack of dawn with him or after having driven him from his many therapy appointments, I need to be able close my eyes and know he is safe watching “Dora the Explorer.”
And he loves Dora. Why should I deny him that? Or at least he did. Now he loves “Handy Manny.” He loves Mickey Mouse. He used to love Oswald and Little Bear. He is fickle. But Dora is like an old love that he just can’t shake. He’ll decide he’s done with her. He’s a big boy now. He’s moved on. But then he’ll stumble upon her, on a T-shirt or he’ll see her cousin Diego, who reminds him of her, and he will be drawn back in to her little world. The little minx.
Then he will turn to me and declare that he is Boots and that I am Dora and we will play, ever on the lookout for Swiper. In fact many of the characters he has met on TV now spark his imagination for hours of play. He now “fixes” things around our house with his “Handy Manny” tool set.
I get a kick out of seeing him discover these characters, some of whom were my friends as a child, like Donald Duck. And now when he calls Donald Duck on the phone, he laughs and squeals thinking he has his direct number, like I did as a child. (Donald Duck is in fact my Uncle David, but don’t tell my son.)
But despite being thrilled by how thrilled he is by it all, there is still this voice in my head, the “you are being a bad mother” voice.
It is a balance. Don’t get me wrong, the TV is not always on. Far from it. But on the days when I am sick, or he is sick, the TV is on far more than I am comfortable with and I do my best to forgive myself this transgression. Other times I know that I am being lazy. But a lot is asked of my son. He gets stretched, prodded and tested quite often due to all of his therapies. It is nice to give him a little treat. And to be quite honest, a lot is asked of me. It is my break too.
I spoke to a friend of mine who is an early intervention specialist and she assured me these warnings about TV were for those who plop their charges in front of it for the day. I know I do not do that. I remind myself of that. But when I hear other moms who declare they do not watch TV, I feel in that statement they are judging all mothers who do let their children watch, like this sitcom actress I saw interviewed who said there were many other interesting things her child could be doing instead of watching TV. Now when I see her at the Farmers’ Market on Main Street every now and then I want to scream at her, “Didn’t you make much of your fantastic living off of TV?”
I know I watch too much TV and perhaps that is because it was one of my first loves from childhood, but I think it is fine to have a little TV in your child’s life. In fact I think it is more than fine. We as mothers have enough pressure to get it all done, let alone get it all right.
But I do have my limits. I heard him calling once in the middle of the night. I went to his room to soothe him, but he was not there. I soon found him sitting in the dark on our couch in the living room pointing and asking for TV. And I tried to keep from laughing as he sat there looking so wide-eyed ready for his favorite show. And I calmly said, “No.” and led him back to bed, because in my house sleep trumps TV.
Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can be reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.