Ah, TV. One of the most divisive of gadgets. There are some - like my husband - who consider it pretty much the best invention ever. Then there are some - like me - who rarely if ever watch it, have no interest in it, and find it generally rather soul-sapping.
Apart from Autumnwatch and the Jurassic Park franchise, obvs.
When we had Cherry both Noel and I agreed that we would limit her exposure to TV and screens. Over time we did allow periods of more TV, and there were naturally periods of less. Neither Cherry nor Violet have ever watched TV on a daily basis. That said, the good old box was beginning to creep into our days together more and more.
Being at home with a two-year-old and a three-year-old is HARD. I love it, but it's so hard that some days I want to weep and other days I feel I'd sell my soul for an uninterrupted five minutes to do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, just sit and stare into space without wiping up liquid or answering a question.
Enter the TV. More and more I was flicking it on just to give myself some space, and more and more I felt deeply uncomfortable with this. It felt like an Elastoplast solution to a problem that needed addressing on a much deeper level - the issue of how we spend our days coexisting as a family where all of our needs are respected and met.
But the final straw really was Cherry's pestering. She is persistent and the more I was using TV to divert her, the more she wanted it. It got to the point where she would begin asking for TV the moment she woke up.
Cherry wakes up at 5.30am.
Cherry is just a child who needs definite and clear limits and I am not always capable of setting definite and clear limits at 5.30am. Certainly I was not willing to rule out TV at 5.30am without knowing what the day held - if it rained nonstop all day and they fought tooth and nail I'd be begging for CBeebies by 10am.
So her requests for TV, when met with a 'not now', would inevitably give way to 'when can I have TV?' And so on. A simple 'later' would not suffice. 'When later? When EXACTLY later? Is now later? Now?'
And if I did set a limit, such as 'you can have TV after lunch,' she would begin instantly to pester for lunch.
And so on until by 11am I had said no to the poor child about 100 times, we were both grumpy and frustrated, and I reached for the remote control purely to stop my head exploding.
With an all-or-nothing child like Cherry solutions tend to be all-or-nothing too. She understands 'no'. She doesn't like it, but she gets it. Once the 'no' has been accepted and mourned, we are all free to move on.
She cannot, however, tolerate ambivalence. If there's a fraction of a possibility of a 'yes' - a noncommittal 'hmm', for example, or a 'we'll see' or 'I'll decide later,' she is absolutely unstoppable. Such is the gift of a strong-willed, spirited, persistent child. It's lucky I've never been massively keen on distraction as a parenting technique, because Cherry simply cannot and will not be distracted.
So Noel and I had a straight choice, we either allow unlimited access to TV in the hope that the novelty wore off and it became just a regular part of our day as opposed to The Main Event, or we got rid of the TV altogether. After a short discussion we went for the latter.
I genuinely want to create a 'yes' environment for my children. Particularly given Cherry's strong personality, but also because I want to raise my children with trust, autonomy and respect not control, force and bribery. For this reason unlimited TV did appeal momentarily. But at the end of the day the whole product of TV is designed to be addictive. Everything about TV encourages more TV. At just turned two and not yet four, I do not consider my children's judgement soundly formed enough to understand sophisticated adult marketing techniques. And I do tend to find the research around children and TV exposure convincing enough for me not to want my children watching much, if any, TV at this precious age.
The final push actually came from Cherry and Violet themselves. After watching TV I found both of them more aggressive and hyper and the more TV they watched the less they seemed able or willing to entertain themselves or each other. Rather than calm them down and relax them, TV seemed to actively overstimulate them. Neither really sat still to watch, Violet would potter around the room and Cherry would squirm on the sofa or do headstands.
Their body language told me that TV was not a good idea. Both children are more than capable of sitting and concentrating, and will snuggle in and sit through story after story when I read to them. The restless climbing and squirming TV provoked just cemented my conviction that for now, TV is not for our family.
We have kept our little DVD player and a small number of DVDs. Currently the only movie they will actually sit through is Frozen, so on Fridays we have a 'movie night' with popcorn and chocolates and we all sit and watch Frozen. Cherry and Violet look forward to their movie pretty much all week, and making it an occasion feels special and exciting. At some point I am hoping they will show an interest in another movie but for now, we are all enjoying weekly doses of Let It Go and regular, in fact incessant, questions about Elsa's hair.
Three weeks into our TV-free regime and I can honestly say that yes I desperately miss it, but that I do not regret it. The reason I miss it is that I have given up the only thing that really distracted them, so I now spend even more time with my children, helping them find things to do, and this can actually be the hardest part of stay-at-home parenting. When you are with your children all day every day making the decision to consciously spend more time with the feels exhausting and quite counterintuitive. But actually I am convinced it's the best decision for our family. Even if it is taking quite a bit of getting used to!