Over the weekend, I came to a realization. I suppose it wasn't a shock, but actually admitting it to myself felt pretty crappy. It definitely makes me feel like a sub-par parent. And yet, I know that parenthood is often a matter of survival, and this is a survival mechanism right now.
What is the problem? Well, I realized that electronic distractions have officially become the one thing that keeps all of us from losing our minds. And yes, I feel awful about that. But right now, the kids can't be in the same room and not make each other crazy unless one or both of them is being distracted by some form of electronics. Minus the electronics, they unsuccessfully try to "play" together. They may attempt to play sports and it gets out of hand. Stick swinging, errant ball throwing, and puck stealing all make the fun disappear very fast. Then Jacob encourages Carter to do something he shouldn't, like fight him or throw toys. Carter chases after Jacob. Jacob tries to boss Carter around. Carter walks away. Jacob chases him down. Carter falls and gets hurt. Jacob makes fun of Carter crying. Carter yells back. Everything dissolves into a shouting match of nonsense sounds, and everyone loses their minds. Almost every single time it is some variation of this. It's a constant cycle and it's exhausting.
But then...Jacob picks up his iPad and is happily building away on Minecraft. Carter can play how he wants without Jacob bossing him around. Or we turn on Paw Patrol and both kids just sit there watching it happily. It allows me to cook dinner without having to referee. I can get a few moments of quiet to check my email or pop on Facebook...or even just to think. It seems miraculous in contrast to how explosive they can be together.
The biggest problem is that Carter is pretty addicted to TV, and Jacob is pretty addicted to his iPad. When we took away Jacob's iPad for almost a week, he asked incessantly when he was going to get it back. When he has it, it is very hard for him to put it down when we ask him to stop. He always wants to finish one more thing. Carter loves his TV shows and asks for them often. In fact, if one of them is not on when he comes in the living room, he will tell us to "turn the commercials off" (even if it's really a show) and ask for one of his. When Jacob was this age, it was actually hard to get him to sit and watch a show. He almost always played while he watched, at the very least. Carter, on the other hand, will just sit still and watch for hours on end if he could. I'll admit that in the evenings I like nothing more than snuggling up with him on the couch after dinner and watching a show. It's relaxing and cozy and I can catch up on life while he watches. It's one of the highlights of my day. I know I should be encouraging him to get back on the floor and play, but it's hard. I love that time, he loves that time, but it's not the best way to spend our time together, unfortunately. But when your kid barely slows down, sometimes it's nice to have those moments.
I guess the other part of the problem is that there aren't enough hours in the day. I would love to watch our shows AND play with his toys, but by the time I'm done in the kitchen after dinner, we usually just have time for one or two shows before it's time to start getting ready for bed, and by then I need the rest. Sometimes he will watch one and run off and play, but when I join him he'll suddenly move on to something else, either because Jacob distracted him or he happens to wander back to the living room and remember that he wants to watch another show. Not that we always give in, but still, he's three and it's hard to get him back on track when he really wants something, and the resulting misbehavior usually just leads to an earlier bedtime.
To be fair, I always read him three books before bed, so I know he's at least getting that non-electronic quality time. And he spends all day at daycare playing with toys and learning new things, so perhaps he's like his mama and needs some decompression downtime by then. But the fact of the matter is, those TV shows keep the peace better than anything else, and I've come to rely on them far too much.
Over the past week or two, I've been making a concerted effort to go to bed early...or at least on time. I'd gotten in a terrible habit of not getting into bed until just before midnight, though many nights I'd nod off in my chair for a bit before that. But one day at work I realized I was overly exhausted and it was impacting my ability to think through some of the complex processes that I deal with on a daily basis. And right then I decided this needed to be a priority. And ever since, with the exception of one or two nights (one was on a weekend) where I just needed to get something done, I have gone to bed on time, around 11pm or earlier. I still can't get my butt out of bed in the morning, but I do feel like it helps me to function better during the day, and even to be more patient with the kids. I'm hoping that the longer I stick to it, the more my body will recover from months of bedtime abuse. I'm hoping to wake up easier, think more clearly, maintain my weight (I blame the sleep thing for at least part of the extra seven pounds I've put on in the last 6-9 months), and hopefully find more energy. And once I find that energy (and even if I don't), I need to work on turning the TV off, or finding other ways to distract Carter or encourage both kids to cooperate. I need to play with Carter, to bring out the mess of Duplos, to look at his toys and think of new ways to play. And if electronics have to be part of it, I need to make sure it remains interactive. I need to get off the couch and play Wii with Jacob more often, or I need to bring up the hand-me-down kiddie video game system in our basement and encourage the kids to start figuring that out together, or I need to pay attention more when Jacob shows me his amazing Minecraft creations (seriously--they're impressive). I need to be more present for my kids in spite of how the exhaustion sometimes makes me want to check out and hide behind my electronic co-parenting "partners".
The exhaustion may have taken its toll, but now that I see the extent of it, I need to fight back. Baby steps, for sure, but hopefully it will be progress nevertheless.