My mother drove herself demented trying to stop us watching telly. Sad to say that Dallas provided a rare example of TV bringing harmony to the house. The Saturday night ritual of the family sitting down to watch the stupendous soap was followed by her occasional attempts to say the rosary. My memory, whether it can be trusted or not, is of us laughing and shrieking our way through Dallas while the rosary tended to break up in a row.
She was a rarity in those days : a working mother and nothing could be more certain to inflame her than returning to the house after her day to find a bunch of lazy, useless offspring slouched in front of the box. I look back and think; we only had RTE1 and RTE 2. What were we watching? Bosco? She made a few valiant efforts to break us but I think we broke her. She confiscated the aerial but we improvised and stuck a wire hanger in the back of the telly. Then she cut off the plug but we just put the wires straight into socket. She resorted to locking the set into her en suite. A mere lock wasn’t going to stop us and we diligently searched for a spare key and triumphantly retrieved it. Of course, we were always caught since she just felt the set and its warmth gave us away. Finally the day came when she struggled out to the car carrying the telly and went off to work with it in the boot. That one foiled us, so technically she won, but since we were convinced she was completely insane I fear she really lost.
Of course, on becoming a mother these desperate struggles of a parent to influence their children acquire a new perspective. She was trying to make us better people, but was it worth it? Which was more destructive : our devotion to television or the war conducted over it? And did it any of it ultimately matter? There were five children in our family and each one of us have turned out ostensibly successful if carrying our own little bag of unique neuroses and habits, some good, some bad. Would more or less telly have made a difference? Perhaps it was to our benefit but would it have made her happier if she’d learned to ignore the tv watching? Or has she the satisfaction of looking back now, confident that though it went unappreciated at the time, she was right.
Parenting has become both religion and science and every day produces a new bunch of supposed discoveries that assure us that whatever we’re doing with our children is wrong and will have dire consequences for them when they grow up. Their main effect is to alert me to the existence of a problem about which I had been blissfully unaware. Some new food crisis, the dangers of too much discipline, the threat of not enough, an obscure health problem or the crushing of the all-important self-esteem.
My biggest fear is that my boys won’t cough up for the nursing home charges as they’ll be too busy blaming me for their problems.
Among the armageddon like scenarios predicted by parenting experts is that children who watch too much television will turn into twitching, illiterate, isolated zombies with attention deficit disorder.
This is a bit of a problem for me since despite the best aspirations I’ve ended up actively encouraging my two boys to watch the box : they’re doing a good three hours a day in front of it. When the surveys come out, I search for evidence that this isn’t so very bad but can’t find much consolation. We have one television and its not hanging over the mantelpiece. Other than that, it appears their viewing habits are just the sort of thing to send the experts into paroxysms of concern.
I’m tired of worring and fretting though. So I’ve decided to do what my mother might have been better off doing : give up.
I’m uncivilised before 9am and the only way I’ve survived is thanks to the gift of early morning children’s television. I bring them down at 7am, turn onCeebeebies (no ads) and leave them supplies of toast and milk. Then I sneak back to bed and will myself back to sleep for another hour or until they get bored. There’s more telly intermittently during the day, after dinner and often during dinner. I know its bad but right now Postman Pat is a promise of fifteen minutes when I can do my jobs without having to answer to the persistent cries of Mammy, Mammy. The dye is cast so I’ve developed a defence against allegations that my methods will destroy them.
There are only a few truly definitive predictions one can make about childhood and its link to successful adulthood. Chief among these is the necessity to be born into money. Relative wealth dictates that the child is healthy, well educated, lives longer, stays out of prison and in employment. While it won’t ensure they’re happy, it’s a pretty good start. Since I had the great sense to be born middle class, marry middle-class and thus bear a child into middle class, it looks like I’ve already done the single most important thing to give my children a good shot at life. I’ve thrown in optional extras like breast-feeding and proximity to an extended family. At this stage I reckon everything else has marginal benefit and comes at the cost of exhausting my nerves. Every time I feel utterly useless as a mother I think about the rows over television and wonder what really matters.
What my mother also claimed and where the experts agree is that children are born with their inherited traits. After that the order in which they are born and the influence of their peers are the factors most influential on a child’s long term personality. I can’t help the order in which they were born though I can try to relieve the elder one of too much responsibility : the classic burden of the older child. I can force please and thank you’s upon them and teach them they are worth loving, but other than that I’m happy to accept my influence is limited and all the parenting techniques in the world don’t matter.
I have just two children and their personalities are completely opposed. One is instinctively generous, the other stashes his treats. One goes to bed perfectly every night, the other has to be chased around the house. I refuse to believe that over-exposure to Nick Junior can undermine or overcome any of these characteristics and thus affect their future happiness. On the other hand, choosing to let the telly issue slide might affect my current happiness. So my New Year’s resolution is to make myself happy and keep up the lie-ins but without the guilt. The funny thing is that some of the experts say that a happy mother will have happy children so maybe the wrong thing will turn out to be right in the end.