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Reality Check: Who Calls the Shots?

Q. My husband doesn't like our 2- and 4-year-olds to watch daytime television, but since I'm home with them all day, I sometimes need the break it provides. Who gets to call the shots?

Let's put the who-calls-the-shots question aside for a moment. Television consumption is, among my friends and in my own family, a common source of marital discord. In our house, my husband thinks TV is an evil menace, whereas I think the VCR and children's public television, used judiciously, are right up there with disposable diapers as kind gifts from a wise god. Peace in the kitchen while I'm cooking dinner is worth whatever risks are involved in watching 30 minutes of Arthur.

But this isn't really about the pros and cons of TV viewing. It's about power, and whose rules apply. The disagreement could just as easily be over how much junk food is okay or whether wild play is appropriate in the living room. Jane Greer, Ph.D., a marriage and family therapist in New York City, cautions against one parent making the other feel as if he doesn't have a vote because he's not at home as much. It's to no one's benefit, says Greer, to disenfranchise half of the parenting team.

On the other hand, the reality is that you're home: Your toddler and preschooler have already used up all the tape and stickers in the house and done all the puzzles several times, and now they're bopping each other on the head with their magical sword-wands. You just want to return a phone call, or fold the laundry, or take a shower. Alone.

So let your spouse know his feelings aren't simply being dismissed, but that you have firsthand knowledge of what is and is not going to work at home. Then you can compromise -- in your case, on the quantity and quality of TV viewing for your kids. If each of you knows, for example, that there will be an agreed-upon limit on viewing time and you've decided that only educational TV or storybook videotapes will be shown, you may both feel as if you've achieved your goal, and it won't hurt your kids either. But ultimately, says Greer, the parent who's on duty "has to be in charge just by virtue of being there, and that needs to be respected by the other parent."
Contributing editor Trisha Thompson is a former editor in chief of BabyTalk magazine.