Meaghan O’Keeffe, RN, BSN, is a mother, writer and nurse. She worked at Boston Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade, in both the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and the Pre-op Clinic. She is a regular contributor to Thriving.
I love my children to the ends of the cosmos. I think they’re adorable, brilliant and possibly the most gifted people on the planet. Sometimes, they say the darndest things— things that make me laugh and things that make them appear wiser than their years.
So, why do the days when I’m home with them drag by?
I’ll tell you why: Because a lot of the time I find being with my children utterly, mind-numbingly boring.
Sophie: “Mom, I have a great idea.”
Me: “Okaaay. What is it?”
Sophie: “I’m going to run around the hallway, into the living room, and back into the kitchen, and you can give me a ticket. And we’ll do that over and over again.”
I used to feel bad about finding this stuff so boring. Shouldn’t parents revel in playtime with their children? But I decided to let myself off the hook. Being bored with my kids doesn’t mean I love them any less—it just means I’m not 4 years old. We have different interests.
It’s no surprise that parents jump to mobile devices, (as shown in this Pediatrics study) to rescue them from the endless, often unexciting world of children’s play. We’re a fast-paced society focused on productivity and distraction. Slowing down is hard for many of us. But embracing the boredom you experience when spending time with your kids can be a powerful exercise that might leak into other areas of your life. We use distraction to avoid unpleasant feelings. When I’m resisting repetitive kid play, when I’m checking the clock every few minutes and willing TV time to come, when I’m hiding behind my computer, I’m avoiding uncomfortable sensations like annoyance, anxiety and even anger. When I’m wishing away the hours, I’m not living them.
These are some tips I use in my own life to help me accept that not every moment with my children will be magical (i.e., how I embrace the boredom and make the best of it):
Let yourself off the hook
Acknowledge your feelings—they’re normal and you’re justified in having them. You can find being with your children terribly boring and still be a fantastic parent.
Remember, you get out what you put in
I know I’ve checked out for too long when the whining and fighting starts to bubble over. In my house, whining and fighting are inversely correlated to how much time I spend engaging my children. The more I engage, the less whining I need to listen to. I’d say that’s a fair trade.
Strip away the “I should be doing something else” mentality
Dishes need to be done, meals need to be prepared and laundry needs to be put away. Kids should be able to play on their own at times and understand that taking care of other’s needs (or letting someone else do so) are a part of life. Just check in with yourself. Do you really need to re-arrange the closet in the guest bedroom at 8 a.m. on Saturday, or are you really looking to get out of being the only customer in a make-believe restaurant?
Remove social media apps from your phone
Social media is a powerful means of information sharing and connection. But it very easily crosses the line from useful tool to an imaginary itch that needs scratching. Try taking your social media apps off of your phone. Then notice how often you attempt to access them before realizing that access is no longer there. It’s eye-opening.
Place a higher level of value on just being with your kids
Taking your children places, helping them with a project—those things are a great way to enrich the time you spend with your child. But kids don’t really require this. They require a safe, reasonably predictable world where, when everyone runs out of good ways to spend time, imagination prevails.
Sit on the floor with your kids. That’s it. Just sit. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a child to feel like you’re part of their world. Observe the room while you sit, look out the window. What do you see, what do you hear? Breathe. Sometimes, a few minutes with the kids can be the best “alone” time you’ll get all day.
And remember, unless you’re a master of meditation, learning to embrace boredom is…well…really boring. It takes practice, and some days will be easier than others.
I try hard. I fail often. I try again.
I invite you to try it with me.