TV and film play a huge part in my life. I majored in filmmaking in college, and worked in independent film and commercial production after I graduated. For the last 15 years I’ve been working in TV as a writer/producer, and my taste hasn’t varied much during that time. By my views on TV changed after I had a baby, and in ways I definitely didn't anticipate. Before kids, I didn’t really notice how parents were portrayed on screen, or what role weapons played in so many of my favorite films. Now that I'm a mom, though, it’s all I see.
Before I had kids, I never watched children’s shows. When my partner and I started discovering programming for toddlers, I realized I didn’t like the majority of it. I think the only shows we allowed the kids to watch, purely based on our entertainment preferences, were Yo Gabba Gabba and Sesame Street (specifically, Elmo’s World). Everything else was either so cloying or vapid… to us, anyway. I know it’s unfair to judge a kid’s show by a parent’s taste, but since we had to watch it too, I felt justified in heavily curating my children’s media diet.
And when it came to TV for grown-ups, I still loved complicated characters and unpredictable stories and some eye candy (I’m human, after all), but I was watching all of it through my “new mom” lenses. As a result, things were less, well, "rosy." So many guns. So many female characters written to serve a man’s story. So many “tired mom” tropes. So much violence. So much sex. So much problematic messaging.
Now, when I watch TV, I view programs as my kids will see them, experiencing it all anew and without the influence of life lessons my children haven't learned yet. A lot of it is making me cringe, to be honest, as I want to protect my kids from anything that might upset them. But a lot of it is becoming more reflective of the world in which we live: increasingly diverse, not easily defined, and very dependent on new technology.
I’m glad we, as a family and as a country, get to watch better content. But I’m not done being scared by it, even though I’m no longer a “new” parent. So with that in mind, here are some ways my viewed on TV changed when I became a mom:
I Have A Much Lower Tolerance For Violence…
Once I had a child, I couldn’t stand the thought of someone suffering. The horror of another person experiencing pain became so much more visceral once I stepped into the role of caregiver. Being a mother over-sensitized me to suffering. I turn off ASPCA commercials. I just can’t handle it.
… Especially If It Involves Children
I am particularly affected by any depiction, fictional or not, of children suffering. Once I had a baby, I noticed how so many movies and TV shows make the suffering of young people an integral plot point. I know that gets the viewer to care, but really, it turns viewers like new moms off. There were a lot of films I had my partner turn off when we were just a few minutes in, especially if the first scenes showed any sort of unkindness to a child.
Everything Makes Me Cry
I cry tears of joy and sorrow and because the lady in that one shampoo commercial is flaunting hair with the level of shininess I’ll never again achieve now that I'm an overworked mom. The postpartum hormonal roller coaster I was riding required many tissues, but I swear, even 10 years since I gave birth, I'm still an emotional television viewer.
Reality TV Is Now An Escape...
One of the highlights of those early months of motherhood was my husband taking our newborn out and allowing me to stay home alone. That’s when I’d catch up on things, including but certainly not limited to napping, showering, and aimlessly scrolling through my social media feeds. And of course, laundry, which I loved to fold while watching Vanderpump Rules. I was able to shut my brain off and let the glossy drama wash over me as I mindlessly rolled up clean onesies.
… And Makes Me Feel Less Lonely
I would watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey in the middle of those summer nights when I’d nurse my newborn son. I had thought it would be a good idea to go stay with my parents’ at their home in Pennsylvania while I was on maternity leave. My husband, working in New York City, would come up on weekends. But while my parents were a huge help for us, that help ended at bedtime. If my toddler daughter woke up, followed shortly by my hungry infant son, I was on my own.
So settling into the couch with the baby after I’d finally gotten his older sister down only amplified that feeling that I was, in those moments, alone. Thank goodness for those Jersey girls, because watching them flip tables while I breastfed at 2:00 a.m. made me forget my own loneliness for a little bit.
I Can't Watch Anything About Being Pregnant
When I was pregnant, I was addicted to that reality series A Baby Story. Anticipating the birth of my own child made watching that show feel like intense, meaningful research. It wasn’t enough to read all about having a baby, but seeing it happen to real people helped me visualize what my own childbirth experience might be.
But once I had that experience, I did not want to think about being pregnant ever again. I wouldn’t be able to reminisce about that period of my life until my kids were much older.
Of course, I look fondly back on the times I was pregnant. It wasn’t always wonderful, but it was easier than having to remind children, night after night, that brushing their teeth before bed is a thing.
I'm Hyper Aware Of How Moms Are Depicted…
After becoming a mom I realized how practically no moms on TV resembled me, or anything about my life as a parent. Where was the fear of failure? Where was the heated conversation with the insurance company about what qualified as disability leave versus maternity leave? Where was the upside down state of a new parent’s house? Most depictions of mothers in the media are anything but realistic.
… And How Breastfeeding Is Depicted
And where were the scenes of a breastfeeding mom trying to accept a UPS package one-handedly while trying not to expose herself to her entire block? Depictions of breastfeeding moms in the media leave a lot to be desired, too.
I Crave Comedy
I’ve always loved watching comedies, but not to the exclusion of dramatic programming. As film-lover, I devour anything that mesmerizes me, for any reason. I love the spectacle of superhero movies (though not often the plots of character development). I love the exquisite set design of period dramas, and the performances in Oscar bait movies.
But when I was postpartum, I just wanted to feel balanced. I was struggling through the ups and downs of my hormones settling back into place. I was getting used to life with a baby. I was doing everything as a mom, for the first time, and had no confidence that I was succeeding in any of it. I just wanted something to make me laugh get my non-baby-related endorphins flowing.
Thank goodness for Friends reruns.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.