Wisdom Wednesday


No Background TV Allowed? Pshhhh! (…well, sort of)

I read this article on Monday by Catherine Pearson of HuffPost Parents entitled “Children’s TV Exposure Reaches ‘Startling’ Levels, Study Finds” and expected more of what I had already read in various parenting, education, and child psychology books: Too much television isn’t good for kids. Why? Well, it’s really more about what it takes the place of (quality one-on-one time with a caregiver) than what it provides (singing pets rescuing “an animal in trouble” is common in this household, or the omnipresent and ever-so-DULL talking trains). I completely agree that when the television is on in the background, the kind of interactions I have with my kids change. However, I will not for one second get on a high horse and assert that my kids watch zero television. That would be a lie. I sometimes need to do things like cook dinner, put away groceries, or even pee, and I will resort to a kid-friendly show. Pre-children I would have scolded myself. “Cook with the kids!” I’d say, wagging my finger. “They learn so much from that experience!” Well, I do cook with my kids sometimes, but other times I just want to get dinner on the table and not have anything spilled. The reality is…sometimes my kids watch TV, and I’ve made peace with this.

However, I take major issue with one part of this article. This line, from Dr. Rich, an associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, really fired me up:

“‘If you look at breastfeeding, for example, it’s not just nutrition, but also the intense bonding that is really, really important,’ Rich said. ‘If a mom is watching ‘Oprah,’ she’s not looking at her kid.'”

Back up. Has Dr. Rich ever nursed a newborn on demand? Has he sat on the couch, alone, day in and day out, with a screaming, red-faced nursing baby, for hours on end? I’m going to guess no. See, I can understand the importance of limiting both direct and ambient television with older babies and up, but I refuse to feel guilty for watching endless re-runs of “My So-Called Life” and “Friends” while nursing my newborns. Would it have been better if I stared lovingly at their little faces the whole time? Perhaps for them, maybe, but not for me. At what point does the mental health benefit of the mother getting a break outweigh any minor damage done by a little “Sleepless in Seattle” in the background while I nurse the baby for the 12th time in one 24 hour period?

When my sons were young and exclusively nursing, I multitasked like a…mother. (Minor pun intended.) I completed a master’s while raising a toddler and a newborn. I used nursing as my time to watch videos for class, read research articles, and write the seemingly endless stream of papers for my courses. Are my sons permanently harmed by repressed memories and/or decreased synapses from me staring into the screen of my MacBook while typing with one hand? I sure hope not.

So while I would encourage parents to consider turning off the tube more often, I’d also say so with the wry grin of a tired mom of a toddler and preschooler and add, “…but do NOT feel guilty for folding laundry alone sometimes and letting ‘The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’ work its ever-loving magic while you do so, or for surfing Netflix while you pull out that Boppy for the millionth time in the dark.”

Adorable. How could I have not wanted to stare at this face 100% of the time? Sometimes, though, you just want to watch The Daily Show…

24 comments on “Wisdom Wednesday”

  1. omg, I read a line like that before ~ that we should be paying attention to our babies every time they nurse and thought “give me a f*cking break!” Things like that are obviously written by someone other than mothers!

    1. Yes! Babies and nursing are both wonderful, but it’s really easy to feel like you’ve lost yourself if that’s your whole world…you need something for yourself!

  2. Seriously, the thought crossed my mind that if I ever want to watch adult TV shows again, I am going to need to have an infant to nurse – it was the last time that I really was caught up on any seasons. I believe in limiting screen time for kids, and I also believe in using TV time as an opportunity to get stuff done or just veg out with the kiddos. But the way that I remember it, when my son was a newborn and nursing, his eyes were closed and he was either waking up or falling asleep most of the time. It was during those “quiet alert” periods, not during nursing, that he needed attention and when I could really bond and interact with him.

    1. Yes! And I agree on the vegging out with the kids. We do a Friday night family “movie night” with special snacks and all watch something together (well, kind of watch something while wrangling a toddler and preschooler…) The only adult TV shows I get are if and when I can keep my eyes open past 8pm hahahah…

  3. Ha! Not doing anything else while breastfeeding would have been TORTURE in the early months – seriously, I read so many books and caught up on many shows while nursing my little guy – he’s super cute, but mama’s need some treats too!

    1. My worst nightmare was always when I’d sit down to nurse for the millionth time and realize there was no book/magazine/remote anywhere near me. I loved staring at my babies, but I don’t think it’s possible to realize exactly how much time nursing takes in the early months unless you’ve gone through it. I know I had nooooo idea how much time I’d spend on that…

  4. Sarah- i agree with you on many levels. While i did not nurse to the Golden Girls, I walked Jake around the house strapped in the Baby Bjorn with the Golden Girls. It was more for my sanity than anything else. I could walk from room too room doing the laundry, cleaning the bottles, and a whole host of other menial tasks while at the same time providing a comfy and warm place for Jake to hang out, and helping me pass the time were my extensive collection of Golden Girls DVDs. Sure, i could have shut off the TV and babbled on to Jake and the cats while my husband was at work, but the first three months I was home on maternity leave with just myself, Jake, and our 2 cats, it was exhausting and mentally throwing me for a curve as a new mom to a tiny tiny baby. The Golden Girls got a laugh (or 10) out of me each half hour, and i would bounce and sing “Thank you for being a friend” to Jake every time a new show would start. So yes, a sane and happy mom is a good mom. And if background TV noise helps get you there, then put in another GG disc, and hit “play all”!!

    1. I don’t know how people could possible breastfeed a newborn without something to pass the time. There were days and weeks where that felt like the only thing I did!!

  5. Right on sister! Thanks for discussing this. There’s no way I could’ve maintained my sanity while nursing a baby every.two.hours without reruns of the Golden Girls and Who’s the Boss? And thank God for MMCH and Fresh Beats for allowing me to cook dinner and get dressed in the morning.

    1. Oh my gosh I know!! And thank you for reminding me of Who’s The Boss…I’d totally forgotten about that!! I don’t know how anyone could nurse and do nothing else. I would LOSE it.

  6. Agree with you 100%. I can understand not having the TV on 24/7 and placing your child in front of it. But now and then just so you can get something done or keep your sanity, not a problem. My parents were big news watchers, always had it on while cooking or cleaning the house (my mom hated to have it quite at all times in the house) and I am the same. If anything the kids learn from it. Yes, everything is not appropriate for children but those get turned off, but things that are can really teach them something and even can be used as conversation piece with your child. And a child TV show now and then can also teach them things. I have seen that with my own daughter. Many times she will ask about something she saw and learn from there.
    And I can say we are big fans of the DVD player in the car for long car rides (not short ones). I know my daughter can get antsy after being in a car for over an hr or two and sometimes that leads to crying/fits/etc. We find the DVD playing not only keeps her entertained but also can make the ride safer because a screaming child in the back distracts you from driving.

    1. Yes- I am with you on the long trips. In the car (if it’s an out of state ONLY never around town) or certainly on the plane we will pack my ipod with some Sesame Street to keep them happy and preserve the peace for others around us 🙂

  7. AMEN! What she said…Sometimes you are a better mom if you have your own mental health well being taken care of!!! If that means Mickey Mouse Clubhouse will provide that then take a deep breath and enjoy cooking dinner.

    1. “If mom’s not happy…nobody is happy” 🙂 I agree- we need to remember to worry about ourselves for a change too, and what we need from time to time.

  8. Very nice….I actually have friends who are able to have the TV off all day every day. My family on the other hand are TV holics. We watch a lot of TV. On the weekend I can lose myself in hours of Law and Order SVU as the kids run around and play in the backyard. I have my DVR recording one thing or another, so I can go do something with the kids while my shows wait for me at night.

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