I chuckle remembering my husband’s and my early parenting selves–so radical it hurt. In the ultra-conventional 80s, nonconformity did not enjoy the vogue it does now. We were hipsters when that word still meant jeans!
One big concern was the effect of TV on kids. I had steeped myself in organic childhood teaching, following Dr. Maria Montessori and reading books like Marie Winn’s “The Plug-in Drug.” Even when we were dating, we agreed that nature was nurture. I give us credit looking back. We’d seen nothing yet of internet, video games, Blu-Ray, cellphones and cyber culture. VCRs were pretty young. We worried about cable television and vowed never to have a TV set in our home. We’d grow our kids on books we said.
Relatives just shook their heads–that’s weird Mar and Al for you. Several concluded we were child abusers. One sent over an old TV “just in case.” We could read between the lines–“so you won’t look so freaky.” And okay, we did use it, in rationed doses and only PBS. And the set was B&W had rabbit ears and got terrible reception. Watching was an exercise in futility.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we hadn’t grown up loving TV. As kids we were both addicted to the “plugin drug.” My dad did think TV was mostly of the devil. Ironic, considering his parents had the first TV in the neighborhood, despite teachings of their Dutch Reformed church. They hid the set in the closet when their minister, the Dominie came over. My parents had left that church over theological differences and here was dad coming full circle in line with Netherlands Reformed thinking! Pretty advanced considering the permissive 60s milieu.
After the divorce, mom got TV and I faithfully worshiped daily. When Watergate took over the airwaves, I actually had to go outside and play. It was horrible. My husband’s family were TV-holics, too. So neither of came to opposition from deprivation.
And we weren’t trying to deprive our children. We believe TV is mostly negative with little redeeming positive. Like McDonald’s, it’s okay occasionally but not every day. We didn’t just take it away. We replaced with books. We love reading as much as we dislike TV. We don’t have many possessions but we do have an incredible library. Our youngest had to share an interesting family fact in school–she said “we own over 2,000” books. No one believed her.
We let kids read challenging books, even things some parents would ban. We let our 10 year old read Stephen King, on the thinking it would develop a reading habit. It did. He’s the most literate 23-year-old I know. The other kids are equally well-read.
In 26 years of marriage through four kids, we’ve managed to stay in the technological Dark Ages. We did get a VCR and later a DVD player with used VHS tapes. I don’t mind these: you can control movies. Our collection is educational, vintage or literature-based. When we bought this century-old house, the antennae, though impressively large, was defunct. It serves as a roof access way for husband and a pit stop for migratory birds. Our son found our TV on the junk pile. When TV “went digital,” we got our box thingy but it doesn’t work either. Evidently you need a functional antennae. Again, extended family agonized over our TV lack. It wasn’t and still isn’t a priority.
How do our kids feel about it? One’s discovered the joys of cable and Blu-Ray, thanks to her husband. But she’d still rather read. The internet has yielded TV we occasionally watch but only on a wee-tiny screen so not very often.
For a time, the kids probably felt a little excluded. Children go through periods of any-way-but-mom-and-dad’s. But each has separately told us they’re glad we did it this way. And what would we have missed? Un-reality shows? Jersey Shores? Nope, not feeling the lack.