Screen Time

One of our bolder and more recent moves on our path toward simplicity has been to remove television from our home. My husband had been pushing to be “tv free” for months but frankly, I wasn’t ready. At the time, I had two small children born only 1 year and 3 weeks apart and television had become my saving grace when I needed to get dinner made or take a much needed shower. But a half hour of television evolved into several hours of television a day, leaving me feeling guilty due to my awareness of the negative effects of television on young developing minds. I was also beginning to see that turning off the television was becoming a battle and resulted in an angry mom and whiny, clingy, and even more dependent children. I was seeing that my children started needing to “watch” something rather than feeling free to roam and explore the many wonders that abounded them in their homes.

During this time, I also happened to be introduced to “Simplicity Parenting” by Kim John Payne. A wonderful, natural mama friend of mine lent me the book, which we have yet to return to her. I started reading snippets and soon after, my husband started reading snippets of this wonderful enlightening book to me. Not too long after this introduction, I found myself begrudgingly reading the part in the book relating to television in the home.  In the book, Kim John Payne is an advocate for removing or, at the very least, heavily limiting “screen time” in your home. He writes, “When you simplify screens, you install valves to stop the all-day, every-day rush of information and stimulation pouring into your home” (p. 168). He continues to discuss how a human being’s brain is the least developed organ at birth and that the majority of its development occurs in the first two years of life.  What a powerful statement and indicator of how important a parent’s job is! Knowing this information made me feel great about being a stay-at-home mom but also very guilty about the amount of tv time my kids were currently having, even if it were allowing me to get all my “stay-at-home mom chores” done. As I kept reading Kim John Payne’s book, he states that neurologists have identified three types of stimuli or interaction that babies need for optimal brain growth: interaction with parents and other humans,; they need to manipulate their environment (e.g. touch things, move around, feel different objects); and they need to do problem-solving (e.g. a game of peekaboo teaches children that things go away and return). Simply put, television offers nothing in terms of the interaction babies need for their brains to grow. So, I quietly and cautiously approached my husband and said, “Uhm, I was reading this book and I think, well, maybe we should (ahem – clear throat) get rid of the television.” My husband then proceeded to exclaim, “Hell yeah!” and you know the rest of the story.

I was terrified at what would happen in our new tv-free household. I assumed my children would be inconsolable when they asked me to watch something and I had to tell them “no”. This may sound weak and petty, but it’s true! I also thought I would never be able to complete housework or make dinner again. This didn’t happen. I’d like to say that my children became perfect little angels who entertained themselves quietly and busily for long periods of time, but this didn’t happen either.  What really happened as a result of ditching the tv is creativity. We involve our children in our activities, such as cooking and cleaning, a lot more. We get outside more often. We encourage our children to play independently and sometimes it actually works. We read a lot of books, over and over and over again. And to be honest, we still watch a few snippets of some favorite shows on the computer (e.g. Wonderpets or Super Why on Youtube.com), but try to limit this to 20 minutes a few times a week. It seems that “watching something” helps our children during tough transitions (e.g. mama and daddy leave the house for a date and the kids need help transitioning to the babysitter). We are not perfect, but we do a much better job of limiting screen time and are happy with the results.

This brings me to my next point, my most recent revelation in my family’s path toward simplicity: the need to sit still and stay home a bit more. Since getting rid of our television, we’ve added another beautiful member to our family. We are now the proud and exhausted parents to 3 children currently under the age of 3! Our youngest is about 7 weeks old and before she came along, the toddlers and I had a pretty busy social calendar. After Adella’s birth, we obviously were forced to sit still a bit more and this was challenging for me. After a few weeks, we started venturing out. This was tough at first but soon we developed a rhythm. Today, after going to a playgroup we visit often and leaving it feeling frustrated and tired, I decided it was time we try to sit still a bit more. I’m the type of person who doesn’t sit still for long. I like to get out and do something: go shopping, take the kids to a park or playgroup, or simply get outside. While this isn’t bad, it does go along with the “all-day, every-day rush” that Kim John Payne mentions in his book. And lately, I’ve been feeling just that: rushed…and stressed and tired. When we do stay home lately, it seems that the kids are less bored staying in than they used to be. They are starting to play more on their own, without constantly needing me. But of course there are days when the kids need me more, when they seem to be at each other constantly, and those are the days I really feel the need to flee.

So what am I getting at, you might be asking by now? I think simplicity for us right now means staying home a few days a week, though not every day. I have been reading various blogs and one I stumbled across the other day suggests staying in and incorporating your children in your daily activities. Allow your children to work with their hands and busy themselves with their own tasks. Think of how good you feel when you accomplish something, when you get to check something off your to do list. What makes us parents think that our children wouldn’t like this too? That they don’t desire to do something with their hands? Allow them to help cook breakfast, to mix the eggs, to grate the cheese, to measure the flour. Have them help load the dishwasher and push the buttons to turn it on. Not only will you all accomplish something together, you’ll also minimize opportunities for screen time.

Tomorrow, we are staying home. I have already decided we are going to make homemade granola bars, which the whole family loves. I am also thinking of having the children help me do laundry, dishes, and sweep. It may seem boring to us parents, but to children it is fun. Not only do they get to do something functional and rewarding with their hands, they get to spend more time with you…which they crave. Piles of laundry turn into mountains kids can climb and or soft beds they can throw themselves on. Doing dishes is a chance to splash and feel the water and bubbles with their cute, chubby hands. Sweeping up the kitchen can be a chance to find out that if you raise up the broom high enough, you can switch on the light switch as my son did the other day. You never know what your children might learn by doing something you find mundane. Yes, the reality is that it takes more time, patience and effort and even redoing on your part…but who among us doesn’t need a dose of patience? I know I do, and that’s why tomorrow, we are taking yet another journey on our path toward simplicity.

 

Here is our granola bar recipe that we adapted from a Waldorf playgroup we once belonged to:

Cinnamon Granola Bars

¼ cup butter, softened

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

2 TBSP ground flaxseed

2 TBSP Honey

2 cups Oats

1 Cup Whole Wheat Flour

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp baking soda

Additional Ingredient Ideas: Raisins, Craisins, Dates (if you used pureed dates, reduce sugar by ½).

– Beat butter and sugar til crumbly. Add egg and beat well; stir in flax and honey. Combine dry ingredients in separate bow and stir into creamed mixture. Add additional ingredients. Press into an 11×7 baking dish coated with oil. Bake at 350 for 14-18 minutes. Enjoy!

 

Our path toward simplicity: the beginning

As my newborn snoozes happily snuggled in her bassinet and my crazy toddlers run around the house, chasing each other and laughing the morning away, I realize we really are on our way toward simplicity. What is a simpler pleasure than the delighted squeals of siblings playing together as they chase each other? I have wanted to start a blog for some time now and it dawned on me the other day that I should write about our journey toward simplicity. I say “toward” for a reason: we may never actually achieve it, but we are definitely on our way toward it! We may not yet have it all figured out, but if we did, what would we have to strive for?

What do I mean by simplicity? Well, let me attempt to explain what I mean by living a simple life. For me, simplicity means having fewer things but gaining more joy and peace. It is less feuding among siblings and more sharing. It means eating locally and seasonally, this one is a work in progress for me. Simplicity is getting out into nature daily to see what God has given us and to allow our souls and hearts to be constantly rejuvenated by his (or her) splendor. It is relying less on modern medicine to cure our ailments and instead being proactive by nourishing our bodies with good foods, holistic remedies, and starting our babies on a good path by having natural home births.  In a nutshell, simplicity for my family means having less “stuff”, but enjoying life more. It means returning to our roots, living life for its pleasure, and focusing on the love we have surrounding us rather than the material objects we are lacking.

Reflecting on our journey, I can see that we started on our path toward simplicity shortly before our first child, our daughter Ellia Wren, was born. We began by researching our birthing options. This led us to the Well-Rounded Maternity Center, one of only 2 birthing centers in Wisconsin, which then led us to our lovely midwife and now friend, Christy. We believe that there is no better beginning for a baby than to be born at home, surrounded only by people who truly love them and the birthing process, naturally and gently. To me, this is the beginning of simplicity. From there, our journey took many turns and will continue to do so. This blog is about just that, our journey, our ups and downs, our trials and errors. I hope you enjoy it.