I said I’d never do it. I wasn’t going to give in to the electronic babysitter. I wanted to disciple my children, to be with them and let them walk with me, to keep them away from the vapid, the unloving, and the foolish. But then I got worn out. It was worst of all when my husband was working long hours. I’m a morning person. I can usually go like a bomb until dinner. And then I’m done. That’s it. I’m half-asleep and completely spent. And somewhere along the line, we ended up with Netflix. I didn’t want my husband to come home to a house looking like a drug-related crime scene, and it just seemed so easy to say, “If you guys can clean up the living room and your bedrooms in half an hour, you can each pick a show to watch.” And so it began.
Every show I let my kids watch made me worry for one reason or another, but yet, they all seemed to have some insidious redeeming quality, some silken justification for why I should overlook the obvious. One show featured siblings who were consistently annoyed and even grossed out by each other and showed direct confrontation and fighting as the solution to evil, rather than loving our enemies or overcoming evil with good. Oh, but it was so FUNNY, classic. Even I was quoting snappy lines. And of course, it was by PBS, and the vocabulary was delightfully rich. It was educational, right? In another show, the only adult main characters were villains, and all the good, noble, exemplary characters were children. The messages were “follow your heart,” “believe in yourself,” and “count on your friends.” Typical elementary humanism with a healthy dose of peer dependency. But it was so pretty and sweet, and the girls LOVED it, and I loved seeing them happy. And on it went. Little nagging worries here. Little appreciations there.
Oddly enough, right around the same time, inexplicably, the children’s attitudes started slipping. Grumpiness, even meanness crept in. The noise level increased. There was arguing, selfishness, back talk, and sass. (Not that those things hadn’t ever been there before, but this was MUCH worse.) The children often complained that they were bored during the day. None of their toys or books seemed interesting. And the time when they were happiest was at night, lined up on the basement couch in front of the TV.
And I, for my part, was growing more and more dependent on that break in the evening. All my efforts to teach the children God’s Word and solid character seemed to be having less and less effect. It was no fun being a mom whose entire life revolved around nagging and discipline. It seemed like every interaction I had with the children was frustrating. I was either tearing my hair out trying to get them to pay attention to their school and chores, or struggling not to yell at them for fighting and screaming at each other (again). I always breathed such a sigh of relief when AT LAST the children were tucked away downstairs, and I could sit in a quiet, clean living room and think two thoughts in a row without having to pause to say, “Give that back to your sister!”
Soon, there was a whisper in my heart that I was no longer enjoying my children, that I needed to make time just to BE with them without demands and expectations, that rest time could not be segregated: Mommy in the living room on Facebook, children downstairs on Netflix, that the babysitter would have to go. “But I’m tired!” I whined. “I wrestle with them all day. I want a break.” But deep down I knew. I knew that if I invested in them rather than farming them off to the world that the wrestling would be much less, that sacrificing my peace at night would mean gaining peace throughout the day.
Malachi says that when God makes a family, He’s seeking a godly seed.
And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. — Malachi 2:15a
God’s purpose for our family is godly children. I realized that loading my children up with ideas that were contrary to Scripture was not going to make them godly (duh). And that by compromising so I could have a rest time all for me, I was going directly against God’s purpose and what He is seeking. And we were seeing the mushy, spoiled fruit of my selfish laziness.
So we have gone on a foolishness fast. No more TV. No more Mommy fleeing alone to the couch after dinner. Just being together as a family. In the evenings since the fast began, we’ve made applesauce, baked cookies, and read books. Yes, I fell asleep reading at least once, so I passed off the book to my nine-year-old to finish while I snoozed. It hasn’t been quite as extravagantly easy as the old days of Netflix, but it hasn’t been nearly as hard as I thought, either. It IS possible to relax with five young children wielding frosting and sprinkles, especially when I just focus on admiring their work and remembering that the process is the point, not necessarily conserving sprinkles or finishing without having to sweep the floor. And the overnight change in the children’s behavior has been nothing short of miraculous. They’re still kids, but they’ve sweetened up like nobody’s business. And I feel like a mother again instead of a warden. Funny how sometimes the harder path is easier in the end.
Someone’s going to tell me that I need a little time to myself, but that’s something else I let creep in that I said I’d never do: I’d never seek to get away from my children. Yes, it’s true that I’m not with them twenty-four hours a day. They do go to bed before I do. My husband and I occasionally have dates. And I do go to the gym a few days a week. But as soon as I start feeling like the goal is to get away from my children (rather than incidentally being away from them because they’re growing so they need more sleep, or my husband and I need to build our marriage, or I need to exercise to be healthy, etc.), there’s a subtle change in our relationship. I start to resent the children and even see them as being in the way, when actually raising them up to be godly is my husband’s and my life’s work right now, handed to us from God Himself.
Will we never, ever watch anything ever again? I don’t think I’d go that far, but for now it’s feeling wonderful to be getting my family back from the glowing, hypnotic indoctrinator and myself back from compromise and squirmy justifications for all that stuff I said I’d never do.