17 Jul The Joy of Boredom
First published in the NZ Woman’s Weekly – cover date 17.7.23
There is a good chance you are reading this in a moment snatched between school holiday pickups and drop-offs. Or maybe you’re hiding from the kids in the other room where it’s quiet, but keeping an ear out for signs of trouble.
Ideally what you’re hearing is an ebb-and-flow of chatter. Not shouting, but not total silence either. It is in the absolute lack of sound that the trouble lives. It means they’ve either just done something unspeakable or are about to. These are the only times kids are silent, except when they’re glued to a screen or asleep.
We do our best to keep them happily occupied – tougher during the winter breaks. Even so, at some point you know they’ll find you – likely when you’ve made coffee and opened the secret biscuits – to tell you, “I’m bored”.
Kids assume this phrase is akin to one of those “in case of emergency, break glass” alarms that will have us instantly flicking on our siren and racing to their emotional rescue.
Can I suggest we don’t? Can I posit a theory that sitting in the feeling of “boredom” is good for a person?
Full disclosure: I hanker for a bit of boredom so maybe I’m projecting. I love what I do and so forth, but I really do fancy the idea of space and silence to see what happens next, what new activity I might discover.
Boredom, as I remember it, is not being able to think of a single thing you could be doing. Either that or having stuff to do but not finding any joy or meaning in it.
So a weird state to aspire to, I guess. Except I am old enough to remember what happens after that. Properly bored, left to your own devices, you will come up with something. A “something” which is clarified by the long list of activities you have rejected. You know what you don’t fancy doing right now – drawing, a puzzle, chucking a ball against the side of the garage – so when you hit on “bake a cake” the discovery is especially sweet.
Parenting experts (who may or may not have children, they often don’t say but you will have your suspicions) give advice like you should tell your bored child to go for a walk and think about it, and come back with three ideas for things they would like to do. Ok, but I guarantee those three things will be a) expensive, b) irritating and c) messy.
And while the Devil might find work for idle hands, he’s not the only employer in town. There is also Imagination which needs a bit of space to wiggle its fingers, too.
I don’t mean lock the kids in an empty room and leave them to stare at the walls. But let them discover things. The puzzles, the recipes, or the ball that needs bouncing.
For sure, check in with them – are they bored, or are they lonely? Because if they genuinely need a playmate – or your attention – that’s a very human desire.
But it is also very human – and ok – to not feel great all the time. If we run around protecting new humans from ever feeling bored they’ll be 30 and quite needy and possibly living in someone’s basement.
I don’t know if you’ve met grownups who constantly need to be entertained but, trust me, it’s not good. Finding your own way out of boredom is an essential skill. Look at you – you found a thing to read. Nailed it.