Parenting would be so easy if there was just a universal manual for raising universal children. Right?! Right… that is not happening…
So let’s all agree – no matter how old or young we all have our kids, we are mortals learning, with the best intentions (most of the time) 🙂 And it’s all trial and error from there!
So here you go. This is the story of my biggest parenting failure of the last 6.5 years, raising those 3 crazy kiddos!
The Set Up (not an excuse)
Shortly after Ava was born, we moved our brand new little family to Switzerland. Setting life up in a new country can take time and be stressful and with virtually no help around, we started entertaining our perfect little girl with the iPad. Ava was always on the move and by the time she was 7 months old and able to sit up on her own, we bought ourselves 30 minutes of quiet with videos of herself on the iPad. She loved them and started interacting with the machine, quickly moving into games, which I truly believed to be educational for babies her age (12-18 months).
The alphabet and singing apps became short Mickey Mouse videos as she started navigating the iPad on her own and understanding where her favorite movies were stored.
She was only 16 months old when baby Mark was born. As Ava did, Mark spent most of his early months breastfeeding and I would give Ava access to the iPad and TV more often, trying to feed Mark without chasing an active toddler around the house. And yes, that did exactly what I needed, and for a total of a couple of hours each day, I could focus on just one child.
By the time Ava was 2.5, she knew how to navigate iPads, iPhones, and the DVD player. We had moved a couple more times and now lived in Germany. We started realizing that Ava had slowly become an impersonation of Mickey Mouse. She has a natural talent for singing and acting. This could have been a positive thing at the time, but our innocent little girl had become Mickey Mouse… and I wish I was kidding but I became very concerned when it became nearly impossible to enjoy dinner as a family.
Ava was only speaking out as Mickey Mouse with several Goofy “ugh-ugh” mixed in there. Get the picture? We were not able to have a conversation with our child. We no longer had Ava with us. Her language skills also stalled. She was an amazing tri-lingual speaker when she turned 1 and we had not noticed much progress past since she was 18 months…
Another worrying fact was her unbreakable attention while watching TV. No matter how close to her, nor how loud we’d address her, Ava would not hear us. Even worse, I could be next to her and softly touching her, and could not get her attention.
While Mark was clearly very interested in TV as well, he was just over a year old and we did not notice as critical of an impact.
Six weeks before giving birth to their little sister, I was able to start maternity leave (thank you Germany!!). Ava was exactly 3 years old and this was my chance to do something. From one day to the other, I went cold turkey on all screens! The kids went from binge-watching Disney movies at home and in the car, and playing games to no screen time – whatsoever.
Remarkably, they adjusted extremely well. They’re children, they want to play and move. TV was one of the ways that they were entertained, and as long as they were offered alternatives, they didn’t seem to be missing their screens. Sadly, it took me nearly 2 years to learn that much, and I felt that I had one damaged child, but with work, I was hopeful that we could fix this.
In all honesty, the biggest challenge was for me. Screens had been my “babysitter.” They afforded me some time to clean, order, prepare, work, and do all of the mommy things that would have taken me so much longer if I had to be holding a child. But my duty was to be a Mom! And the educational aspect of those toddler apps had lost their credibility.
With no more screens, the kids learned to be creative. They never had any interest in toys, but all my children ever needed were sticks, a couple of chairs and a bed sheet, dress-up costumes, balls, the great outdoors…
We were still having dinner with Mickey Mouse though…
After three weeks of the radical measure, I took Ava to a psychiatrist. I was suspecting an autism spectrum. When he saw her, talked to her, and ran a few tests… he took him no longer than 5 minutes to tell me that my 3-year old, who had lived in 3 countries, 5 homes, and attended 4 different schools, had only had one constant in her life.
The only thing that had never changed around her, were those Mickey Mouse shorts. They were her safety. She was identifying herself to them. And she was a perfectly normal child, with not an ounce of an issue.
He prescribed only one thing: no screen! And when we would decide to re-introduce TV, we should sit down and watch movies as a family and make sure to talk during the movie to explain the story to the kids. He mentioned that a toddler should never be watching TV alone.
Everything made so much sense. I beat myself up for not taking measures earlier. But my child was ok. Her and I were both learning!
Our New Life
The next two years were spent with no screen at all. Their baby sister was born and breastfed for over a year, and the other two were around, and crazy, and loud, and that was just our life. About 2 weeks after going cold-turkey on them, no kid ever asked for screen time again. They were happy children and Mickey Mouse left our dinner table about 9 months after the intervention.
I don’t believe in no-screen policies. In our case, we needed a strict intervention and this was the best I knew. I think that everything should be done in moderation, however. Around the ages of 5, 4, and 2, we re-introduced the TV with a simple rule – when 6PM rings, they can watch a movie or show until dinner time around 7PM. They have been getting about an hour of TV a day, on days that we are home and not busy with other things. It is our routine and it works very well. The children know the expectation and don’t question it. As long as we are consistent and clear, they are happy little campers.
Read about our screen policy while traveling here!
Ava has turned out to be a perfectly normal 1st grader, with endless imagination. I do notice her natural tendency to “leave us” when the TV is on. That might always stick with her and I don’t know whether it is her nature or a long-term consequence to watching too much TV as a toddler. The psychiatrist at the time, had said that her reaction was also due to a natural tendency and that the same situation could have turned very differently for her younger brother. It is still nearly impossible to get her attention in front of the screen and I notice a tendency to impersonate characters as soon as she watches a movie one too many times. Just tonight, she brought her forehead to mine to apologize for misspelling a word…. If anyone has ever watched the Peter Rabbit movie, she had become a rabbit for a minute. That is my clue to make sure we switch to a new movie tomorrow 🙂 So we work with her and make sure to stop anything before it becomes a trend. But I have no long-term worry for her. She is perfectly normal and a great kid! The road to parenting is an amazing journey full of learnings, highs, and lows!
What has been your #1 parenting failure?
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