Every Friday, my children are picked up by their father, and I do not see them again until Monday morning when I pick them up to take them to school.
They spend great quantities of time on the weekend doing things which I am not comfortable with, but which are out of my control. They, of course, enjoy it. I, of course, not only miss them, but worry. Over time, though, I have been able to let go of some of this worry. I am still concerned. But instead of fighting what I don’t like, I try to be proactive in teaching them to be critical thinkers, to be discerning and to recognize the impact of things they watch on television and be aware of the dopamine “feel good” pull of playing computer games for long periods of time.
My children and I have had some interesting conversations about dopamine. They understand and can recognize the “feel good rush” as well as the “nothing else seems fun anymore in comparison to how good that felt” feeling they are left with after extended time on the computer. We’ve talked about that feeling in the context of addictions they ask about. We’ve discussed other things that feel so good in comparison to how hard life can be, that it is easy to crave more and more of whatever it is that feels so good.
We also talk some about the messages and worldviews being communicated (or even just assumed) in various advertisements and shows on TV. I’m delighted when my children can talk about an advertisement and see the assumptions that are made in the ad as well as the “quick ones” the advertisers pull to make you think you need something you otherwise wouldn’t have wanted. We analyze slogans (and sometimes make fun of them).
I am grateful when I hear them making decisions regarding shows they thought about and chose not to watch even though they could have, and even though I still feel concern about some of what they do watch.
My six year old said one Friday afternoon as he was picking up his room, “Pshew, only 3 more hours till we get a break and go to the fun house. This is the work house, and Dad’s is the fun house.” Ouch. Well, they do have school and homework and chores here. And they have to grapple with the concept of boredom and finding things to do to fill their time without the easy options of “play computer” or “watch TV”.
At the same time, though, this has opened up opportunities to talk about some of the attitudes behind a whiny “I’m bored” (such as ungratefulness and lack of contentment with the opportunities and resources at hand). We also talked a lot more about how the dopamine high that comes from playing computers raises the expectation for how baseline “normal” should feel, to rather unrealistic levels. I don’t know that my son got it all, but since we talked about it, he has seemed to settle down and be able to find and have fun in ordinary ways again. I affirmed that, indeed, after playing computer games, “normal” play wouldn’t always seem as fun, and that I understood it is hard to readjust to a different baseline of “normal fun” when computer and TV aren’t on the regular default list of “things to do”
Over time, it seems like the kids have accepted that Mom’s house is still fun; it’s just a different kind of fun. The big thrills here: eating pizza at the lake, playing with Littlest Pet Shop or legos, listening to books on tape (Oh, I mean CDs; my vocabulary is behind a generation or so!), going to the neighbors’ house to pick oranges, coloring and drawing, attacking fire ant piles, playing board games, swimming and the best fun of all: reading. My easily bored six-year-old has just made the transition to independently literate, and it is a joy to watch him work his way through a book. I read aloud to the children together, but it is so much fun to watch them be able to read by themselves and enjoy it. I love books and delight in seeing my children enjoy them too. Together and individually, we learn so much from reading, and the stories we read often give us role models. The science we read leads us to worship. The history we read challenges us to think and consider our own hearts and attitudes and responsibilities and choices.
I’m grateful to God for his grace and for how I see my children coping, adjusting and doing okay in spite of a not so ideal situation, transitioning between two homes each week. I’m thankful that the church they attend each week is filled with people who love them and pastors who teach in ways that my children understand, learn and apply.
I suppose it is never easy for a parent to realize that no matter how much you try to protect your children, you are not able to do so perfectly or totally. The children of even very careful and protective parents get sick, are in accidents, have bad things happen to them, face losses. And although parents help their children find ways of processing the challenges that come their way, no parent can really control how each child will ultimately respond to those struggles–become more compassionate; turn hard and embittered; run from God; cling to God; turn obstacles into opportunities; be consumed or crushed by the struggles.
I don’t say these things to minimize being careful and protective, or to suggest that we have no impact on how our children persevere and grow through hard times. It’s just that I acutely and regularly feel how much of my children’s lives and choices are out of my control–partly because of what they do during the times they are away from me (wherever and whenever that is), partly because of their own attitudes and choices, even partly because of my inadequacies and weaknesses in how I parent them. And yet, it is in that context and with that reality that I care for them and protect them and teach them and love them the best I can with the time I have.
I started this post on Friday right after my children left for the weekend. But now, I’ve just finished reading Immaculee Ilibagiza’s account of “Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust” in her book Left to Tell. The book left me encouraged and humbled at how her story is in many ways a tribute to her parent’s influence and teaching and love, even though, ultimately, they were unable to protect their children or control the suffering (and in the case of two of her brothers, death) that their children would face.