The old proverb “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink” is a sort of parenting mantra I repeat over and over again, a reminder to myself of the fact that all humans — even the wee ones — have their very own minds.
Lately it has occurred to me that even though I might not be able to fully control the outcome, I need to take the reins and be a better leader. Even though I want to give my kids the confidence to make their own decisions, sometimes they need a little nudge to make the not-so-fun choice.
Take television, for example. Even though we don’t have basic cable, we do have the Internet, and my children now have a computer in their room. I always swore I would never be one of those people whose children could hole themselves up in their room watching shows, but I have become one of those people whose children can hole themselves up in their room and watch shows!
I coax and cajole. I yell up at them from the kitchen, “Enough! Get off!”
And yet. It is so blissfully peaceful downstairs with the two of them absorbed in “Dr. Who.” I can talk on the phone without interruption, or even to a real, live friend. I can putter around tidying up and no one is there to make another mess except me. I could even just stand at the sink and potentially form a complete thought.
Life can easily roll by with little else having been accomplished but the logging of many, many screen hours. And I remind myself (after my visiting 20-year-old niece shamed me into remembering) that I hate television. I meant to ban it on school days? What happened to my resolve, to my leadership capabilities? Why am I letting them call the shots?
It occurs to me, for the millionth time that I need to get up there and unplug them and make them figure some more interesting things to do with their lives.
Don’t get me wrong. There are great things to be learned on those little boxes. For example, prompted by my friend Michael Hearst’s e-mail, we tuned in recently to the latest installment of his awesome “Unusual Creatures” series on PBS Digital, a fun look at the strange animals he features in his “Unusual Creatures” book, and the inspiration behind the music he created to match the weird wonderful beings for the Unusual Creatures album. Very cool, very informative. We even got to see our own Brooklyn street right there on the screen, since much of it is filmed in Park Slope, where Michael lives.
I need to have more say. I have let things slip lately slightly out of my control, partly due to that aforementioned mantra and the fact that I have a penchant to let people do as they please.
I calmly decided the other night to exhibit some parental leadership and I told the children that they absolutely must not have nearly as much “screen time” as they had been. Holidays are over, school is back in session, it is a new year, and, most importantly, they have to figure other things they like to do.
And they didn’t really fight. They nodded, they knew. They even seemed slightly pleased that I’d finally taken the reigns, kind of like how I feel when someone else decides for me to take away the plate of delicious cookies.
Aha! Even though I know it, I have to recall that kids like rules. We all do.