Tuesday, February 28, 2017

My journey to creating intentional tv habits for our family

Have you ever wanted to make your media habits more intentional? Here's my story and the things I have pondered as I've tried to steward well this precious resource (the television) we've been given. See if the questions I asked myself might help you discover what it is you want to do with your family.

This post is not meant to induce guilt or put one family's media habits above another's. I'm simply sharing it here to help you think about the habits you have in your own family. Because it's my story, it includes specific habits I like or am drawn to. You have a different background, different preferences, and different needs. If you so desire, prayer can help you figure out the best media habits for your family. This post is only meant to be a catalyst to you discovering what those habits might be.

I posted this video on my Facebook page yesterday. It's just kind of a recap of some of the questions I asked myself in this post to get yourself thinking about what you want your habits to be.

My history of tv watching

As I started my quest for intentional media habits, I looked back through my history to uncover why I have the media preferences I do, what we've done in the past, what I've liked or what didn't work. These are my answers, but think of your own while you read through mine. I highly recommend reflecting on your tv-watching history to help you discover what habits you want to have today.

Growing up
Growing up, we didn't have tv programming in our home. We did, however watch TONS of movies. Every Friday my dad would rent tons and tons of videos (oh the good old days!) from the library and we would be "stocked up" for the week. Most weekends, our family would watch a movie together (or even a few movies together, if we watched on both Friday and Saturday) while we ate cheap frozen pizzas and treats. I didn't realize until I was a much older, but those weekends are cherished memories to me now. 

For whatever reason, the part of our media habits that I really latched on to and took with me when I left home was the idea of no tv programming. I guess I just really enjoyed that part of my growing up, and it was something I wanted to make sure was a part of my own family's culture. I was so attached to the idea that it was on the short list of things I was looking for in a spouse, "okay with no tv programming." Although Ben didn't grow up the way I did, he saw tv as a time waster and was on board with me. Win!

Our habits as a married couple
When we got married, we never actually got around to buying a tv. Ben had a projector he had bought in his single days and we pulled it out whenever we had a big group, and also by that point in time "cord cutting" was becoming a thing, a lot of stuff was available online, and so we used our laptop whenever we wanted to watch something. Also, my husband is a dairy boy at heart and CANNOT stay awake past 9pm to save his life-- his eyes immediately close when you turn something on in the evening ;). So "watching a show together" in the evening has never been a normal/bonding part of our relationship.

My motherhood journey with tv habits
Once I had my first baby, Cheyenne, the "no screen time for kids under 2" was standard advice from the pediatrician. On top of that, a mother I really respected and admired had very strict television habits at her house. Anyway, so I became a little fanatical about the no tv thing, and while my kids did watch stuff, I always felt SO guilty. I had a theory about how I wanted our media habits to be, but it didn't mesh with our current needs. 

Last year I got to a point where all of my kids were above 2 ;), I was pregnant, and I finally decided I would be okay with having the tv as part of the routine of our week because I was so worn out. None of my kids took naps anymore, and I really needed the break.

But now that we've been in this routine for the last two years, I've been feeling a pull like this is a place where I could be a better steward of the tv, this resource we've been given. Do you ever get those little nudges? Something nagging you in the back of your mind, "this needs to change"? Last week I finally sat down and reflected on our media habits and I realized having my kids "watch tv for two afternoons a week" that had once been intended as a lifesaver had morphed into something different. I realized that our media habits had become less meaningful and intentional and more of just "this is what we do."

It's caused me to reflect a lot on why we had the habits we do, and what purposes they were serving. I also found in my pondering that there were plenty of good things about media that I hadn't considered before.

Why structure your family's tv habits?

As a mother, you get to decide the culture of your home. I honestly believe that. The mother is more than just "the one in charge of the kids" or "the one who kisses all the boo-boos and makes all the birthday cakes"-- she can completely shape what is "normal" at your house. She gets to decide what the house looks like. She gets to decide what the house feels like. I'm not poo-pooing dads, but I think sometimes as women we don't realize the real, true influence we have on our husband and children. Sometimes we need to be in "crisis mode" and not much of what we do is intentional-- I totally get it. But then after the crisis is over, we don't always take the time to reevaluate. As mothers we can be home-makers, and not simply the kind, caring, birthday-cake-making female version of the parent duo. It's your real gift as a mother to create a place your kids and husband want to come home to. You don't have to "do what everybody else" in the world does at your house. What you do as a family when no one else is around, your family's "normal," can be whatever you want it to be.

Because of that, I invite you to think through the current habits you've created, you've made normal in your house. Are they the habits you really want to have? Are you in "crisis mode" because you need it? Do they take into consideration your needs as a mother or other extenuating circumstances? Do they create meaning or bring your family closer together?

Questions to guide your habit creation decisions

I've pondered these questions for myself, and I've been trying to explore just what it is I want our media habits to be, how they've come to be, and why we do what we do. I've written down some of the things I've discovered and shared it here in case you've been meaning to reevaluate your media habits as well. These are my answers, but hopefully they will inspire you to think about what your answers would be, and help you decide if your family's current media habits are serving you the way you want them to.

1. What is it that I don't like about the tv?
  • You are the sum of the five people you spend the most time with. Have you ever heard that? I think it totally applies to the tv. As someone who creates content, I understand that there is a person behind anything you read or view. That person or people get to decide what to highlight, what to show next, what is important. Have you ever thought about that? You are totally captive when you decide to watch something, at the mercy of whatever group of people created that content. And because I am a thinker, I'll be thinking about whatever it is I'm watching for a lot longer, even after I turn it off. In my personal life, I like to surround myself with people and ideas that are uplifting and inspiring and I feel like that's hard to find in our current media climate.
  • TV can be a second teacher to your kids. That can be good and bad. I try really hard to teach my kids to respect others, to love their brothers and sisters, to not whine, to have high standards, to be selfless. With a lot of the media today I feel like I'd be shooting myself in the foot, teaching them the exact opposite of what I want them to learn, if they watched that stuff. It just makes me feel more at ease knowing I don't have to constantly combat or retrain them because of something they watched on a screen in my very own home. 
  • Watching tv is a very passive activity. Life is meant to be lived, isn't it? They'll spend plenty of time in front of the tv when they're 80 and they can no longer run, jump, lay on the floor, wrestle with siblings, roll down a hill, or bend down and pick up a toy ;). They should use their youth while they have it! Anybody can watch a tv ;). 
  • There's only so many years your children will all be under one roof! While you certainly can make memories while watching tv, that's only one memory. Give the kids the gift of each other: give them experiences that will help them interact with, grow closer to, and connect with the other people in their house, the most important people in their life. 
  • If watching tv is your default choice, you're less likely to think of creative ways to spend your time/connect with each other/make memories
  • My kids are cranky/mean when they watch too much tv.

2. What are the positives to watching tv?
  • If it's part of a tradition, it can be really memorable for your kids and bonding. We've ended up having family movie nights the last few Fridays, and it's been really fun for the kids. They really look forward to the popcorn, getting out the projector and just having something "special" at home to look forward to.
  • You need downtime, and you're going to take it anyway. Because we don't watch a lot of tv (especially as a whole family), Ben and I usually take our "downtime" on our phones while the kids do whatever. TV can unite you to one common purpose, one common experience.
  • The types of media you watch together can define your family. While I was visiting my sister, we burst into song singing some of our favorite "show tunes" from musicals we watched as kids. Because we watched so many musicals growing up, my siblings and I know hundreds of songs. We all came to love the arts. Media can unite you and define you and for more than just an evening.
  • It can be very educational, fun, funny, or inspiring. 
  • It's the only activity where I don't have to be a parent. The kids do play together without me, but there's no guarantee how long that will last, or how long before they come up crying because of a stolen toy or something. TV is the least likely culprit for me to have to intervene or "parent," and therefore the best break I can get. It's really important for parents to have breaks to improve their mood, get them energized to get back in the parenting game, and give them a chance to reflect and ponder on the problems/issues with their children, or simply spend time focusing on something that isn't goldfish crackers. At least in my experience, I've only been able to find such time when my kids are watching tv without me.

3. How did I recognize we needed to make a change?
  • I originally started our latest habits when my kids were home all day and I was pregnant. We are not in that circumstance anymore, but I haven't adjusted or reevaluated our habits for our latest circumstances.
  • I realized my kids were watching too much tv when I connected that I was bored and lonely on those two specific afternoons each week. If I have too much time to think about myself... I'm not doing an adequate job at the task that's been given me by God (at least in this specific instance in my life. I've found I'm happiest when I view motherhood as servanthood). I absolutely believe parents need breaks (as I mentioned above), but I believe part of the reason negative emotions have entered into my mind is because I've been too focused on myself.
  • I truly believe balance is a gift from God, and He's been trying to tell me what habits I need to change in order to have the balance He wishes to give me. I've been feeling this pull to write a post about media, and as I tried to write it I realized we needed to make some changes in our current habits. A happy accident (although probably intentional on God's part! ;)).

4. What do I want our habits to be, going forward?
  • Pondering these questions helped me realize that I'm not capitalizing on the good things media can do. Going forward, I want to find more media we can watch together as a family, and carefully pick what it is we watch that might unite our family for many more years.
  • I also realized that the afternoon tv watching sessions might have been too long, and I need to scale back. I've been neglecting spending some quality time with my kids. I was getting a break from my kids, but it was more of a break than I really needed. That's where the negative bored/lonely emotions were coming from (I'm not saying this is the cure for everyone, but this is part of the answer for me).
  • I'm not going to lie, scaling back on tv watching means a TON of work for the mom! More preparation, more planning, more deliberate activities... but those kids are worth it don't you think? They deserve to have a mom who tries, even if I DO fail a lot. Plus, with praying to Heavenly Father for help, I know He delivers even when I'm a mess. It's less important if your new habits are your "forever" habits, and more important to try to do something that is meaningful and worth it to you, and to pick yourself up and try again when you fail.

Did you think of any more good questions? Did you have additional responses for the positives or negatives? I'd love to hear!

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