For April 2018, we are hosting a whole series about Intentionally Cultivating Your Family Culture. Check out Episode 38: Every Screen Tells a Story with Christie Thomas and members of the Kindred Mom team, and check back to read more essays in the series as the month unfolds. If you missed it, check out our completed March series on Becoming a Resilient Mom!
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Today, like most days, my kids have been tugging at my clothes and talking nonstop over each other and me. When I’m trying to write out what needs to be done in my planner, my oldest comes to get my attention by bumping my right elbow, sending an errant swoop of ink across the page. When I get on my laptop to type, my toddler boy thinks it’s super fun to push whatever buttons he can reach. We muscle through the day: meals, school, play, clean-up, and there’s constant noise, bickering, touching. It’s mom-life, and I love it, but my brain needs a break in the worst way.
Blessedly, for a few hours each day, my youngest two still sleep. I‘ve gone through various seasons, trying to decide what to do with the bigger two girls during those precious hours. We’ve tried doing schoolwork—it’s a quiet time to teach them. I’d love for it to be reading time, but the big two aren’t quite ready to read independently. The older one is close, but it’s still laborious. I send them outside for a while, but it’s cold—twelve degrees below zero today—and, though my babies are Alaskans, outside time doesn’t last long at these temps.
I know the official American Association of Pediatrics recommendation for maximum screen time. I’ve heard arguments about how bad it is for development, and I’ve seen the effects in my kids’ attitudes. When my first and second were small, I dreamed they wouldn’t see any screens until the age of five, except for high-quality entertainment on family movie nights where we’d make memories over homemade kettle corn. In reality, in this season I’ve intentionally chosen to turn nap time into screen time for my older girls. With screen time included, the afternoons have become a chance for me to rest and be kind to myself. Would it be nice if I sat with them and played educational games? Obviously. Is this ideal school time I’m giving up? Absolutely. But right now, this is where I can find a few minutes of space in an otherwise chaotic day to rest my tired, highly sensitive, introverted self. I’m willing to give them more screen time than I prefer in trade for a more present and healthy mama for the rest of the day.
It’s so easy for me to feel defensive about this. I’ve walked around with a chip on my shoulder, daring anyone to question my screen time rhythms. This defiant attitude didn’t come from confidence, but the fear I’m doing it all wrong. The honest truth is I’m doing the best I can. A season of screen time doesn’t make me a bad mom or a neglectful mom or even a less-than-ideal mom for my babies. These labels simply aren’t fair and don’t reflect the love and time I pour into these little people.
My use of screens allows me rest and margin so I can be kind to my family and show up more fully during the rest of the day, so it deserves a place in my schedule. I carry so much shame and guilt when I use electronics as a babysitter, but when I consider them tools, like a hammer or a whisk, they lose the power to shame me. Tools can be used for good or harm, but they don’t, on their own, imply anything about the value of me or my parenting. I’m giving myself the freedom to use them—or not—however best serves my family.
I’m trying to remember this is only a season. I can see change coming. It’s still cold here, but it won’t be for long. My girls will be biking through puddles in the cul-de-sac across the street before I know it. Jenna is so close to being able to read, and Katherine is too competitive to let her sister read for long without her. By the time next winter comes, I suspect they may both bury their noses in books the way they sort of melt into the tv now. Then Brian and Lilly won’t nap forever, and we’ll have to find different rhythms, times, and ways to make quiet happen. But on this chilly afternoon, when they tumble back into the house and strip off their snow gear, they’re watching something produced by PBS.
Robin Chapman is a full-time imperfect Jesus lover, wife, and homeschooling mama to four babies, ages one to seven. When she isn’t buried in children or hiding from them, she enjoys reading, photography, and sharing stories on her blog, where she’d love to connect with you! You can also find her on Facebook or Instagram… or perhaps holed up in her bathroom with some coffee.
Check out the most recent episode of the Kindred Mom podcast, Episode 38: Every Screen Tells a Story!