As we cue up what we call the "jazz version" of "Baby Shark" on Amazon Prime for the 70 billionth time, a familiar smile creeps across my cranky, tired 9-month-old's face. We sit in our favorite spot on the couch and I bring my knee up, letting him nestle between my thigh and stomach. He watches intently for a few moments then lays his head on my shoulder. Not long into the sing-along, I hear the blissful sounds of baby snores.
My kid's been watching TV since the day we brought him home from the hospital.
Being on maternity leave presented a lot of time for TV watching —especially in the beginning. Shortly after we brought him home, we discovered he was a fussy kid. He'd scream for hours and hours. After checking off all the things, my desperate and exhausted self searched for something, anything, to calm him down. I randomly loaded up Netflix and looked under the kid's section, and stumbled across "Mulan."
While he screamed through the beginning exposition, when the first song came on, it was instant silence. He watched in amazement as the colors danced across the screen to the music. The minute it ended, he began whimpering, so we rewound it and played it again. Eventually, my fussy newborn settled. We turned off the TV, and let him rest—and a new ritual was born.
He became obsessed with "Mulan" to the point where my husband and I would have dramatic sing-offs to all the songs. And I began to feel guilt. Immense, terrible guilt.
What kind of mom lets her kid watch TV to calm him down? I read about screen-time monitoring and dangers, which scared me even more. So, one night, after our son went to bed, I sat down to talk with my husband.
"We should probably cut back on the TV with him, babe," I announced.
Looking utterly confused and like I hit him with a Mack truck, he sputtered, "WHY?"
"I'm worried he's going to be some delayed screen zombie who can't talk to adults," I confessed.
If TV can help us catch a break even for a few moments, what is the honest harm?
My husband considered this. "Do we talk to him?" he asked me.
"Do we read to him, sing to him, play with him, snuggle him, take him places?"
"Yes, we do."
"So, as long as we aren't strapping him to a seat every day, walking away and letting him lose himself in the screen, I think we'll be OK."
And you know what? He's right. If TV can help us catch a break even for a few moments, what is the honest harm?
TV and pop culture are a great way to bond with our son, and open his mind to the world. My husband and I are huge nerds and are super into fantasy, so as our son grew, we started exposing him to some of our all-time kid-friendly favorites. "The Last Unicorn," "Labyrinth" and "The NeverEnding Story" were put into frequent rotation. There's something about him watching what we did growing up that warms the cockles of my heart.
And as he got even older, we found great and valuable kids shows, like "Daniel Tiger" and "Word World," and found classic "Sesame Street" episodes to watch. Shows with people he might not see every day in the real world, lessons on how to regulate emotions and how to count to 10. He doesn't sit there like an emotionless zombie. He is in no way developmentally delayed because of it—in fact, I think it's helped him talk sooner and read emotions better.
So, no, I'm not going to throw my TV out the window and proclaim it a devil box set to corrupt and ruin my child. Instead, I'm going to be a parent and manage it—as I will everything else until he's old enough. For now, I'll relish my sleepy TV time snuggles because I know they won't last forever.
This post was originally published on Mom.me sister site CafeMom.