PT. III - REDUCING MEDIA
PREFACE: When Deacon was 3 months old it marked the beginning of returning to the work force in a new business venture. Our family needed for me to return to work but my prior career required a significant amount of travel. Being on the road, away from Deacon was not an option so I took a leap of faith to explore a hobby and create a business out of it. During Deacon’s early years it was a fine balance between motherhood and becoming a financial contributor to our family.
It was a sink or swim moment and I was determined to swim! I wanted to be able to provide more for Deacon and alleviate the pressure off of Chase to provide for our family. We did what we could do within our means. But as the business began to grow Chase’s work obligations grew accordingly. This called for him to be on the road for long durations of time. I found myself in a position as a single-parent, running a business and attempting to support Deacon.
The MOST EFFECTIVE lifestyle change we made to support Deacon was REDUCING MEDIA! Let’s be real we all have a love-hate relationship with media, especially with the iPad. The majority of Deacon’s life, I was running my business, so the iPad and movie time became my crutch. From the ages of 1 to 5 it wasn’t within our financial means for him to attend daycare/school full-time. Media became an affordable babysitter. I could get some work in while he was watching a movie (or two). In my mind, I had this mentality of, “I grew up watching TV and I’m fine.” That’s a horrible thing to say but that was the truth. Sadly, I chose to disregard my instinct and convinced myself that it was for the better. If I could grow my business, I could provide a better lifestyle for him.
In our early sessions of Occupational Therapy our therapist brought up the subject of media time. (INSERT MOM GUILT.) I knew he was watching MORE then he needed to. I felt guilty more than ever!! I knew it had to change!!! These were the 3 tools I used took to help reduce media:
-Learning to play again
If it was going to change, it needed to start with ME!! Many SPD children thrive off a consistent routine and I had to develop that for myself first. I thought I was organized but It came down to micro-managing my life that much more!! I started to restructure my business—reduced the amount of clients I took on in a calendar year, I blocked off weekends to ensure I didn’t occupy all my weekends working, limited the amount of daily meetings I took on, “turned off” working between after school and bed time, and I sought for more assistance on a personal and business level (delegating more verses taking on ALL the tasks on my own).
It took a village to make it happen and it was a first time in my life I really sought-after help. I didn’t want people to know there was a real problem. I didn’t want Deacon to realize there was anything wrong with him. I knew I couldn’t carry the weight of the business and supporting him all on my own. It’s interesting what you discover when you ask for help. There were the hurtful no’s seeking help from those you thought were close to you. It felt very lonely. It made me more scared to step outside of my comfort zone asking for help. Scared of being judged. Scared about all the questions but not having answers for myself. Mostly, scared of more hurt. Then came my village. People with arms open wide. People I least expected to help us. Without those very people I couldn’t make the changes I wanted to make with my business and family.
Simultaneously, I ironed out a schedule that would work for Deacon and me. Deacon needed a clear outline of what the day would bring, and a picture schedule was the perfect way to display it. Between school/childcare, my business/working hours and therapy I drew out his picture schedule daily. Might sound like a huge thing to do every day but it was fairly quick. (It was a lot of stick figures and emoji-like images so nothing complicated. It was fun and at times comical.) The repetition of this activity helped both of us identify, engrave and solidify the day ahead of us. The picture schedule gave me accountability to stick with the plan and the visuals provided Deacon a reference of where we were at with the day.
LEARNING TO PLAY AGAIN
Within our picture schedule we built in more play time to limit media. Our goal was a max of 1 movie per day. This was a huge adjustment for Deacon and especially to ME!! 1) Deacon didn’t have that type of empowerment/urge to just play on his own the same way other kids would exhibit. 2) It was hard for me to break the habit relying on media. Year-round sports weren’t initially part of our lives so looking at the 5-8 hours after school till bed-time felting daunting. How were we going to do it? What were we going to do during that time? It came down to learning how to play again.
What do you mean you had to learn to play? I would say there are 2 types of mothers — natural mothers and mothers who learn to be mothers. There are mothers who have that maternal instinct, and, for me, I grew into my role as a mother. I lived in this complicated paradigm within myself fighting for personal identity and financial stability with my business as a means to make our family more stable. But that all came with a sacrifice and I sacrificed time away from being a true mother to him. I realize now more than ever I never really allowed myself the time to slow down and just play with him. Play time became OUR time. It encouraged us to learn from each other, bond and just unwind from a busy day. This new-found revelation of playing strengthened our ability to gain trust with one another. (This trust would support us when we ventured into homeschool. That story is for another day.)
As a result, I learned how to lighten up and not have this mentality of “I can do this better and faster so I’ll just take care of it.” I simply tried to take care of it ALL. Occupational Therapy opened my eyes to his capabilities and his urge to take on the world. I had to let go of this idea of perfectionism and just get him more involved. He enjoyed doing chores, he wanted to cook with me, he wanted to build a garden. I should have known better but the life I was fighting for silenced his voice.
By no means would I ever consider myself an athlete. I was raised in an A-Typical Filipino family—you learn to play the piano and burry your head in a textbook. Sports weren’t really a thing that was encourage in our household. I sought interest in it and involved myself in track and tennis, but my strength was in music. Chase on the other hand grew up racing. He had a knack for speed, athleticism and competition. As you can see our upbringings were entirely different so when the subject of sports came up I had a lot of mixed emotions about it.
Before Deacon’s 2nd birthday, Chase convinced me that we would introduce Deacon to skiing. I had attempted skiing in the past and miserably failed. Now we were going to cross our fingers and I hoped he wouldn’t get hurt. I remember that day clearly. It was the day after Thanksgiving and fresh snow had fallen on Mt. Hood. No lifts were open and we would need to hike the “run”. Deacon and Chase trekked 100ft upwards and I stayed closer to the base. He stood up, Chase gave him a slight budge and off he went. A slight fear in his eyes but half way down I could hear the laughter in his voice. It was a success!! From that point on we kept up with skiing and introduced new sports within our means.
As Deacon matured and his gross motor skills developed we discovered his love for competition in swimming and soccer. For the last couple of years he’s been able to participate year round. In the last year, he actively sought out to participate in fun runs and triathlons. With practices, games, races and meets on top of school activities it significantly eliminated the available time for media!
Sports has become our saving grace. 1) He LOVES it 2) It’s kept us busy 3) Media become more irrelevant in our household. As he’s progressed in sports he became more confident. He felt empowered. He felt like he was a part of a community. Sports gave him an opportunity to not feel different. He wasn’t being judged by his reading fluency, his speech or any of his differences. He began to feel like he belonged.
Reducing media wasn’t a quick fix. It took YEARS to overcome the misuse of media. Change wasn’t easy. Change took staring myself in the mirror and seeing that how I was raising him wasn’t supporting him. The guilt was hard to accept but when that acceptance occurred the change came.