Those close to me know I have never limited screen time with my kids—in fact, I'd likely have rolled my eyes at the suggestion of cutting back.
My daughter loves Mickey Mouse. She has learned every episode by heart. She's not even 3 years old yet and she can pick out a Clubhouse episode on the DVR by name (I swear she can read sometimes.) I saw so many benefits to kids television shows. I mean hey, they've come a long way since we were little.
She will sing along, count numbers, and help Dora find her way. Never once did I chalk up behavioral blips to screen time. But in the back of my heart, I knew. I would hide the Amazon Fire Tablet. Avoid eye contact with the DVD player in the car. Subconsciously I've been safeguarding spaces.
Last year we needed to go from Atlanta to Miami by car. We packed DVDs for the car just in case and had the tablet ready to go; backup battery and all. But heading to the car, I told my husband not to hand the 'book'—as we call it—until necessary. "Once it's in play... it's in play." I was worried about her eyes being locked on a screen in a moving car for so long.
We didn't hand it over until nearly eight hours in, 30 minutes from our stop to see grandparents in Tampa. We never plugged in one DVD. She was having plenty of fun looking out the window, taking naps and singing songs to us.
Because of the nature of the trip, and Thanksgiving being in there, we barely even turned on a TV. She was behaving like a champion but I still didn't connect the dots. "She's getting so much attention. She's thrilled!"
Then one Wednesday morning, a few days after we arrived back home, she was watching her shows and not listening. Lost in my frustration, I blurted out "No TV for the rest of the week!" She sobbed.
I wasn't sure where it came from. I wasn't even sure she understood what that meant.
I texted my husband. "No TV through Friday." "Ok," he replied. Probably confused and worried about how his early morning coffee time would pan out without a screen.
Over the next several days, something magical happened. Our daughter started to play much more than she ever had before. She played dress up and sang songs into her microphone. She pretended to cook in her little kitchen, and acted out stories with her dolls. She was also being noticeably kinder to her baby sister.
Sure, she asked to watch some things, but only once a day. Sometimes she would cry a little. Sometimes she would just accept the fact that I said "not today." Naps even resurfaced. Bedtime had never been easier.
My mind was blown.
All of this time, the fights, the melt downs, the whining, had been linked to her screen time. A thousand people could have said that to me. A thousand people could have sent me YouTube links about the importance of letting go of screen time. I wouldn't have believed it was such a quick fix. I probably still wouldn't have wanted to turn the TV off.
But, it not only changed my daughter—it also changed me as a mother.
When I stopped depending on the television for her entertainment, I was able to get more done in less time. I wasn't waiting for an episode to finish before we could leave the house. I wasn't fighting to turn off the shows so we could sit down for dinner. All that time negotiating episodes was spent coloring together instead. I became more enthralled by her childish play. She even started talking to me more.
Motherhood can look easy. But it's exhausting and down right hard. In my mind, Mickey was my liferaft to keeping things together. I needed the TV to babysit when I wanted to wash dishes or get ready for the day. But those things were actually easier once I clicked power off.
Sometimes the things we things are the quick fixes are actually what are holding us down.
I'm still figuring out exactly where we fit in the managing screen time world. I love her knowing the characters like friends, and having a Minnie Mouse birthday cake. I love how she dances along to the hot dog song—nothing is cuter. But nothing compares to seeing her imagination come alive when she's not relying on a screen.