It’s almost 6p, and I’ve just made myself a cup of coffee. Daddy is sick in bed — it’s been a long day, and it’s probably going to be a long evening. The rice is cooking, but dinner won’t be finished for another hour. Banana peels, magnets, colored pencils, and baby dolls litter the table top, and all our spare blankets and pillows are in a pile on the floor. The boys are alternately wrestling, fighting, and yelling, “You’re a cheater!” Harper is playing the piano and singing her own song. All (minus myself) are shirtless.
And I am reveling in my new-found freedom, because I don’t have to say “no” all the time anymore. And I’m not fighting meaningless battles over screens anymore. And I’m not sitting antsy in the chair, waiting for my kids to choose something “smart” or “educational” anymore.
Instead, we are having fun! We are more connected and peaceful than when we started, and still learning so much. Admittedly, it was a loooong month of screens all day, every day — I waited, anxiously chewing my nails, wondering whether I was ruining my kids or setting us free. I worried that this wouldn’t work and my kids would become addicted to screens. I worried that others would think poorly of our family. I worried that my kids would become zombies, unable to carry on a conversation, losing friends, and hating the park. I wondered if or when that magical moment would happen: that moment when screens would become just another thing for the kids, like toys and books and stuffed animals. I didn’t know that mostly I was waiting for that moment for myself, because once I stopped worrying so much about how the kids were choosing to spend their time, they stopped holding so tightly onto screens and started seeking other activities. I now see what a load of poppy-cock all of my fears were. And I also have come to see so much value in the very activities I borderline hated just a month ago. As it is, I couldn’t imagine going a day without playing Mario with Ezra, or helping Jones solve that clue in that mystery app, or watching Shaun the Sheep with Harper.
This week has really been the turn-around week. Jones asked me to take him to a skate park, has been practicing making soup, and is still full of questions about the earth and how things work within nature. He asked to join a swim team and has waited excitedly for the bus twice a week, surprising me with his responsibility and maturity. Ezra’s kind and compassionate heart has returned, as all this time spent together discussing, playing, and listening to one another has really filled his bucket. He is constantly hugging us, kissing us, and telling us he loves us, which he seemed to have grown out of for a while. He has spent a lot of time this past week tracing pictures from his favorite books with me and has come with me on walks each time I have offered. Harper, again, is the least affected by this change and will grow up with this kind of choice. She has spent the month doing what she usually does, moving from one activity to another, some including screens and some not.
The kicker has been this: I used to use screens to get a break from my kids, and now I’ve stopped trying to find breaks and started diving into doing things together — screens or not. I think the kids are responding less to unlimited screen time, and more to my attention and presence. It has been great fun to join them in the things they are excited about.
It hasn’t all been roses and sunshine — we have one iPad, and three kids, all of whom have distinct ideas about how and when they want to play. There have been fights, and I’m not sure how to handle them, but I am sure that relationships and love should be the centerpieces of our discussions. We don’t have any rules, just principles to live by, and it’s proving to be a time-consuming, yet rewarding way to parent.