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A Foolishness Fast

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.

14 comments to A Foolishness Fast

  • Well, THAT’s convicting

  • This is wonderfully convicting! Thank you so much! I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog tonight! :)

  • Linz,

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Andrea M

    Thanks for some excellent food for thought, as always. I so love what you wrote about the harder path being easier in the end. This is advice I can apply to so many areas of my parenting at the moment!

  • Mrs. R.

    WOW. This post was amazing to read. It’s so refreshing to know that it’s NOT JUST ME that is bone tired at the end of each day of being a SAHM. Thank you for encouraging us to PUSH THROUGH that time and redeem it, rather than looking for an “escape”. Thank you so much for being real with us.

  • Praise God, Andrea! When Aaron started kindergarten, his teacher approached me at his first teacher’s conference and asked if we had a TV. When I said, “No,” she said she could always tell, because children without TV in their homes were calmer, more interested in school, better learners, more able to concentrate, more creative, more social, and generally better behaved. That helped give me the courage to stay TV-free throughout the time our kids were growing up, although we did eventually allow some videos. If it had been up to me (and it wasn’t), I would have kept all videos, video games, and TV out of our home. The kids probably would have hated it, but they might be better off today had that happened.

  • Kim from Canada

    It is so easy…a former pastor used to call this the “slippery slope of sin” – also kind of weird that our household is dealing with this same issue. We (my husband and I) have let things slide a little too much with the “babysitter”, as well. It is hard to pull back, and the kids argue. But, we are keeping our eyes on the prize! Getting back to the lifestyle that we KNOW is best. It is comforting to have others of like mind share their stuggles – thanks!

  • We’ve been discussing media + kids recently too.. We don’t have a TV, just the computer, but we do have Netflix & Hulu. And radios. And the internet in general. And our smart phones. Etc. Even without cable, it’s not hard for the world to get into our house and our hearts. It’s going to be hard not to plop future toddlers in front of whatever screen is most convenient. :\
    Another thing I’ve thought about is that a lot of movies (Disney, especially) were really special to me as a child, but as I’ve watched them since, I’ve realized that their messages are not usually very godly. “But I want to share these special things with my children!” part of me says, while the other sagely shakes her head and reminds me, “Now you know better, and to you it would be sin.”

  • Lauren

    Oh, such good thoughts! We were just visiting my parents for Thanksgiving and the TV is on all the time there. Even though it wasn’t usually anything bad, I can see pretty clearly the effect it had on my 3 year old now that we’re home and he’s not getting the TV stimulation anymore! We probably need to be more vigilant when visiting family, too…

    I was curious to know how you manage going to the gym…do you have a family member watch your kids or is childcare provided at the gym? I’m contemplating going in at 5 in the morning to work out and get back before my husband has to leave for his time at the gym before work…but they do have childcare if I went during the day…Just not sure what to do since exercise is so very important for me in restoring health, but so difficult to accomplish without someone to watch the kiddos…Would love to hear your thoughts on this!

  • Lauren,

    My gym doesn’t have childcare, so I can only go when my husband is available to watch the children. I’ve done the getting up really early thing (not quite as rough as you’re contemplating–I only had to get up at 5:45), but I currently go in the evenings when my husband gets home from work. This cuts into our family time, but it’s what is working for us right now. Personally, I’d be really cautious about using a gym’s childcare on a regular basis. Even if the workers are excellent, I still have no control over who the other kids are, what they are learning at home, and what things they will want to teach my kids while they are together. This issues to consider don’t seem much different to me from those involved with sending my kids to a secular preschool.

  • Lauren

    Thanks, Andrea!

    Those are the same concerns I have had with leaving my kids with anyone at the gym. I would love to get up at 5:45, but that is when my husband goes to the gym to work out with a friend before he goes to work! So I have to work around that. Maybe we’ll try the early morning thing and if it doesn’t work we’ll do evenings when he’s home with the kids.

    Thanks for getting back with me!

  • Rachel

    I’ve been thinking about this as well. We don’t have “TV” but we do have DVDs, we used to have Netflix etc but now we live out in the boonies where the internet is more along the lines of what it was like in 1997, and even though we are careful certain attitudes etc creep in. I might need to consider such a fast.

  • Kathryn

    Ah, the TV wars. I think almost every family faces this challenge at some point, and kudos to you for taking it on so honestly and directly. I realize this isn’t the point of your piece, but knowing how ragged I’ve been this year I did want to put in a good word for “me time.” It sounds self-indulgent, but to me it’s like physical exercise. Mental health is important. Now, I 100% agree with you that surfing Facebook after dinner or whatever is probably not the best choice (not least of all because Facebook is kind of the opposite of restorative), but I think it’s important to respect our limits and carve out time to be refreshed.

    Good reminder to be more present and intentional though… She typed on her iPod while holding a sleeping baby. Ha. Baby steps. My technological addictions could take a while

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