It’s okay to be bored, mama


They warned me about a lot of things to expect in motherhood. Swollen ankles, for instance. Sleepless nights. Inexplicable fears, bodily fluids on furniture.

I just don’t remember anybody mentioning the boredom.

We young mothers at home are always doing something—wiping, reasoning, feeding, nursing, walking, watching, buckling, driving, shopping, disciplining, cooking, rocking, and perhaps (maybe!) exercising. There are a set of tasks that absolutely can’t be negotiated; for instance, you must feed children, even if it’s only goldfish. They won’t live if you don’t feed them. You must do laundry or there isn’t anything to wear.  The problem is that a lot of the things we do as mothers are not things you would put into a list of Intellectually Fulfilling Tasks.

With small children in the house, it simply won’t be possible for you to accomplish a whole lot in terms of writing, reading, sewing, or whatever other mindful, “productive” thing you used to do. This means that for the early years of parenting, you must practice a kind of engaged idleness.

Boredom is just part of the deal.

The great thing about this season of life is that you can model slow living for your kids and learn to embrace the boredom in a godly way. There’s more than one way to be bored, in my experience.

 

Engaged, diligent boredom vs. lazy, distracted boredom

You will recognize these two kinds of boredom in your own life, I bet. We’ve all had mornings that we know were spent in an engaged but bored way—you take a child to the park, for instance, and it’s great for them, and sometimes fun for you, but usually it’s a bored, pleasant feeling of routine. You’re wearing a baby, following a toddler, and certainly not experiencing maximum stimulation. But they are.

And then we all know the other kind of boredom, a boredom that you’re leaning back into—reaching for your phone with one hand while pouring cereal with the other, plugging the kids into a movie instead of plugging them into the local library program, letting laundry pile up instead of cheerfully teaching your five-year-old to help.

It’s not that I imagine any of us always practice one kind of boredom or the other kind. My belief is that we all spend a certain amount of time in one and a certain amount of time in the other (with spurts of genuine excitement, deep fulfillment, and utter delight in between). But it’s also my belief that the better we get at the former kind (engaged-diligent), the happier and healthier we and our households will be. I also think that practicing the engaged-diligent boredom will make us less bored overall, and will help us teach our children to be the kinds of people who can find something to do.

 

This is a picture of a fictional mother and daughter duo who have never been bored.

The major culprits

This is purely out of my own experience, and I’m writing to help myself as much as anyone else. I recognize that this is not a particularly spiritually helpful post either—it’s just lifestyle tips from the trenches I happen to be in.

In my experience, the screen is basically the #1 culprit for the lazy-bored mama. It’s the thing that our brains are most likely to want, and it’s the thing that is least likely to give us lasting benefit. Here’s the other thing about it… it WILL kill time for us. If we’re bored enough in our day-to-day that we’re actively looking for ways to kill time, the screen is the easiest way to do it.

And I know what we do. Facebook. Pinterest.Text. Twitter. Insta. Random recipe searches. Email checks that turn into recipe searches.

I know all about it.

But this is one of the ways I’ve noticed myself getting more bored over time, and less able to handle those quiet daily rituals that require engaged-diligent boredom.

I’m also willing to concede that before the computer and phone screen, and before the soap opera screen time of our mothers’ and grandmothers’ generation, there were other ways mothers flushed time down the toilet and unplugged from their families. Trashy novels, anyone? Too much gabbing on the phone? Drinking? I don’t know what all they did, but I’m sure that they were capable of killing time with the best of them if they lived after the industrial revolution and didn’t feel like talking to their three-year-olds.

In my experience, checking out makes it harder to enjoy your time with the kids overall. It makes it harder to love them well, discipline them well, and play with them well. You become less likely to get creative and find new things to do if you’ve settled into the lazy-distracted boredom. And although jumping into a screen or book will successfully kill time in the short run, my experience is that checking out delivers a burnt, used-up feeling at the end of the day.

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. -Galatians 6:9

 

What I’m not saying

I’m not saying “shame on us all,” and I’m not saying “smash the screens and get rid of all but the organic wooden toys.” I’m just saying this: Boredom isn’t the enemy. Laziness is. Boredom won’t kill you, and if you practice it well, it could actually shape your character and the characters of your children.

So now I’m going to close this laptop and go read that stupid llama book for the fiftieth time. Cheers!

-Tilly

Leave a comment