Though we have a big family, the six children tend to break down into three distinct subgroups: the big kids — my husband's son and daughter who are now adults; the twins — sometimes called the kids — now 17; and the little boys, 11 and 12 now, but who, because of the nature of family nomenclature, will still probably be called the little boys when they are 41 and 42 years old.
In 20 years of parenting I have learned one thing: never say never. Never say your child will never throw a public temper tantrum — because she will, and very soon. Never say your darling won't read comic books or Mad Magazine, because one day you will be thrilled to see that he is reading anything rather than turning on another screen. And never, ever say my kids won't watch _____________ (TV, cartoons, horror movies, music videos, Disney crap — pick whichever poison comes to mind when you fill in that particular blank).
The big kids were just 10 and 13 when we got married, and most of the movies and television we watched were throwbacks from my childhood. It was fun to watch the old stuff together: screwball comedies, really old Disney flicks, and black and white TV shows like the Munsters and I Love Lucy.
When the twins came along, I restricted their viewing to public television and a few well-chosen videos (Road Construction, Dead Ahead was a favorite). That was about it until they hit grammar school and found out from friends that cable offered a much wider variety of programming than their mother had led them to believe. Still, I set our boundaries and stuck to them: violence was my big bagaboo and I remember hearing my son say, "Sorry, I can't watch that — there are too many guns." I was so smug proud.
But things began to slide about the time the twins hit third grade. I had two toddlers, two school-aged kidlings and two high school-aged stepkids who all had lives and needs and trasportation requirements. I simply no longer had time to monitor every single minute of television that was watched in my house.
First, it was cartoons like Rugrats and Animaniacs that began to slip in. Then the occasional cop show showed up. PG-13 movies were introduced into family movie night when the big kids starting groaning at suggestions of yet another Disneyfest. And my toddlers came right along for the ride.
I rationalized as best I could: "Oh, that innuendo went right over their heads," or "We've talked about what language is appropriate to use and what language is not," and even "Hey, guys, cover your eyes during this next part, OK? It might be a little scary." You try keeping six kids between the ages of 2 and 21 happy with a single form of entertainment and then get back to me.
The little boys have both reaped the benefits and suffered the consequences of this more lax attitude. I try to tell myself that I'm older and wiser, and that I know most of these things really aren't very important in the long run. You know that old saw — little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems? Well, it's true. And if you have a big family, you better learn not to get your knickers in a knot over every little thing or burnout will set in well before your last kid reaches middle school.
But I wonder if I really am older and wiser, or just plain older and tired. Last weekend, my husband said he had rented a movie for the family. When we cranked up the DVD player and I saw that it was the 1995 classic The Usual Suspects (rated R, thank you very much), I ordered a pause to discuss the situation. "If I remember correctly, this film is wildly inappropriate for the 12-year-old," said I. "He'll be fine, and younger brother bailed and went to bed," said my DH. "It's very violent," I countered. "He'll be fine," DH repeated. "It's riddled with profanity," said I. "It's not like he hasn't heard the words before, right kid?"
"Yeah, I've heard them. But I would never use them, Mama," he said, all wide-eyed innocence. Yeah, right.
I gave up, or gave in, or something. I justified this decision by making sure we discussed the film and all its meanings and ramifications. It was a teachable moment, I reassured myself. Don't roll your eyes at me. Your time will come; your standards will slide right off the scale and into the sewer, just like mine did. But don't fret too much about it. There are bigger things to worry about right around the corner. Trust me.
This is an original Chicago Moms Blog post. When Susan Bearman isn't busy lowering her standards, she can be found writing at Two Kinds of People and The Animal Store Blog.