This is What Happened
I’m not into social scientific experiments. I’m not one of those mothers that thinks it’s a good idea to use her family as guinea pigs and withhold sugar for a year then map out behavioural progress and tell all her friends how it changed their lives. I’m not a sanctomum who believes that things were better a hundred years ago when children spent their days outside from dawn until dusk and read books instead of playing on the Wii. Seriously, give me a donut and Netflix any day and I’m happy… or even better give them both to my kids and give me a few hours of blissful silence. Shit food and the goggle box have saved my sanity on more occasions than I can count.
So my month of no TV or internet was NOT something I planned. It was not the sadistic self-inflicted actions of a bored mother who wanted something mildly interesting to blog about.
No. It was an accident that happened during the summer holidays, while alone with two kids all day, and it was an eye-opener. This is how it went…
We’re moving house! Actually we are moving countries, so life is busy but exciting. While my husband is at work and the school holidays are only halfway through, it’s just me and the kids all day, exploring and discovering new things – no-one has thought about TV yet. Between IKEA trips and doing up the house the kids are too busy getting their bedroom pretty to care about movies or their favourite TV programmes. And I don’t really need their silence yet as I haven’t gone back to work either. A new country feels like a holiday… and who watches TV on holiday?
Disaster! The TV company is unable to hook up cable TV or internet for three weeks! The novelty of making the house nice and checking out the local parks has worn off, it’s raining outside and I have no friends and family in the same country to keep my kids occupied. They are beginning to get whiny and driving me mad. Then I have an epiphany – I can play DVDs on my laptop! I have work to get on with and it will buy me an hour and a half of silence. Oh, except if the children are on my laptop then how will I write? And if I have no internet, how will I work? So off we go to the library, me on the internet and the kids playing. Being without friends in a foreign country has actually made my two girls closer. At 5 and 7 they are pretty good friends anyway, but now that they don’t have TV programmes to squabble over or ignore each other with they are actually playing.
It’s a revelation. No-one cares about TV or tablets. The girls have got into a new routine of playing the same games with the same dolls for hours on end. Hours! They are sticking together, working as a team, using their imagination. I’m actually getting the space to get the house in order and catch up with some work, and I have a new mobile phone so I have 4G. My mobile is my only lifeline to the outside world, I NEED Facebook, the kids don’t. As far as they are concerned there is no YouTube or games on my phone… they continue to play in blissful ignorance. As for hubby and me, we get into our own routine of watching a DVD on my laptop in bed each evening. We rarely get through an entire film as we’re so shattered, but us adults are not completely without screen time. We need to unwind.
My children have made a TV out of a cardboard box for their teddies to watch but their dolly games are beginning to bore them now. They are starting to get whiny again. If I had TV or internet I’d have put them in front of the box with some popcorn but instead I’m drinking more wine to keep me sane. We spend a fortune going to the cinema twice in one week, just for something to do. It’s all very well saying ‘do arts and crafts’ or ‘go out for the day’ but in four weeks I’ve done it all and more and I have work to do. With a lack of friends and family to rely on in a foreign country, sometimes TV is a godsend to give you an hour or two of peace. Plus hubby and I have run out of DVDs to watch at night. No it doesn’t lead to more sex or deep discussions, we’re just going to bed earlier. I’m missing TV more than the kids are.
TV and Internet have arrived!! It’s all in Dutch, so the next day we get Netflix and don’t look back. Unfortunately the girls stop playing their dolly game and start to argue more as now they want to watch different things. I put Netflix on their tablets but they still insist on sitting on top of one another on the big sofa and winding each other up. But OH! the family sofa cuddles and OH! the silence, and the keeping still, and the more interesting evenings.
Sadly, once the kids are in bed my husband and I spend even less time together as we can’t decide what to watch on TV and one of us always ends up not liking what the other has chosen – and the internet doesn’t reach the bedroom so we can’t watch anything on our tablets in there either. I’ve realised it’s not the TV that kills the family… it’s too much choice.
So my conclusion?
I love TV and I love the internet… but actually, I think we all benefited from being limited of options. I liked the fact that my kids had no choice but to play with their toys or draw a picture as that was all there was. And that I was forced to go to bed early with my husband or catch up with work in the evenings. Every moment felt productive – watching TV doesn’t achieve anything, but using your imagination, being resourceful and connecting with others does.
Except – TV let’s you wind down.
My daughters are still not old enough to lose themselves in a good book or sit for hours chatting. Now they are back at school I think that the TV and internet is actually helping them, because they get to zone out for an hour or so. And that’s not a bad thing. Then at the weekend we go back to being a family again and getting out of the house.
The best thing about our unfortunate experiment is that I now know that when we have to be anywhere that is TV or internet free (out to dinner, on a plane, in the house of a relative) my children can improvise, entertain themselves and enjoy each other’s company. As much as I love the space that TV grants me when it’s babysitting my children, the fact that my girls play together and use their imagination is more valuable than anything else in this world.
So a month of TV wasn’t so bad after all… just don’t make me do it again!