My wife and I were just having a conversation about parenting–this was before I saw the responses to my last post about television. We were agreeing that nothing in the world does a better job at showing one’s values and who one is as a person than parenting choices. This is why, we postulated, that when parents discuss their own choices, people who have taken different paths are so inclined to become defensive about their own choices. Those decisions are so utterly personal that any potential of someone else attacking or disapproving of them seems either threatening or condescending or is otherwise unwanted.
In my post about television, I was talking specifically about one child (mine) and two parents (my wife and I). For our family, a family who does not watch much television (although my wife and I enjoy it plenty after our kid is in bed), TV is not a necessity. My wife and I spent a good amount of time working in media reform, studying western media and its effects on children. We’re academics, and all of our choices about our parenting stem from research, observation, and finally our own values. We are choosing to limit our son’s access to visual media until he has stronger reasoning skills, until he has the ability to process it without simply taking it in as another reality, until he can question what he is seeing. There is nothing wrong with this. Fortunately, we live in a community that supports similar choices. Unfortunately, we live in a larger society where no TV generally equals freak. What can I say?
But when I say I’m not judging others, I’m not. My sister shows her daughter a fair amount of TV. She’s a very spirited three-year-old, and my sister is a single mom. Showing her daughter educational videos has been necessary at times. I’ve turned television on for my niece at my house because for her, it works fine. But when we saw what this did to our son (who was actually well-rested when he watched), my wife and I didn’t like it. Shouldn’t that be enough? We didn’t like how our son behaved when he watched television, and we didn’t like the constant begging for it every five minutes after showing him. We didn’t like it when his books and toys were suddenly not enough. Nothing else had ever done this to our son. That’s a pretty powerful force, and in our opinion as his parents, this is not something to be taken lightly.
When I equate this to our choices to feed our son what we consider “healthy” food, I am doing so because this is yet another very personal parenting choice based on our research, observations, and values. We have seen what happens when people with my genetics eat foods that are overly processed and high in refined sugars. They become morbidly obese–every last one of them. We would like to avoid that in our child. This is our personal parenting decision. We don’t like how our son’s personality responds to sugar, nor do we like how his body responds to low-nutrient, low-quality food, so we aim to feed him real, wholesome foods as much as we can, much as we aim to make the media he consumes as high quality as we can, and, at present, in the form of print and music.
As parents, we are charged with the task of determining what our kids consume, from the food they eat, to the media they view/hear, to the toys they play with, to the social circles they engage in. It would be so nice if we could be supportive of the choices other parents make, but that’s sadly not the culture we live in. If there is anything I’m judging about parents, it’s that. I’m so tired of mothers looking one another up and down and searching for something to be cruel about. It’s hard enough being a parent, but to be a parent in today’s hostile mother culture, where we see this beautiful role as something to compete over, is just really beyond me. So yes, I judge the hell out of that.
But show your kid TV or not, feed your kid sugar or not, let your kid play with his food or not–these are your choices, with your very own reasons behind them, just as ours are ours. There is no need to get the two confused.