Anonymous Mom is a weekly column of motherhood confessions, indiscretions, and parental shortcomings selected by Mommyish editors. Under this unanimous byline, readers can share their own stories, secrets, and moments of weakness with complete anonymity.
I'll come right out and say it: I've always loved TV, and I've never been ashamed of it. Sitcoms, dramas, procedurals, reality shows, reruns... I don't discriminate. When people brag about how they don't have cable or don't even own a TV, I feel nothing but pity for them. Yes, it's great to read books and play games and go on walks and cook dinner and have, you know, conversations -- but it's also pretty awesome to come home after a rough day at the office and watch Monday Night Football.
In short, TV and I were already good friends before my son was born last June. After we brought our baby boy home from the hospital, though, the magic talk-box took on a whole new level of importance in our lives.
During that first crazy week, when we weren't desperately trying to figure out how to take care of our squalling little bundle, we treated ourselves to DVDs of "Dexter" and "Homeland." In between naps, pumping, and constant diaper changes, it was a pleasant reminder that outside our walls, a very different and very adult world still turned.
My son was a preemie, and so he spent a lot of daylight hours sleeping in those early weeks -- even more so than many other newborns. For the most part, he'd only wake up to eat every two or three hours (and even then, he quickly found his "autopilot sleep-feeding" mode).
Overnight, though, his eyes would pop wide open after a feeding, and he'd start fussing immediately after he was put down in his bassinet. Our adorable son had his days and nights mixed up. To help reset his tiny internal clock, both Dr. Google and my actual pediatrician (in no particular order) suggested that I make a concerted effort to differentiate daytime from nighttime. During the day, that meant lots of lights on and all of the usual noises -- including the TV. As soon as we got up in the morning, the TV went on, and it stayed on until it was time to start winding down for bed. Doctor's orders!
So there we sat, the two of us, every day -- "us," meaning me and my TV -- and I felt personally blessed by MTV's decision to rerun "Laguna Beach" and "The Hills" in their entirety. As my beautiful little buddy napped on my chest, I rededicated myself to #TeamLC, and I wondered if I, like Brody Jenner, might one day forge a career built entirely around being a reality-show remora.
Eventually, the day/night reprogramming paid off. Around the same time, like a switch flipping on, our sleepy little guy turned into an impressively robust baby. In short order, he grew out of his preemie gear, and then out of his newborn onesies -- and soon, he was sporting three-month sleepers as I put him down in his bassinet at the very reasonable hour of 10:30 p.m. (You know... on a good day.) Meanwhile, during the day, he was starting to respond to stimuli, and trying to interact with the world around him.
We first noticed him looking at the TV shortly before my 12-week maternity leave was over. It was dinnertime for us grown-ups, so my husband placed Junior in his motorized swing and turned on the overhead mobile to keep him occupied. After watching the birdies circle his head for several minutes, my son casually turned his head... and caught the TV winking back at him. The bright colors and moving shapes held his gaze as we finished our baked potatoes. At the time, it was a hilarious novelty -- "Look, he loves "Top Chef"!" we giggled.
After that first accidental encounter, the TV viewing became a regular, though always very brief, occurrence. Whenever Tiny spent any amount of time in his swing, he would inevitably let his head loll to the left for a few minutes so he could see what "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" were bickering about. Then, he would either turn his attention back to his birdie mobile, or he'd give up entirely and succumb to a nap.
One night, however, he watched a whole episode of "Breaking Bad." (I know, I know. That's why I'm writing this anonymously, OK?) He normally would have been nursing at that time, but instead he was wide awake and not at all hungry. Meanwhile, I really needed to watch one of the final episodes of my favorite show, and we don't have a DVR. I happened to have him side-saddle on my lap, where he could easily turn his head and see the set... which he did. He fixed on the images flashing across the screen -- and then stayed there, staring calmly, for the full hour. I did cover his eyes during the gun fight, though, because I wanted to protect my candidacy for Mom of the Year.
In fairness, the "Breaking Bad" episode was a one-time deal. He was calm, relaxed, and content throughout, so I figured all was well -- but I also know, from pure common sense, that infants shouldn't park it in front of the TV as a general rule. And, like most babies his age, he doesn't typically want to sit and do anything for an hour at a time, anyway, so it's a moot point.
I never really thought twice about his (mostly) incidental viewing until I learned that I'm doing IRREPARABLE DAMAGE to my son's development, thanks to a few links I stumbled across while researching baby milestones.
" ... [B]abies and even toddlers (ages 0 to 2 years old) shouldn’t get any screen time at all — zero, not even a few minutes here and there," cautioned one site. The justification was pretty obvious -- if a baby's watching TV, he's not developing his language or motor skills.
Another site, meanwhile, acknowledged that "watching TV is better than starving," but that's as far as the favorable comparisons went. This warning was considerably more dire, noting that even if I have the TV on as background noise -- which is, ahem, always -- I risk screwing up my boy's language skills, reading ability, attention span, memory, sleep cycle, and (let's just say it) chances of getting into Baby Yale.
And you know what? Sure, I get that. Babies learn by interacting with adults, not by sitting and staring at a screen. But my son gets endless amounts of attention and adult interaction throughout his day. We're lucky enough to have his grandma watching him while we're at work, and she is virtually peerless when it comes to baby-raising skills. He gets all the toys, play, and adult conversation he can handle... plus the odd snippet of "NCIS" here and there.
It's the same story at home. My husband and I talk to him, read him books, and provide him with plenty of toys for both solo and assisted playtime. We're also trying to familiarize him with some basic sign language, so he can start communicating with us even before his tongue control catches up with his brain. The kid is virtually showered with stimulation. And yes, some of that stimulation includes the U.S. Open finals playing in the background while my husband and I catch up on our respective days.
I don't think it's so bad that my infant son occasionally glances at the TV and is transfixed by the colorful, moving images he can't understand. Maybe he's not learning anything while he's doing it, but what's wrong with a few minutes of downtime? What's so bad about staring at something interesting and trying to figure out how it fits into this big, new world you're learning about?
Now, it might be different when we have our second baby, and we no longer have the time, energy, or inclination to interact with our children at all. I was born second, myself, so I know how these things go. So, yeah, fair enough -- our next baby might have to learn the English language via reruns of "Laverne & Shirley."
In the meantime, though, I refuse to believe the very presence of the TV in our home is going to stunt my son's intellectual growth. After all, it's not like I'm one of those moms that takes my kid out to a restaurant, slaps an iPad in his hands, and calls it a day. Now, that shit is messed UP.
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