I knew that something in my family life needed to shift. I was frustrated with the lack of connection to my children and husband, often stuck in a cycle of being too tired to connect in the way that I wanted. Then when I had time to connect, I was often triggered by my kids’ childish (ha) behavior. Whatever meaningful activity I planned would end in frustration, hurt feelings, and even more disconnect. I was desperate to find a better way. I remember feeling so helpless, and knowing something truly needed to change, but I didn’t have a clue of where to start or what to do.
A dear friend was the first to make a brave comment to me about the way Graham, my oldest, acted after he played a video game. I had noticed it too but was surprised that anybody else had. It was hard to admit, even to myself, but he turned into a different child after he played video games. He was no longer my sweet, easy-going, curious boy. He was whiny, angry, physical, and highly reactive. After playing, he was like a little powder keg. It seemed that anything that didn’t go his way, any disappointment or frustration, no matter how small, would set him off.
They say that people don’t change until the pain and terror of contemplating a change outweighs the pain and terror of things just staying the same. I finally hit that tipping point where I was willing to try just about anything, even something that felt truly terrifying to me. I decided to do something about the amount of media exposure in my home. It was something concrete that I could get curious about and take a closer look at. I started reducing the number of hours we spent on tv/movies/iPads/video games and – YIKES! What this revealed about ME was not fun to examine.
It was deeply embarrassing and painful to look at the parts of myself that I had been avoiding dealing with. As a parent, I had unconsciously been using screens to enable my conflict-avoidant parenting patterns; my tendency to feel overwhelmed, my difficulty setting and holding boundaries with my children, and my terror that if I didn’t get some space and time by plopping them down in front of a screen once in a while (or more), I would be consumed entirely by their needs, demands, and desires.
Once I came to terms that I was more dependent on those screens than my children were, I began to see that although I had believed it made my life as a mom, with a husband who traveled a lot, easier, it didn’t. I was the one dealing with kids who ended up strung out, overstimulated, irritable and reactive. I was the one feeling resentful that when I had something fun planned, they were slow to respond to me, to turn the screen off and to engage in real life with real people. I discovered that all of the time spent passively consuming media was taking us away from the connection with one another we were all craving.
Six years later, I can look back and see that this shift took a great deal of time, patience, and consistency, but the difference I feel in our home is tangible. This minor and also, somehow cataclysmic, change forced me to deal with some of my difficulties in mothering, more productively. It helped me see more clearly when and where I need to hold boundaries with my children, to learn to say no, to learn to take space and time for myself and to connect with myself, enabling me to take responsibility for my own needs like an actual grown-up. After experiencing this myself, I can better help others find the connections in their families in my role as a Family Life Coach. After disconnecting from the media in our home, I feel more fully connected to myself and my children.