Design the life you want

Published by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2011 at 03:22 PM

hi there. i followed the link from a friend for your first "Why I Don't Worry" post. awesome observations, and so relevant to me — a curmudgeony Luddite who very reluctantly has given in to the dvds for me two kids, who are just 2 and 4. i have often, in my attempts to accept the new screen age, compared it to books. i bet the old timers were outraged when books came along and people had their noses in them instead of engaging with the world and their family. same same.

everything you say rings so true in my ear, and i hadn't heard anyone else saying it, so it feels revolutionary. 

but here's my question. movie watching and computer games are addictive. as in, they can suck you in and keep you there beyond what even actually feels good sometimes. when my kids just watch an hour or two of movies in a day, and they seem happy, i'm okay with that, but some days it's like once they start they can't stop, and by the end of the day they have spent 4 or 5 hours slack-jawed and stupid looking in front of the screen. i am prone to channel-surfing binges whenever i am around cable tv, and i know the feeling of too much. 

you're comparison to sugar vs. broccoli is perfect, because screen time bothers me the same way sugar bothers me. it provides something to us that we naturally crave on an animal level, but in a form concentrated way beyond natural. i feel that our species hasn't had time to adjust, to learn to self-regulate. i could be wrong, but i am pretty confident that someone raised on all sugar and junk food wouldn't be interested in broccoli, because that all that sugar would have messed up their body so that it could no longer act in it's own self-interest. likewise, i think when someone watches too much tv, the idea of getting up to do something else sounds less and less appealing.

then again, maybe that's just the way that i myself feel about tv, because i was raised by tv haters/secret lovers. so i got the exact message you are talking about drilled into me. and now i'm drilling it into my kids. motherhood: i'm doing it wrong.

this is all not to diminish your posts which are truly wonderful and profound! but this issue is one that haunts me and i feel like i need help sussing it all out from someone who sounds as on top of it as you. so, what's your take on the addictiveness? am i making it up? — Calamity Jane

Thank you for the great comment.

I think you're absolutely right. Someone who is raised on sugar and junk food probably won’t be drawn to broccoli. They have no idea how good healthy food can taste, how good it can make you feel, how much more energy you have, etc. etc. etc.

In fact, it would be pretty silly for a parent to raise their child on Cheetos and Mountain Dew and think that they would just naturally gravitate on their own toward fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Therefore, if you think these things are important — if you think they are the key to a healthy lifestyle — you should incorporate them into your life and put them front and center. (And Jane, I'm talking general “you” from here on out — not addressing you specifically!)

In the same way, it’s easy to zone out and just become one with the couch. If your life is a big empty space with nothing else compelling or interesting going on, if you have no routine that regularly puts you outside, in the art studio, at the library, or with friends, you are probably going to be a lot more likely to just stay where it’s comfy and entertaining. With Cheeto dust on your fingers.

The key is to actively design the life that you want.

If your children grow up in a family culture that loves books and reading, that loves the outdoors, that values making and creating, those things will shape their day, their week, and their life. Your values determine (or they should determine) how you live your everyday life. You set the tone. Your life sets the example. Your choices set the example.

If you create a structure to your days that openly declares what is most important to your family (whatever that is: reading, writing, art, togetherness, the outdoors, science, travel...) and prioritizes those things, then TV and video games will be the small rocks and not the big rocks.

I don’t worry about my kids’ screen time because their days are full of reading, writing, creating, making, thinking, sharing. Video games become one of the ways they play, one of the ways they enjoy their hobbies, like history and science fiction. The video games fit in with the rest of their lives — not the other way around. Their priorities are already set. I don’t worry about movies and TV because my sons approach the media as adept storytellers themselves. They enjoy TV and movies, and then they take ownership. They like a TV show; they appropriate the characters for a comic book. They read a mystery; they want to write a mystery. They watch a movie; they want to make a movie. Their big rocks are in place. They are writers, filmmakers, artists, and big thinkers.

Everyone sinks into the couch now and then. There’s nothing wrong with that. But if I saw my kids getting off track, I would stop and examine our lives. What is happening with us that is allowing this to take over? What is not happening? Then I’d make a change.

When your kids are young, you have the wide-open opportunity to make your best life. As they get older, they’ll be much more resistant to change — they’ll want to cling to the familiar. So now is the time to think about your family culture — how you can make your daily life reflect your values. How you can make sure that you are spending your time on the things that are most important to you.

It’s true — TV and video games can be addictive. Bad food is definitely addictive. There are downward spirals wherever you look, and they lead to a passive, overweight, consumerist lifestyle. But the good stuff can be just as addictive. Healthy eaters crave healthy food. Kids who play outside every day crave sunshine and wind and trees. Readers crave books. Makers crave time to make. Artists crave time to create.

The antidote to sleepwalking through life is to wake up and realize you’re in charge. You get to decide what today is like, and tomorrow. You’re steering the boat.

One of the best lessons we can teach our children — slowly, over years of family life — is that they are in charge of their own lives. Learning is for them, so they can do whatever they want to do. Problems are inevitable. We are capable, and we can figure out a solution. We’re in charge of our own lives.

That feeling of control is the essence of happiness. So take control, and make your life the way you want it.



Comment by mary on November 15, 2011 at 06:48 PM

Not sure how long ago your original post was on this subject, but it really struck a chord with me. I stopped worrying about the tv and computer and I noticed that it really is a small part of what my girls do. My oldest watches a show each morning. It's her routine, one show and she turns the tv off. My little one likes her computer games, if I feel she's been on too long I let her know but we don't have a timer or schedule.
The tv and computer is such a small part of their activity. They draw and write, play and read. More often than not I find them at the art table. We put in many years of me pulling out materials for art exploration. If we were bored or restless we always ended up "making". We made art, movies, toys, food, music, memories. Now that they are 7 and 9 I find that they take the lead on the making. They are much more likely to grab a marker and paper than the remote, but if they do that's okay.
Thanks for that long ago post, it means I never worry when we are all snuggled up with Phineas and Ferb. aggggggg (you know what perry says)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 15, 2011 at 07:28 PM

lolol perry

thank you so much for your comment, mary, and for sharing your experiences!

Comment by Elizabeth on November 15, 2011 at 08:56 PM

Geez Lori! Could you please write a lame post to give my writing hand a break? I seriously want to write it all out in my commonplace. I can't wait to share this one with my husband. I've been wanting to start up our weekly family meetings again as a way to keep our family on course. This article has spurred me to make sure this happens.

Thank you.

Comment by Amy on November 15, 2011 at 10:14 PM

I appreciate this post. Once the screen time posts went up last week it got me thinking about how screen time works in out house - which is to say, we really have to work at it. We don't have a TV but hey! we've got a laptop and that is not much different. Even then, intentionality has everything to do with how graceful we all are about using the computer to watch media or play. For both myself and the rest of the family, it boils down to: what interest is being served by watching/playing? If the interest is: check out, avoid responsibilities, placate kids or myself, then bad feelings seem to abound. If the interest is something that someone is passionate about, be it building robots in Hero Factory or watching X Factor as a family and voting/debating together, the feelings are positive. A sense of connection, to each other and the material consumed, seems to make all the difference in the world. It's crazy that it took nearly ten years for me to figure this out but now that I realize this it does make use of media just another pathway for us to enjoy and interact with our world.
I do see, as some mentioned, really ugly behavior crop up in myself, my husband, and my son when any one of us has spent too much time engrossed in fantasy, but this can happen with a novel or a comic book or NFL updates just as easily. I don't blame TV. I think it has more to do with reminding us to find balance and set priorities, and sometimes those reminders can be uncomfortable.
But I think this post is an essential aspect of the TV discussion, and I will never deny that I am way more anti-TV than I am pro. I just feel like there are more fulfilling ways to spend my time, but I had to learn that through experience, and while I can shape lots of different opportunities for my kids, I presume that at some point they will learn that, too. Or just have really big TVs, oh well!

Comment by amy on November 15, 2011 at 10:47 PM

I'm appalled by the food I was brought up on. In fourth grade I was at a friend's house and had wheat bread for the first time and was bowled over. I went home and asked my mother to buy wheat bread. (She bought Wonder all the time. I hated sandwiches. I hated the way the bread smushed into the middle part. Wheat bread DID NOT SMUSH.) Salad? Iceburg. Veggies? Either from a can or cooked within an inch of their lives. I had no idea cooked vegetables didn't have to be army green until I moved out and began cooking for myself. In other words: You *can* be raised on horrifying food and crave the broccoli. You know it's out there somewhere... :-)

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2011 at 12:30 AM

elizabeth, that is wonderful — and thank you! and just for YOU, i promise to make every post for the rest of this week totally lame. :D

amy, so true that *anything* can cause us to tip off balance and/or check out. i really think the key is to very deliberately craft the life that works for us, then learn to recognize when things have gone awry. usually crabbiness is a red flag. :)

what you say at the end of your comment is what i believe — that if we help our kids have a variety of experiences, if we help them become *familiar* with a life that is well balanced and focuses on the things that matter most to us (whatever those are), then they'll be able to tell when their activities are making them feel crummy .. because they have something to compare it against.

hi other amy. :)

mm, i believe you are describing what i think of as midwestern rural cuisine. :) at least my experience of it! i remember going to potlucks where every single dish contained miniature marshmallows — from entree to sides to desserts!

note i was careful to say *probably* won't be drawn to broccoli. :) of course, some children whose parents weren't readers turn out to literature lovers, and etc. we aren't all *doomed* by our upbringing. but as the twig is bent... so might as well bend it the way we want it to grow, right? :)

Comment by Dawn Suzette on November 16, 2011 at 02:47 AM

Thanks Lori!

Comment by patricia on November 16, 2011 at 05:18 AM

Amen! Next time this topic comes up with people I'm talking with or writing to--and it comes up often--I know where to link!

Comment by marta on November 16, 2011 at 10:58 AM

When it comes to my kids, I have two pet peeves: staying up late and screen time. They're cranky if they don't follow the biological clock - they need 9 to 10 hours sleep each night and as they rise with the sun (almost!), they must be down by 9 pm (11 years old, 9 years old and 6 years old). They get plenty of fresh air, outdoor experiences and sports/physical activity, which only adds to the feeling of tiredness after the sun sets (a bit before 6 pm these days in this part of the world). Also, they only get about 1/2 an hour screentime per day on weekdays, about 3 to 4 hours per day on weekends (split btw computer and tv).
So it came to a great surprise yesterday when I told my husband that I'd allowed the 11 yo to stay up til 10.45 pm to watch the national soccer team's match of qualification for the European Cup next June. I figured he was so excited about it, so enthusiastic about knowing our past experiences with these kind of play-off matches and international cups, so keen on the soccer stats and trivia - he learnt a great deal about national flags and their symbolism during the last World Cup - that to ban him from watching because of bedtime curfew seemed, well, mean.
We won (6-2!!!) and he was happy - and sleepy, yes. When I was tucking him in bed he said that at school they'd spent the day talking about the match, placing bets, arguing their views on who's the best player, etc. Today will be a fine day - they'll even act out during lunch recess the best tricks and goals. They'll all have this to share: we're making it to the European Cup finals and we watched it live on tv on the one night our parents let us stay up late.
These kind of collective memories (in the family or amongst school/neighbourhood friends) are some of the best things you can pass on to your children, I guess.

Marta, Portugal

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 16, 2011 at 01:55 PM

hi dawn. :^)

thank you, patricia!

marta, i think it's wonderful you let him stay up to watch the game. :) i still remember when i was forced to turn off the tv and go to bed 3/4s of the way through "Oliver!" -- i was so upset! that was in the days before videos and DVDs -- it was years until i saw the end! ;^)

Comment by renee @ FIMBY on November 17, 2011 at 12:54 AM

Love this. I love that you give language to what I've lived for sometime but haven't phrased as such - big rocks and little rocks. yes!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 17, 2011 at 01:35 AM

thank you, renee! xoxoxo

Comment by Mags on November 18, 2011 at 05:59 AM

I've been thinking about this post (incl the 'change' one) a lot these last few days, the ideas percolating and getting ready to come out. It strikes me that you are also saying that we as the parents/ adults need to take charge of this process, that it won't happen without conscious and deliberate planning and thinking about our life and how we want it to be. It takes effort, reflection and making time.

And we are not only setting these process for our children but need to do same for ourselves as parents/adults. If we want to see more art/reading/whatever in our life and home then we have to make the effort to make sure this happens not only for our kids but us too (as parents/adults) and the whole family will benefit.

Presently, for me, I feel that there is so much to change, add, take out etc that I may get a little paralyzed as to where to begin with it all. So thank you very much for these posts, they are very helpful in terms of where to start and how to set up a more fulfilling life for both ourselves and our children!
PS: I am SO looking forward to reading your book!

Comment by Lori Pickert on November 18, 2011 at 01:56 PM

thank you, mags!

"It strikes me that you are also saying that we as the parents/ adults need to take charge of this process, that it won't happen without conscious and deliberate planning and thinking about our life and how we want it to be. It takes effort, reflection and making time.

And we are not only setting these process for our children but need to do same for ourselves as parents/adults."

that is exactly what i'm saying. :^)

there is a huge difference between trying to herd your children into something and having a family culture that prioritizes that same thing. trying to get your child to read vs. being a reading family. trying to get your child to play outdoors more vs. being a family that enjoys the outdoors. one is difficult; the other is effortless. if we don't *really* care about that thing (and it shows because we ourselves don't do it), then the message to our child is, at the very least, mixed. mom says get off the computer and read a book, but mom is always on the computer and never reads a book. dad says get off the video games and go outside, but dad never goes outside. and etc.

and if we really *don't* care about these things — if we see no value for ourselves in being outdoors, say — then why are we trying to wrangle our kids in that direction? if people would stop trying to manipulate and coax their children and just live the lives they value, the entire energy would change.

in the same way, if our child absolutely loves video games and we reject video games completely, we are also rejecting that part of our child. why not sit down and ask them to show you what they love? let them draw you toward something that entertains and challenges them the way you want them to be drawn toward what you value.

re: being a little paralyzed :) i always think of the old breastfeeding saying - it just takes one good feed to change everything. you can really just change something small; it doesn't have to be overwhelming. (although i can see where you might become overwhelmed by where to start.) but rather than doing a lot of different changes at once, i think it's easier to pick one thing and focus on that. add one good thing, and see what happens.

thank you, mags, for your lovely comment and your kind words about the book!

Comment by estea on November 20, 2011 at 06:46 AM

oh this is so good so good so very very good.

"...create a structure to your days that openly declares what is most important to your family..."

yes yes yes a thousand times yes

man this is something i have struggled with recently, feeling like my zest is zapped :( guess i'll gotta have to trust the big rocks for a bit, huh? ;)

Comment by debbye on January 1, 2012 at 05:52 PM

What a great thing to stumble upon and read today of all days! Thank you all for the great comments and the article is a lovely reminder to start the year off right, and make our lives what we want them to be!

Comment by Lori Pickert on January 2, 2012 at 09:15 PM

thank you, debbye! :)

Comment by Jeannine on January 21, 2012 at 03:29 PM

Yes! This is an incredibly helpful post. A true gem.

This is so totally balanced.

Thank you!

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 12, 2013 at 08:06 AM

thank YOU! :)

Comment by Danyel on August 11, 2013 at 08:50 PM

What struck me as amusing about Calamity Jane's response was the comment about screen time being addictive. As if books aren't? If I start a good book, you can rest assured that all functions that are not essential to basic existence are put on hold until, not only that book, but the whole series, has been devoured. My children are the same way.

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 12, 2013 at 08:07 AM

so true :)

Comment by Annie Peters on August 12, 2013 at 08:22 PM

Just wonderful. Printing off for my son, who believes that Divine Providence gave him the right to computer games and cannot understand why I don't agree. :)

Comment by Lori Pickert on August 12, 2013 at 08:50 PM

thank you, annie :)

Post new comment