Question From the Trenches: My spouse is addicted to screens

Dollarphotoclub_57435583 Question: What do you do when your spouse has a technology addiction and won’t agree to or participate in these “screen free” periods? My kids are only 3 and 6 months, but I already have a hard time getting him to disengage from his phone games and participate in a more meaningful way with our family. Suggestions?

PPBB Answer:  Hi Robin — That is a good, and tough, question. I think it is fair for him to zone out and decompress from the day doing something he enjoys, but that time has to have a stopping point that he respects and then rejoins the family. Or he can wait until after bedtime for his own personal time, but speaking from experience having survived the toddler years with my husband, we needed the post-kid bedtime hours to connect with each other as a couple. Caring for your marriage is just as important as caring for your kids.

Screen addiction is a real thing, and it might be that he is using it to mask deeper feelings like depression, feeling overwhelmed with the two little kids + financial stresses of having a family these days, or something else. If he is totally disassociated and checked out maybe a family therapist is your best bet. A neutral third party may be able to help he see how big the problem is and how it is impacting the people he loves most in the world. Research is showing us that parental overuse of smart phones is absolutely having a negative impact on our parenting.

Especially at the young ages your children are, parental interaction and specifically the amount of words they hear a day from you is crucial to their development and success in school. For example, there is a big difference between him ‘being in the same room’ with the kids but plugged into his screen versus actually sitting down on the floor and playing with them in a caring and engaged way.

Example: Sitting on floor playing with toddler while baby is doing tummy time nearby, “Good job stacking those blocks Ty! What happens when we put the big square purple one on top? Oh no! They all fell over! Can you help me stack them again? Yes, Baby Mya is slobbering on the yellow block. It is nice of you to share. Okay, how should we build it this time? Can we build the tower with the little one on the bottom? What do you think? Or should we try a big block? Which way should we try first? Oh whoops, don’t let Sister eat that because she might choke. Can you be a good big bro and move it out of her reach to keep her safe? Thanks bud.”

Example: Same scenario, but he’s plugged into a game instead of his kids and the preschooler asks dad to look at the block tower he just made and your husband responds with “Huh, nice.” Meanwhile, poor little baby is just sitting in her Bumpy seat drooling on her toy and smiling and cooing at her dad, desperately trying to earn a smile from him.

That’s a difference of 115 words versus 2, and even when he isn’t speaking directly to baby, she’s still hearing the words spoken to big brother. And in the first example, both kids learn they are really important to dad and he is their buddy.
(Also, hello! Alone time/work out time for you!)

Some people don’t know how to play with little kids, which sounds bizarre but it’s true. Maybe start by sitting in with them, doing the play narration like I did above. My husband was great at making up various voices for the kids’ toys, so we had a collection of Jive-talking dinosaurs and all of the kids’ Match Box cars have voices and personalities. That is something I stink at and my kids BEG me not to play with them or try to do the different voices. Time alone with each parent is really important because kids learn there can be two totally different ways to do something but both are good ways.

So if the child development thing doesn’t grab him, what about a fitness angle and that the family should take a walk/stroller ride around the neighborhood or play at the park together? At three years old your oldest is ready to start learning soccer skills, how to play hide-and-seek, how to master the playground, etc. Or if you have a family dog, maybe it becomes a ritual that hubby and oldest kid walk the dog each night after dinner while you give baby a bath? Or vice versa?

Also, how about opening up with how it makes you feel that his phone games take precedence over family time? Maybe your oldest child can chime in. My kids HATE when I have to be working on my computer when they are home in the afternoon/evening and both have been very able to express to me how it makes them feel. It isn’t my job to entertain them 24/7, but being engaged during the evening family hours is important. Maybe this will work for you, but we had a family meeting where we all shared what was bothering us and we came up with a solution that was respectful to them but also for my need to run my business.

I hope one of those solutions works for you. He may not even be aware of how checked out he is and how much he is missing, so if you can approach it calmly and respectfully maybe he will come around and wean off the phone games. The avoidance thing is a real problem and all of our devices make that all too easy. Ultimately, remember that his decision does not have to be your decision — these kids grow up WAY to fast to miss out on that much of it. You can focus on being the best parent that YOU can be and model for you kids how the family loves and respects each other. If he chooses to miss out on all of that, it is his choice. The days are long but the years are short.

Speak All the Louder

Yesterday we all listened to and loved Emma Watson’s UN speech on feminism and gender stereotypes. As quickly as the fanfare arrived, so did the online rape threats, death threats, and website counting down the release of nude photos of the actress/UN ambassador…..just because she is a woman who dared to use her voice and suggest the wild notion that females are human beings.

The reaction of these men who use fear to promote their power is a measure meant to terrorize us to ‘stay in our place’.  To shame empathetic men and to overpower outspoken women. To stunt our thinking and growth as a society. To silence our voices.

I think this kind of man is an excellent reminder of why we must speak all the louder.

There will always be scared men out there for whom educated, outspoken women are threatening. Their fear is not our concern.

There will always be intimidated men out there for whom women are seen only as vaginas, either to sexually please them or piss them off. Their lack of humanity is not our concern.

There will always be small-minded men out there for whom achieving equality between the sexes signals a dangerous loss of power. Their discomfort is not our concern.

Our energy has to be spent on modeling for our young people what a confident woman looks like and how a strong man respects girls and women. That is the single easiest thing that you can do to bring us closer to a world in which an articulate young woman is able to make a speech about men and women being more powerful as equals instead of opposing forces, and not come home to rape and death threats.

Our energy has to be spent on truly empowering our girls, which extends beyond facebook memes and movie characters and cleverly-marketed toys. It is the daily, sometimes grueling work of instilling in our daughters an unshakable knowledge that she has worth. Everything else in the world will tell her otherwise. We have to raise our daughters in such a way that when we send her out into the world she has the heart and courage of a lioness.

Steel yourself to the idea that this will not be easy. That does not mean it is not worth doing.

Our energy must also be spent on our sons, which is an often overlooked yet absurdly obvious answer to the problem of a culture of men who threaten through internet comments unspeakable sexual crimes against women, who create a color-coded system to give girls date rape drugs, or who fail to take a stand  against other men who beat women senseless. And that’s just this week’s headlines.

Our energy must go into expanding the current definition of what it means to be masculine, so that our boys can grow into men who are allowed to be full human beings for whom having emotions and feelings is acceptable. We can teach our sons that violence is not a path to power. We can instill in our sons an unshakable truth that girls and women have value. Boys need see articulate, successful mothers and respectful, self-confident fathers working together to raise their families — and not in just the 1950’s implication of that sentence, I mean as a society of mothers and fathers who take responsibility for our collective children turning out to be good people.

Fear, intimidation, and the threat of violence have always been used to silence voices attempting to bring about change and equal rights. Yet change always comes.

Be not silent. Speak all the louder.

Emma Watson


Image Source: Gender Equality is Not Only a Women’s Issue. It’s a Men’s Issue Too.


Melissa Atkins Wardy owns and operates Pigtail Pals & Ballcap Buddies, a small business in Wisconsin, where our shirts are printed and shipped with love.

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Are You Sure You Want To Be President?

When a little boy says he wants to be president, do you ever hear anyone try to talk him out of it? Or tell him he should focus on being handsome or being a daddy instead?

So when that happens to our girls, we need to recognize it for the everyday sexism that it is and redirect the comments being made to or in front of our children. When we know better, we can do better.

This story is from one of my favorite PPBB families:

When Sierra has medical appointments I always encourage her to pick out an outfit that will make her feel brave and strong. For her pre-op appointment she picked out her powder blue “Future President” shirt with sparkle pink flip flops. Sierra is a piece of work……she doesn’t have a shy bone in her body and regularly smiles at and talks to everyone she meets. I have nicknamed her “The Ambassador.” Despite her awesome personality, she often gets comments like “You are so cute!” and “Look how beautiful you are!”

What was interesting to me though, was that while she was wearing that “Future President” tee shirt, nearly half the people she spoke to thought she was a little boy! When she held the door open for an older woman, she commented to me that I am “raising quite the little gentleman.” Before I could respond, Sierra piped up that “I not a boy! I jus a weally nice girwl!”

Even her pre-op nurse, when she realized Sierra was a girl, said to her “Oh….you don’t really want to be president, do you?” To which she replied, “No….I jus pwetend to be pwesident. I weally am gonna be a surgeon!”

Kinda crazy to see the mindsets that still exist in 2013………

After the fact, I thought about answering, “You’re right…..she actually wants to be Secretary-General of the United Nations, but they don’t make that tee-shirt in a 4T!” but I honestly was caught totally off-guard in the moment. I did get my wits about me by the time she offered my daughter stickers, though. Sierra was given the choice of “Princesses or Dora”, neither of which she likes. I piped up saying, “Actually, her favorites are Spider Man and Angry Birds.” When the nurse told me all she had was Dora and Princesses I asked, “So I can assume the little boy across the hall is also going to be given the choices of Princesses or Dora, since those are the only stickers available, right?” Sierra happily went home with her new Thomas the Tank Engine sticker…..she does love her trains!” -PPBB Community Member Lindsay Kolk


It is so frustrating to have gender stereotypes forced upon your children. Last week two other PPBB Community Members shared stories with us about a pink baseball bat being forced on a little girl during team photos and a baby girl being told she has a sexy smile. I regularly hear stories about kids wanting their faces painted and the volunteer painter trying to talk them out of a design or color that doesn’t seem to match the preconceived notions of boy/girl. Someone else shared a story about her children witnessing a mother swoop down on a little boy playing with a pink toy, picking him up and spanking him, and scolding him saying he is not to play with girl toys. Seriously.

But on the other hand, we hear stories about boys getting compliments on having a strong sense of individuality for wearing kilts while out and about, and a grandpa at a park who had just met a little girl and telling her that she will grow up to be smart and strong just like her mommy. Or the six year old girl getting ready for her birthday party and refusing pigtails because her hair looked “wild like a hyena and hyenas don’t wear pigtails”. (By the way, her birthday party was a nature hike at a local park because she wants to raise money to preserve a nearby slug habitat. Girls will be girls!)

The thing about our kids is, gender is not the most salient part of their world. Being full of awesome is. It is adults, many but not all, who have it all backwards and we really need to get out of their way. We need to take a step back, remember that kids are learning and soaking up lessons from our world every minute. We should never limit or stereotype our kids. Childhood was never meant to be that boring.

Sierra, Future President, eligible to run in 2045. Hopefully by that time she'll be the fourth or fifth female president.



On Being Six In A Sea of Sexy Dolls

Many times when I’m sharing discussions I have with 6yo Amelia as she and I work through our hyper-sexual culture, I tend to get a comment or two about she or I being judgmental towards other females. While I do very much think that is a valid concern, that is not what I am teaching my daughter.

I want to make very clear this is not about judging others, but rather this is about  interpreting and thinking critically about cultural messages to determine if they align with our family’s values. The focus is on us and our family, not the outside source. I ask her questions about how she would feel, how would she react if ______, what reaction would Dad and I have,  and what consequences might occur (being cold, being sent home from school for dressing inappropriately, not being dressed appropriately for the kind of event, etc).

I ask her to constantly challenge the body image, sexualization, and sexism she sees in the media. I do the same when we encounter racism, as those things simply do not align with how our family practices respect towards other people and ourselves.

I am walking a fine line of being sex positive while teaching Amelia to be empowered and respectful of herself and others. At the same time I am not teaching patriarchal ideas like modesty or slut shaming. We’re working on building a “personal brand” for her, so that she has a rock solid understanding of who she is and what decisions help reinforce or weaken that faith in herself. I’m teaching her that private parts stay private, and that putting them on display for public viewing is not empowerment. Later on down the road we’ll talk about attracting boys (or girls) with personality, friendship, and humor…..not shoving her boobs up to her chin and objectifying herself through actions and clothing. I think she is starting to view Barbie (some of them) and other dolls as sexually objectified (without having that vocabulary). Just like Santa Claus, that is a revelation I want her to come to on her own.

In the past two weeks in particular I can see her really sorting it out (thank you, NFL cheerleaders, for sparking that discussion). At the same time, I don’t want to introduce my six year old to the concept of “sexiness”, nor do I want to issue a blanket statement like “Those dolls are too sexy for you.” Whose idea of sexy? Not hers, I hope. I want Amelia to have the space to develop her OWN ideas and feelings about what that means, in her OWN time. That is was PPBB is all about.

Being sexy – feeling sexy – is great, and even super great when you are the right age for it and when it is defined on your own terms. Having “sexy” be a personality description as a young girl = not great. My daughter, whether she be six or sixteen or twenty six, is more than a collection of sexual body parts. Using sex appeal (or actual sex) as your calling card leaves a lot to be desired, and frankly, sells a girl or woman short of the whole person she could be, and be seen as.

Another Sunny Tuesday

It is so hard, on days like today, to explain the world to your children. Eleven years ago today was also a Tuesday morning, the sky was sunny and the autumn air was warm and crisp. And then all of a sudden it wasn’t. Instantly everything we knew and held sacred was shifted in a way that can never be put back.

At breakfast this morning I struggled to find the right words to explain the significance of today to my children, who were not yet born on the day none of us will ever forget.  I was fully aware that my children knew I had just flown back and forth across the country this past weekend, and I fumbled over explaining the events of that Tuesday morning eleven years ago, of hateful men who flew airplanes full of people into buildings.  I didn’t do a great job of explaining “hate” and “killing people”, because neither concept is something my children have knowledge about. Those are things taught to children, those are not things children come into our world understanding. I physically could not bring myself to say anything more than “Bad men flew airplanes into buildings.” My four year old told me that is something people shouldn’t do because someone could get hurt, and I went into my kitchen and I cried.

I didn’t cry, I wept and grieved in the painful sobs that come out every year on this day. The memories of waiting for my husband to call from the Navy base to say the Threat Con Delta had been lifted, waiting for his commander to call and say my husband wouldn’t be leaving for war, waiting for my brother-in-law to call from his work one block away from the Trade Center to say he was alive, and waiting days later for my other brother-in-law to call from Ground Zero to say the bucket brigade wasn’t as horrific and atrocious as it sounds. But my sobs are not for me, because all of the phone calls I needed that day eventually came. My sobs were for the families whose phones remained silent.

My six year old asked if the other children at school will be wearing red, white, and blue. I said I didn’t know, but that our family would be. She asked if it was because today is a day about being sad. I answered no, today was a day about being strong. I said it was okay to be sad about what happened, but to focus on the strength demonstrated by all of the heroes that day. Today was a day about helping strangers, about bravery, about grit, about running into the flames and smoke of burning buildings knowing people needed you. Today was about being scared, but doing what needed to be done anyway.  Today is about the people who came home to their families, and the people who didn’t.

But this I did manage to do —  I told them that today wasn’t about being knocked down. It was about getting back up. I told my children that no matter how dark the day we remember today had become, the colors first to rise from the ashes were red, white, and blue.



Here are some posts I like that cover how to speak to kids about tough topics, like the anniversary of 9/11:

September 11th from New Moon Girls

8 Things Parents and Educators Must Know by Dr. Robyn Silverman

How To Talk To Kids About 9/11, interview with APA psychologist Robin Gurwitch, a program coordinator at the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center