If you have children in the year 2020, you have thought about screens, devices, filters, etc. It comes with the new, uncharted territory. Even if you don’t use screens at all, you have thought and decided on your reasons why. I have always been very interested in brain development and learning, especially when it comes to the early years of life.
I read a book in January called “Reset Your Child’s Brain : A Four Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen Time,” by Victoria Dunckley. It was fabulous. For one, it convinced me that we weren’t doing as bad as I thought we were in regards to computers. We were well within the “recommended guidelines,” and unlike most Canadian families, I can say to the minute how much screen time my kids get (a lot of people don’t take into account that they use them in schools, on buses, dayhomes or at friend’s houses). But still, I didn’t like the habits that were being formed, and the dependency for certain kids and certain parts of the day. And me too, for that matter. So, I skimmed the book super quickly, coerced the crew into it, and we began a one month (February, shortest month of the year, but hardest for homeschoolers) fast.
So the rules: No screens. Zip. Nada. Sounds easy enough, but it was pretty annoying to have to call people on the phone instead of text them. They also seemed annoyed to have to answer the phone. Totally fair, you guys. After two weeks of this, I chatted with Stephen (the oldest: he and I were accountability buddies in this) and told him that it’s just too hard for me, and who I am needing the info from. We decided I was allowed to text if it was a one-off. A quick question, with a quick reply. No conversations. I was allowed to take photos or videos. We couldn’t mindlessly watch them, though. All music was put onto playlists at the beginning of the month, so the kids couldn’t use “picking music” as an excuse to sit on my phone. If you think I’m joking, please know that during the second week, when I walked into the kitchen they were all staring at the microwave as it turned while cooking a pizza pop. I’m pretty sure they did that as a joke.
Well, a week into the month my hubby unexpectedly left on a business trip. Didn’t see that one coming. In all honesty, January/February were excruciatingly difficult months for me as an individual. I was still dealing with postpartum recovery issues after our baby’s fetal demise; it was very cold and dark, and now my hubby- my only support system- was gone. I told Stephen that I needed to be able to go on my phone at night, and I was very honest with him. He was obviously very gracious and totally understood. I kept it under 45 minutes each evening when I got them all down, to be able to check emails, online banking, and hopefully do a bit of “visiting!”
So, we made it through.
The hardest parts:
The house was so messy. Not only were they creating, playing and doing more, there were no times when my little ones were all occupied at the same time so I could get reasonably caught up. The kids all do chores twice a day, but I couldn’t keep up in between. And I know some people say things like, “Make sure they clean up before they do the next thing” but when you’re homeschooling four other kids, it’s hard to stop algebra and fight with a three year old for ten minutes to clean up their blocks. In that time, you have lost the one year old, and the twelve year old has mentally given up and doesn’t want to even try anymore. I don’t do well in chaos, so the messy part is what is burned in my memory. I tried to get everything picked up each evening, but I was so exhausted that I usually only got to the bare minimum.
No space. I’m, by nature, very much an introvert. Those screen times were my only break, where I could sit for 20 minutes or so, make dinner quietly, and be able to count on that time to just breathe. Even showering was a challenge, as I could hear fights or arguments break out. Our house was also quite small, which doesn’t help. No one had mental space or physical space. If we do any activities for school, or playdates, I am WIPED after, and just need everyone to be super quiet so I can catch my breath. It’s part of who I am, I guess. In a perfect home, there would be a space for everyone to go and do something quietly, but once you add in that some rooms are off limits for naps, there weren’t a lot of spaces left. So then arguments would happen, or whatever.
No babysitter. I very much use screens for distraction. If that means I can prepare dinner or teach division of fractions, that’s works for me. It was very hard to do all of the things I do with three beautiful, curious toddlers completely underfoot.
Minimal connection. Unfortunately, most of the way I connect with people is over screens. Which I also do badly, to be fair. I am definitely the forgot-to-text-back friend. I have some very precious people whom I love, but I can’t see them more than once every few weeks or so, with all our kids. And most of them have a pile of children also, which makes conversation a challenge! My life does not entail appy dates or Starbucks visits, especially once my hubby was gone. Using that little time in the evening to chat and connect was a challenge at best, because most were busy putting kids to bed and spending time with their hubbies. The whole month felt very lonely and dark. We also missed out on some last minute activities that were announced on facebook or email.
Road Trip. Towards the end of the month we embarked on a cross country trip, so we could be with Dad for a bit of his time there. The drive was fine- we don’t do screens in the car anyways, or have a DVD player, but getting settled in the AirBnb was very, very hard. The Handsome Hubby and I were exhausted (especially the first day when we did 18 hours of driving), and then we had to unload the overflowing van in -15 to -20 weather, prepare dinner and somehow entertain kids who were equally exhausted and picking at each other. They were in a different, small space and didn’t have a whole lot to do that was even minimally appealing to them. A 30 minute show would have improved our whole evening. But nooo, when Mom sets her mind to something, we do it. Sigh. Living in very small hotel rooms when we arrived was challenging also. I was very mindful of how loud we were, and it stressed me out. We couldn’t just pick up and go, as it was so cold outside and most things cost more money than we had. We did a lot of super fun stuff while we were in town, but there was also a lot of down time when there wasn’t a whole lot to do in a very small space. Luckily, our fast ended a few days into our trip.
The best parts:
Everything you would imagine. They played more, created more. One of my sweetest memories is doing a “family puzzle” one afternoon. If you’ve never seen one, it starts with really tiny, jigsaw-sized pieces, but they progressively get bigger. So Abby could work on one end, and we on the other. We finished it while we listened to a Jonathon Park audiodrama, watching the windows fog up from our hot chocolate breath and eating chips all afternoon. I will never forget sitting there, thinking, THIS. This is why I homeschool, and why I live and breathe. It was amazing. The kids also had a blast on many days playing Mall (where they each made a store in a different area of the house. Sigh.) They made forts outside on the days above -20, we read a lot of books, and I read a few novels on my own which I haven’t in awhile. We played piles of games (Codenames was our fav- we could play it over and over). I taught the kids a few card games that they could play with each other. We would chat, and chat, and chat. I cannot summarize in this small of space the amount of time that we just talked. Told jokes and stories. No one was distracted. They read books to each other. They played with each other all day long. We were much more in tune with each other. It felt like there was more time in the day (which can be good or bad!)
Friend Time. We had a lot of friends over, and I was very clear with the moms ahead of time so they could tell their kids. My older ones love playing Minecraft and other games with their friends and I didn’t want them to be disappointed. It was fine. They also played games, made forts, and played outside. I know they genuinely had more fun together than when they played games on the computer.
Serious introspection for Mom. Unfortunately, I realized a lot of stuff about myself. I learned that I seek out cheap facebook time in place of actual connection with people I love. Instead of calling a friend in the evening, I would rather scroll my newsfeed. Definitely something I’m still working on. It’s a challenge for me. I also, obviously, used TV shows as too much of a crutch for my little kids. I’m deliberately being very vague about our quantity of screentime because I know it’s too easy to get caught up in comparisons. I know we use waaay less than some people, and more than others. That doesn’t matter. What matters to me is that I am making the most of our time together, and that I feel good about the hours that we are given, as a gift, each day.
The takeaway for our fam:
This will be an annual thing. We do breaks from lots of things during the year. It helps us reevaluate, recharge, and catch our breath. Screentime is no different. I like being able to analyze where we are at in all our areas. I will plan a bit better, though, next year. And possibly hire someone so I can have a couple hours to myself at some point.
Keep it as a tool, not a crutch. I’m very certain now what my triggers are, and when I need them to sit and watch a show, for the good of all things. I’ve been more careful to save it for during those times, and am preparing now for the school year ahead. If I need it at certain times in the day, then they absolutely cannot have it at other times. The hardest part of homeschooling will never be trigonometry. It will always be two year olds. I’ll fight anyone who says different.
Producers vs. Consumers. There is a huge diff between mindlessly scrolling facebook or Youtube as opposed to making something or creating something. Our family focus for 2020 has been that we are to be developing, learning, encouraging, or creating, not just consuming. All screentime is not the same, nor should it be treated as so. If you have ever done an online quiz to decide what kind of potato you are, you may catch my drift on this. As we finish off this year, and embark on a new school year, we are trying to make sure that our focus stay on this. Watching a movie together as a family can be very precious. Letting Netflix keep playing shows- not as much. Part of my job as a mom is to train them through my example and what I allow. Screens are amazing, and I am so thankful for the different ways they have enriched our lives this year. But I also really need to be aware of my shortfalls too.