Friday, September 12, 2014

Maternal Reflections: How Video Games Made Me a Better Mother.

A little over 8 years ago, I found myself being the stay at home mom of 3 children all under the age of 6, including a 15 month old and a newborn. That, along with a husband, who was rarely in the same country let alone the same house, due to career responsibilities meant that life was...well...interesting to say the least. I often felt pulled in so many different directions. Each child wanting, and needing different things all at the same time. Sometimes, I remember having an overwhelming sense of failure, that I just couldn't be the quintessential super mom I was supposed to be...that I wanted desperately to be in order to make my husband proud and to make my friends think better of me. Admittedly, I wanted to be the "How does she do it all?" kind of mom both admired and reviled at the coffee group meetings.

There were times during those first 4 years of having the boys and, of course, watching Reagan's personality continue to grow and solidify into her true character, that I thought I was going to lose my mind; and more importantly myself within this circle of dirty diapers, temper tantrums, toys, and never ending laundry. No, it wasn't all bad...please don't think I'm saying that. I spent countless hours cuddled up on the couch watching Blue Clues, Elmo, and Dora the Explorer. I tickled tummies, played peek a boo, patty cake, and wrapped up freshly washed -smell so good little ones after baths. I rocked, I sang, I walked. We explored, we discovered, we grew, we learned. It was all amazing....and exhausting!
And then when Tyler was around 5 years old, he picked up his sister's Nintendo DS and a new and extraordinary sense of calm descended down around my life. Finally, there was another entertainer in the room and I was no longer required to be the one woman DIY show. He played, his brother watched; and then within a year they were both playing one. Since then, the gaming systems have advanced, and multiplied to include, 3DS, Nabi 2, Wii and Wii U.
Have I allowed video games to become a co-parent of my children? No, I honestly don't believe I have. Have I used them as a tool to help me be a calmer, and arguably more engaged mother? Yes, I have. For me, allowing my children to play video games gives me the hour or two I need to do other things in the house, to make dinner, or to just sit "in quiet" and do nothing at all for just a few moments. I believe that it is this time of "recharging" that allows me to look forward to being more involved with my children. I've learned as a mom that you just can't be all on all the time for everyone... That is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness.
I also know that playing video games has allowed them to develop their critical thinking skills and problem solving capabilities. At 8 and 10, they are more adept at forward thinking than I could ever be. They often play together learning how to cooperate and work as a team or how to play against one another in a friendly fun way. In some ways, I believe the video games and associated characters also fuel their imagination. Yoshi and Luigi often go for "slipper rides" down the stair bannister. The Mario Chess board pieces are often seen hiding within the fort built from the Jenga pieces. Pokemon stories and comics are drawn and written on a regular basis.
Could they have gained these skills in other ways? Ways that were "better" according to experts and other non technology parents? Probably. My point here is not to say that having your child play video games is the better way, it's simply to say it's not necessarily the wrong way. So, if you're a mother that struggles with guilt over allowing your 6 year old to use technology, stop...seriously!

Now, with everything in parenting, there is a degree of common sense to be applied. Yes, it is very easy to send them off into parts unknown of the house with a gaming system and forget all about them! Which in and of itself is a testament to the frazzled nature of a mother's mind at times. You are still responsible, as a parent, for establishing rules and guidelines. Boundaries for what are appropriate games and activities.
The rules for video games in our house were established from the beginning, including the "no video games rule on Mondays and Thursdays." They ask before they play, and they don't complain when I say turn them off.  They do their chores, they play outside, they read every night, they perform well in school....they're doing ok!
So, for me as a mom, the adventures into video games have been positive because I've not allowed them to be negative. Being a mom is hard, it's all consuming and all encompassing. To be a successful mom, I believe you have to be able to find the time for you. Like I said, a way to recharge, regroup and refocus; and even if it's only for 30 deserve that! If Mario and Luigi can help you get it, then leave the guilt at the door, grab a good book and relax!

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