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TV-Free Parenting. Why does not having a television make me so unpopular? By Kate Haas for Babble.com.

Personal Essay: TV-Free

Why does not having a television make me so unpopular? by Kate Haas

May 7, 2009

49

My family doesn’t own a television. Our boys don’t watch TV. And here’s the thing: this is not about you. I didn’t want to let the no-TV thing slip. I don’t, usually. But my five-year-old spilled the beans when your daughter mentioned Dora and now you’re opening your mouth to speak and I know what’s coming. So please believe that my choice to raise children without television has nothing to do with how I view you and your family.

I’d like to explain how it happened, how my family came to inhabit this lunatic fringe of American society. I’d tell you that I credit my lifelong identity as a happy reader to growing up in a home without television, myself. I’d tell you about the books filling that house, and the hours after school spent immersed in their wondrous scenarios: a wardrobe leading to another world; a mean girl spouting toads from her mouth; kids my own age running away to the Metropolitan Museum! I’d describe how deeply satisfying it is to see my own son curled up on the couch, lost in a book the way I used to be.

I wish I could say all that. In the few seconds after I ruefully admit that my son was right, we don’t have a TV; and just before you quickly assure me that your kids only watch PBS and nature shows, I want to tell you about the books, mother at the playground, fellow mother. I want to assure you that my decision not to have a television isn’t about you. It’s about me and The Chronicles of Narnia. But I’m afraid you won’t see it that way. Because I’ve had these encounters before, and I know how this plays out.

It’s really not necessary to describe your struggle to limit TV-watching to two hours per day. You don’t have to justify anything to me and this awkward confession is none of my business. Believe me, I’m not sitting in judgment. Isn’t raising kids hard enough without that? Besides, it’s not as if the no-TV stance isn’t going to result in power struggles at my house. I put my own parents through it and expect my boys to do the same. In fact, it’s too bad you weren’t around to hear my son’s response when a friend asked him why we don’t have a television. “Because my mother doesn’t love us,” replied the little stinker, with a sneaky grin in my direction.

Other parental decisions don’t seem so fraught to me, at least at the level of personal interaction. My first son was formula-fed, and despite what we’re all led to believe, I never faced a flicker of disdain from any of the breastfeeding mothers I encountered. Non-vaccinators in my circle don’t get the hairy eyeball from the rest of us. So what is it about not owning a TV?

Personal Essay: TV-Free

Why does not having a television make me so unpopular? by Kate Haas

May 7, 2009

49

Back when I was teaching high school, my students never looked at me the way you are now, mother at the playground. Once they got over their astonishment that I didn’t have a television, they regarded me with pitying superiority, as if I were an unfortunate freak of nature. “What do you do all day?” they asked, shaking their heads. “TV is my life,” chimed in another. When I assured them that I was happy to spend my free time reading, they looked at me blankly.

But you don’t pity me for not owning a television, playground mother. And I know better than to bring up reading in this conversation. Because what would that imply about your little Max and Willow, innocently munching their trail mix on the bench? I might as well come right out and accuse you of forcing them to avert their eyes when passing the public library.

You seem like such a nice person, so please don’t feel compelled to tell me that your family would eat nothing but frozen fish fillets and deli meals if it weren’t for the shows that entertain your kids while you cook dinner in blessed solitude. Trust me, I know the dreaded four-to-six pm time period, when the day’s accumulation of chickens come home to roost. What I say is, whatever gets you through. And I promise, I’m not about to spout off from a (non-existent) pedestal on the virtues of soothing music and a basket of special toys your kids only “get to” play with during dinner prep. No ma’am. What I say is, whatever gets you through. For me it’s Captain Underpants on tape. For you it’s Nickelodeon? No finger-wagging here.

You see? I’m not the self-righteous Mothering Magazine commando you think I am. I drank wine while I was pregnant. My children go to public school. I don’t know what kefir is and I don’t want to. I wish you could see me as a comrade in the trenches, making the best choice for my family, just like you. But you don’t. The minute my son said innocently, “We don’t have a TV,” your eyes narrowed ever so slightly. Your formerly genuine smile became fixed. I know these signs. You’ve pegged me as a parenting purist whose kids are only permitted to play with acorns, silk scarves and hand-knit gnomes. (Actually, they prefer Star Wars Legos.) You think I consider myself Mother Superior, when really I’m bumbling along like anyone else, just with one less piece of furniture.

Article photo: Ashley Hopkins

Article Posted 6 years Ago
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