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TV Slaves

Andrea at QuietFish made an innocent little post yesterday about possibly getting rid of their extended cable TV, because it's very expensive. Lots of people commented, almost universally to say that they either do not have cable and are living fuller, deeper lives for it, or that they have cable but meh, could totally live without it.

I was going to comment to say that we are slaves to our TV, but I felt myself getting INSANE, so I had to delete it. I thought I'd rant over here instead.

I recognise that TV is my personal hot-button issue, as a mom. I've noticed over the years -- here's a piece of wisdom for you soon-to-be moms -- that it is so, so easy to offend another mother with a seemingly innocuous remark. Mothers have a real need to feel that they are doing a good job of raising their kids, that they are making the right choices, and anything that remotely smells of criticism will get you kicked out of playgroup with lightning speed. Every mom has their own little thing that will get their back up against the wall right away. For me, it's TV. There's nothing that pisses me off more, makes me feel more like a crap mom, makes me want to punch something and then run away to Jamaica, than other mother saying smugly, "We don't let our kids watch TV."


We get well over a hundred channels, on satelite. I'm not always proud of this, but our kids watch plenty of TV. Probably in the range of two hours per day, I'd say. I don't think I could maintain my sanity without it. A half-hour TV show gives my older two kids a half-hour of quiet time, calm time, time to stop hitting each other and to stop jumping on the couch. It gives me a half-hour to care for the baby or get ready for us to go out and do another activity or just to make dinner in peace.

At Christmas this year, we had dinner with some friends we don't see very often. They were in Ottawa to visit their parents and their kids were glued to the TV which was showing...the news. I thought that was weird but my friend explained that her kids don't get to watch TV at home, so they are excited when they go somewhere else that has a television.

I felt bad until further conversation revealed that they actually do have a TV, just no cable. And that her kids are allowed to watch DVDs. DVDs of shows like Lunar Jim and Wonderpets and Go Diego Do.

And I ask you, what the hell is the difference between that, and my kids watching those exact same shows on Treehouse? Treehouse -- along with PBS, CBC, and TV-Ontario -- offers hours of commercial-free, semi-educational programming for preschoolers all day long. My kids have a few favourite shows and that's what they watch. We collect a few episodes of their favourites on our PVR so any time they want, they can sit down for a new Go Diego Go, or Wonderpets, or Lunar Jim. So the difference between their TV and other kids watching a video is...what, exactly?

We do try to use the TV responsibly. The kids watch mostly commercial free preschool programming (especially since the great failed American Gladiators experiment). They never turn on the TV by themselves -- they don't even know how to work the remote, except to pause the show so they can go to the bathroom. They're only allowed to watch shows that I know, usually with me in the room. There's a limit to how much they can watch in one sitting before they have to turn it off and get outside, or run around the house a bit.

I also try to use the TV they watch as a jumping off point for discussions and activities. The other day we were watching Fetch! With Ruff Ruffman -- a science experiments show -- and the kids on the show were testing various items to see which would float, and which would sink. That lead to a whole afternoon's worth of at-home experimentation that made me feel pretty damn virtuous.

But I do not want to imply that I am all perfect mother all the time, so I will admit here that there are days when the Wee One has not slept, when I'm trying to make dinner with one hand while comforting a baby with the other, and Gal Smiley and Captain Jelly Belly are hungry and getting tired and thus are pushing and shoving and hating on one another...and on those days, the TV goes on and they watch whatever is on Treehouse for as long as they can stand it.

Those aren't A+ days.

But we do survive them.

Before we had kids I thought I'd never use the TV as a babysitter, but I have to admit, there are times when it has done just that. Our days here are very long -- especially in winter -- and sometimes, there just isn't anything left to do. We need a break from each other, the kids really need a break from each other, and watching a show gives us a nice, quiet, parallel activity during which we can all calm down and refocus and not strangle each other.

As for myself, I'd love to be able to say that I spend my evenings knitting booties for premature babies or raising money for the Third World or finding a cure for cancer. But I have three small children, and I still get up anywhere from once to four times a night, and I'm tired. So very tired. At the end of the day it's all I can do to give the kitchen a half-hearted tidy, come up with a blog post, then collapse in front of some mindless entertainment for an hour before bed. I was a pop culture junkie before we ever had kids, and now that it's so much harder to get out to movies and concerts and other events, the TV is my big excitement, my new hobby. It sounds sad I guess. But dammit, Lost is a good show. Watching Pushing Daisies filled me with delight. I love Don't Forget The Lyrics (don't judge me!).

There's no way I could live without the TV, I know. So I'll just sit over here, noisily grinding my teeth, standing up for all moms who deign to subscribe to Treehouse. Represent!



TV's on here too!

I just started reading your blog a couple o' weeks ago and it's great!
As for TV viewing in our house, I couldn't agree with you more and my feeling is that there are a lot more mom's out there who are "closet users" of the tube, but as you put it, they would be shunned by all the "perfect" mothers if they admitted it.
When my two daughters (5&9) start to look like zombies in front of the tv, I simply turn it off and direct their attention elsewhere. No arguments!
As for kids programming, my girls have learned a thing or two from watching Peep and the Big Wide World,such as experiments that they have put to the test outdoors in the fresh air and let's not forget how many generations have been given some preschool lessons from Sesame Street!
Well that's enough ranting from me too...must go watch MY SHOWS now! ;)

thinking aloud

Heya Turtle -
No kidding, TV watching is totally a hot-button presser, right up there with breastfeeding and cloth diapers.

It sounds like you have struck a good balance. You endeavor to ensure your kids are watching healthy stuff, which is great. And I know where you're coming from re: end of day fatigue.

I think we moms are entitled to our opinions about this kind of thing, but at the same time should be open and accepting of what others choose to do in their own homes.

I can only describe what's good for me, I would never presume to tell you what's good for you. :)

Me: I am pretty sure that if we canceled our cable I'd read more. Or start going out to see more movies. Or start writing that book I've always wanted to write. All good things, right?

Unrelated p.s. I find this LJ sign in thing pretty odd. I wish there was an easier way to sign my posts than publishing a link to my technorati profile. Sorry. It looks tacky and I'm embarrassed to do it that way.


Re: thinking aloud

p.s. no one is perfect. Even if it seems that way on their blog!


Re: thinking aloud

So true. I tried to convey this in my post, but I know that I am quite unreasonable when it comes to TV, which is why I didn't comment over on your blog. I know I was getting stupid angry for no reason, when everyone else was being very nice, and I didn't want anyone to think they were being flamed for their own choice.

I think I get upset about this one issue because it's one thing that I don't feel totally comfortable with -- one thing I feel guilty about. So I overreact :).

As for LJ -- I love it sometimes, I hate it sometimes. I think I've decided to move off of LJ though, for real this time! I'll compare other hosting sites and see which one is a match.
It seems to me as though you have a really sensible approach to television. It's too bad that other people may try to make you feel like a bad mother or something simply because you allow your children to watch television sometimes.
Thanks! Although, I don't think the other moms really meant to make others feel bad -- it's one of those cases where you say something completely benign, just expressing your own family's choice, and some crazy nutjob (i.e. ME) flies off the handle.

I do love my TV though :).
My aunt was someone who used to be all "My kids don't watch tv!" and totally mean to put you down if your kids did watch it. Drove my mother nuts. (And when my cousins were at their friends' houses, all they did was watch tv, so it kinda backfired on her.)

I also love my tv! I used to be embarrased by how much (or what) I watched, but I've decided not too be. I figure if I still have time for other things, then I'm doing okay. :)

Here too!

I always thought I'd never let my kids watch tv, then reality set in and I let my oldest son watch about the same amount as your kids, for exactly the same reasons.

We used to limit him to TVO/CBC/Treehouse, but then we temporarily gave up extended cable and let him watch a couple of shows on Teletoon and YTV. Big mistake, because those ads are just nothing but 30-second doses of trouble. We've got Treehouse back now, so it's back to kinder, gentler tv for now.

Re: Here too!

Interesting about YTV. The Captain has seen a couple of shows from YTV at his cousin's house and I don't like them -- to violent, too crazy. Even SpongeBob, I find, is too advanced for him and promotes some questionable behaviours.

So we're all Treehouse, all the time, too!
Letting your kids watch TV doesn't make you a bad person. It sounds like you're monitoring what they watch, which is more than some people do. If my parents hadn't let me watch TV as a kid I wouldn't be the kung-fu and explosion loving guy I am today.

My only beef with TV is that so much of it is terrible. I'd rather spent my time mindlessly watching DVDs of shows and weird B-movies that Brainslie rents than flip around looking for things to watch. If you have shows you like then more power to you.
Ah heck, you're doing nothing wrong in the slightest! Just like these folks have said, you know what they're watching, and that's what's important. You're ensuring they're watching quality stuff, and commercial-free stuff to boot. It doesn't sound like the amount is too much. Those kids do tonnes of other things other than watch TV. It's a fine balance.

As for you, there's no shame in watching TV. I've had people judge me, too, about watching TV, and I watch, like 4 hours a week. Some people just have it out for TV, I think. I've argued with these people, and I've found I can't convince them, so why try? It's like I'm back in university trying to make people understand why I don't drink... only kind of the reverse, I guess.

Ugh, not a very good response. I think it's cuz I'm using mrclick's tiny little laptop. Who can type on this thing????