Unplug the Drug

I love TV.  I really do.  I love cuddling up on my fabulously comfortable couch and zoning out to some good old boob tube.  I have an affinity for teen drama, it’s true.  But I think streaming Netflix and the DVR duke it out as two of the most important inventions of my lifetime. Total game-changers.
Most days I come home from work, have dinner with the family, do bath/bed time, and finally sit down around 9pm for a few minutes of peace and quiet.  It’s so easy to just turn on the TV and let that vacuous hole called primetime eat up my time and energy.  TV helps me unplug from the buzz of my own thoughts.  It gives me the illusion of not being ME for a little while. 
I watch TV with a kind of focus that is downright creepy.  While watching a show, you could be standing two feet from me and I can’t hear you; I probably don’t even see you.  It’s not a conscious choice to ignore you, I just get that sucked in.
Left to my own devices, I can use TV to disappear from the world for a while.  The combination of my anxiety (read about that here), my job, being a mom, and keeping up my end of the bargain in my marriage gets me exhausted pretty quickly.  Or, as I tell my mom friends who relate, “It takes every minute of the day to be us.”
TV doesn’t cure the exhaustion or even make me feel better.  It just provides a temporary retrieve.  An escape.
The thing is, that escape isn’t free.
The cost goes beyond the actual dollars-and-cents paid for cable television, a DVR, and streaming Netflix service.  There are other expenses as well.  When I’m in front of the TV, I’m ignoring my kids, my partner, and myself.  I am losing time to connect with real people, in real life.  I am vapid and absent. 
I’m proud to say that I rarely, if ever, watch the tube in front of my kids.  Nevertheless, I realized about a year ago that I needed to set some boundaries around my relationship with television.  I boiled down my regular shows to the three that I really look forward to (Gray’s Anatomy, Glee, and Oprah).  I still allow myself these shows and I make time for them.  I have one TV night per week, when B is out and after the kids are in bed.  I tee up my three previously-recorded shows and watch them commercial-free (Like I said…DVR.  Game-changer.).
My one TV night works for me because I’m not only watching shows I really enjoy but the activity has a beginning, a middle, and an end.  It feels like a right-sized enjoyment of TV for me instead of an escape from reality.
I’m not proud to admit that I’ve used TV not just as an escape but as a parenting substitute as well.  When the kids are watching a show I get time to read, talk on the phone, fold laundry, surf the web, or otherwise just be ME. 
The reality is that I have precious little quality time with my kids during the week.  As a working mom I’m out the door by 8am and not back until 5:30 or 6pm.  That means I get about 90 minutes in the morning and 2 hours at night (tops) to be with my kids.  When I contract the parenting out to the TV, that window of quality time gets even narrower.
Television puts my kids on hold so I don’t have to parent them while I’m doing something else.  Each episode of “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” or “Jake and the Neverland Pirates” allows me to be at best less-than-totally-present and at worst, an absent parent.  My kids deserve better than that. 
The flip side is how my kids react to television.  When she has been overexposed, Peanut gets belligerent and entitled about her TV time.  She becomes less flexible and throws more tantrums.  Pumpkin has recently started asking (using her limited speech and sign language) to have meals in front of the television.  /shudder/
When I sat down and did the cost-benefit analysis of what my family gets from TV versus what TV takes away the following truth became clear: In so many ways, TV is just too expensive. 
About a year ago, we canceled cable.  If this gives you palpitations, you should know that:
a)      We still get the networks (Glee, Gray’s, and Oprah are safe.)
b)      We still have a DVR (I’m not crazy, people.)
c)      We continue to subscribe to streaming Netflix
We save about $80 per month.  We spend more time in the playroom or doing art. We spend more time outside.  I no longer consider watching the same show on the couch with my husband “spending time together.”
My kids are still allowed 30 minutes of TV per day on weekdays and a movie or 2 on weekends.  Their TV exposure is limited to DVDs that we own and shows that we’ve recorded for them.  I’ll be honest – we don’t always enforce the time limits well.  We are human.
I’m still not comfortable with the amount of television that my kids watch.  I still use it as a crutch when I’m sick or overwhelmed.  I need to commit and re-commit (and re-commit) to that 30 minute time limit. But I’m aiming for progress and as long as I continue to decrease screen time and increase face time I’m moving in the right direction.  
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