TWO IMPORTANT LIFESTYLE CHOICES
By Tanya Abrams
Tanya is a registered nurse by profession and the mother of two sons, who now tour across the country as the Abrams Brothers. She has given permission to post this talk which she gave at a fundraising dinner in support of stronger families. Tanya has a passion for life and a great love for her family. May you benefit from her wisdom.
There has been no greater earthly gift that I have been given than the gift of being entrusted to raise my two boys and more recently my nephew.
When I was growing up I longed to be a mother. I loved science and studying and dreamt of medicine as a career as many other children do at some point in their lives, but most of all I knew I wanted to be a mother. I loved my dolls from the moment I could remember and I looked forward to the day that I could nurture my own real life children. As a young adult I went to nursing school and I read voraciously and studied as I prepared to be what I hoped would be a great mother.
There was lots that I learned through reading and through observing and patterning myself after others whom I admired. I would also be remiss in not adding at this point that all of my learning was really enriched over the years through prayer and faith. Although I tried my best, I admit I made many mistakes along the way and I am thankful that my boys are forgiving and loving enough to overlook my well meaning imperfections. I look at these boys and as they contribute to make society a better place I beam with joy and am eternally thankful to be their mother.
What I would like to highlight is the TWO correct decisions we made as parents, in hopes that you can glean some benefit for your own family. These are not my personal ideas but two important decisions we made based on others' wisdom and my own observation of how positive an impact it made on our children.
These two life enhancing decisions are first, at the age of 5 or 6 we turned the TV off through the week and second and more recently we have placed a real value on what is termed the Family meal. Two simple decisions with huge and lasting impact for our family life.
When my oldest was about the age of 5, I realized that when he watched TV for a few minutes before school, he would become very upset when I turned the TV off to get him out to the bus. What seemed like an inordinate amount of tension would then ensue and I put him on the bus feeling frazzled and miserable. I was like many other parents in my decision to allow a bit of educational TV or PBS in the morning. With two spirited boys, idle time often erupted into a wrestling match or whining match in the kitchen. PBS seemed like a good wholesome solution to the problem...until... I noticed my son frustrated and angry with me when I had to ask him to turn it off to get ready for school. I became the meany and school became the awful chore that prevented him from watching his much loved shows. I knew soon enough that this was no foundation on which to teach him. I simply advised him that from now on there would be no TV through the week and that we would do other things to enjoy our time together. I meant it and I stuck to it. Their music became their fun and replaced the former TV time. They soon played music and instruments in place of being glued to a TV before and after school. They also played chess and outdoor games and engaged one another, instead of sitting side by side in front of a TV.
My decision I must add was not stated in the heat of the moment or as a punishment. It was stated as a lifestyle choice for our collective benefit. Indeed, it wasn’t without opposition over the years. However, I remained steadfast in my conviction. To this day we have NO cable and no satellite. We have dial up internet. To the best of my ability, I still try to maintain that we are TV free from Monday to Thursday. I recall explaining once when the boys asked why we were the only family they knew without TV on through the week; that I was given 18 short years in which to raise them and that I intended to make the most of every minute of that time.
I realized that their school and our work took a certain amount of time away from us already and explained that the remaining time we had was a gift and that every minute the TV was "ON", was a minute that it stole from our time together. So instead of TV time before school, we had story time. I would read them stories, often "Chicken soup for the soul" which gave us all heartwarming memories and wisdom for which to start our days. Once they were old enough, we changed the kitchen stories to something we title ‘Perch’ which consists of sitting in the living room together, sharing morning devotions and a short visit before leaving for school and work. Other than exceptional days that we have been out really late the night before, we stay consistent with this time from 6:40-7:00 a.m. each week day. Our faith is the foundation on which our family is built, so it makes sense to have devotional reading and prayer time together. It sure makes a difference!
That is the first of the two important lifestyle choices we made. Now for the second; The Family Meal... As for my dedication to the family meal , I was at a medical conference for work purposes about 4 years ago, when one specific recommendation was made that really struck home. A leading pediatrician gave the final lecture of the day. It was a lecture on changing ones medical practice with today’s scientifically based research. This pediatrican, in closing, said if you do nothing else in your practice, get families to sit down for at least one meal a day together and you will protect children, specifically teens, by having them less likely to engage in drugs, drinking, sex and other risky behaviours, as well as being able to offer some protection for teen girls from eating disorders. It was like an arrow shot through my heart. I realized that my work schedule and our busy life often had us on the run, taking shifts for supper, or allowing the kids to eat with the kind and wonderful lady that cared for them after school.I realized in an instant that that wasn’t enough....they needed us! I drove home that night a changed person.
It was something that should have been so obvious. I was embarrassed that it took sitting at a pediatric conference to give me a wake up call. I immediately advised my husband that we needed to heed this valuable advice starting with our own family meal if I were to advocate for it within my medical practice. We did. And am I ever glad. Not only are the boys better off for it, but we as adults are better off as well. It has helped us balance a busy life and allowed us much treasured time together. The family meal can be whatever your family is, be it mom or dad and child, grandparent and child. It need not be what we understand to be a traditional nuclear family. It should consist of the following: sitting around at a table with the TV off, talking and listening to one another without interruption from the telephone or narrative from a radio. I even put a candle on the table. Quiet music is fine as long as it does not detract from the visiting. This is not a time for admonishment but for engaging in conversation. Listen to what has happened in your child’s day. I often ask "What is one good thing that happened for each of you today?".
Admittedly There are times that due to our hectic life, that our children need to make themselves a snack after school and then we sit together at 8:00 p.m. for dinner. If this is too late for you, plan to sit for tea or hot chocolate for just a visit after school or later on. Be creative, It is not so much the meal itself but the sitting together consistently, without distraction and really listening that counts. Another idea if evenings are too busy is to have breakfast together or after school meal time if you are a shift worker. In today’s society we need to spend time sitting together and engaging one another. Our children’s (and our) health depends on it! Aside from protecting them, it makes for wonderful family memories.
Well, that’s it. You have now heard my story and my passion in life; in addition to my own children I am devoted to sharing my passion for No TV through the week and The Family Meal . I don’t claim to be perfect, I am just a loving parent and aunt, not unlike yourselves, who would do just about anything to help my children thrive. These are two very simple and easily accessible suggestions that all families can employ as part of building their child’s foundation for life.