Monday, 3 June 2013

Why I want my children to get bored

I want my children to experience good old-fashioned boredom because I do not want them to be on the run from themselves.

Because, everywhere I look, that is what I see: we are all on the run from stopping – from meeting ourselves – from the discomfort of sitting for a while, slowing down for long enough for the dust of frantic thoughts and Constant Doing, to settle in our minds.

So we get really, really busy. In fact, if you say you haven’t done much when asked, it’s considered a bit odd. It’s much more acceptable to go on about how busy you’ve been – and how stressed you are. That has become our ‘normal’.

And it makes sense that we try to avoid boredom. When it hits, it can be intense: I got quite famous for Actual Boredom Tears that would start to stream down my face during tedious university lectures. I really couldn’t stop them. And they continued during hours spent temping in office jobs too. Sometimes I couldn’t see the words on the pages in front of me because I was so deeply, scarily bored.

But these days I have really good motivation to stay with my boredom rather than on the run from it – and to find ways to stop and be present and not in constant avoidance: because I don’t want to pass this cultural busyness-avoidance-discomfort pattern onto my children.

Because when we become parents, we get concerned about our children’s boredom levels as well as our own. And we think ‘Quick, put the tv on. Send them to a club. Introduce them to a hobby. Make suggestions for games they could play.’ Anything so that they don’t experience the Dreaded Boredom we have spent so much energy avoiding.

But my observation is that, right after I hit a patch of boredom, wondrous and inventive things happen. The point is that boredom isn’t something to be avoided; it is something we need to allow, trust and move towards. I actually see boredom as a landing pad for brilliant ideas and creativity. And this is true for my children too. Their most inventive and engaging games emerge after the biggest boredom complaints.

This may not be new to you as an idea but I am writing this to give people permission (if they need it) to let themselves and their children get plain-and-simple bored. Let yourselves take a break from fast-paced modern life and read books on the sofa, make up songs, play in sand, daydream, watch plants grow very slowly in the garden, lie down and watch the clouds move across the sky. Because the pressure to Do can be great these days. For me this pressure tends to come in the form of what I call The Questions when you are a parent.

Most of us have had some experience of The Questions – they come from all directions. Does your child do ballet? Has he joined a football club? Are you teaching them languages yet? It took me a while to be brave enough to answer these kinds of questions with clarity and confidence. Usually I say something like ‘No, we dance a lot and we sing in other languages because it’s beautiful to hear new sounds and we spend a lot of time in the garden.’ Basically, we do quite a lot of Nothing.

We need to let children meet themselves and be drawn into the slowness of nature’s rhythms and the small things in life. Otherwise we are setting them up to be on the run from Right Now and all the wonders that holds. But to do that, we need to get brave about our own boredom - and not be worried when they discover theirs. Right Now holds everything we need and we can trust that.

Stick + mud = happiness

So the next time you hear the words ‘I’m bored’ – either from your own mind or your child’s – smile and watch with interest - something beautiful will land!

Love Hollie


  1. Thanks Holly - this Auntie is going to stop shoving her tablet in front of her 4 year old nephew whenever he is 'between activities'.

  2. Oh yes :) Still working on this one. The busyness just keeps creeping back in! I find my kids are actually pretty good at telling me when they are feeling a bit overwhelmed with too much to do, thank goodness! This school term we have cut back on after school activities (my daughter was doing art and swimming, my son was doing drama, swimming and chinese) and they are so much more creative and we have time to sort out problems that we just brushed over before. We are also finding time for new traditions like movie nights and we aren't always in a rush :) They are both still doing swimming though. It's one of those 'compulsory' things in NZ! Have you read 'Simplicity Parenting' buy Kim John Payne? It really helped me to implement the changes I wanted to make earlier in the year. I firmly believe great things are always on the other side of boredom :)

    1. Hi Clare, yes I have read that ! So helpful. I love it when I find books that back up my instinct, give me confidence to follow it and then ideas on how to go about it... x

  3. p.s. loving the new banner :)

  4. Wonderful article, Hollie, and wonderful blog! I confess that I do not have any children, nor do I have any children in my life. I read your blog because it speaks to the child within. I also love new approaches. The whole boredom thing really resonates with me, especially as I have a very *boring* office job which reduces me to tears sometimes. Yet I have carried on, as no alternative has manifested yet. However, there is the old adage 'wherever you go there you are', so the boredom would just follow me to another job. I work in paediatrics (admin), so am aware of the enormous number of kids who have conditions like ADHD. I type letters that contain stories of children needing to be entertained constantly, and I see that with my inner child too. As an observer, I do notice that very well-meaning parents see it as their job to ensure their children are entertained 24/7 - something which didn't happen in the olden days. Back then children were able to sit quietly for periods of time with little to do...they were generally able to be with themselves moreso than today and like you say, it is a good thing. Love your blog!! Please give my love to your mum for me. Love Sarah-fiona xx

  5. Hi Sarah-Fiona, thanks so much for posting. I am a mum so a lot of my thoughts tend to spring from mum-related examples and I observe a lot of children and parents these days BUT I don't want to write only for parents/parenting because I feel that whatever we are doing, we are parenting ourselves and others and, as you say, re-parenting our own inner child. So I love that you posted. And I will send your love to my mum! xx

  6. Thanks Hollie - very thought provoking

  7. Hi Hollie. I was just discussing this very thing the other day with a friend who is also a mother. We agree it feels shameful almost to come up with a "nothing" answer to how did you spend your day. Of course, it's near impossible to do nothing, but the nothing implying, nothing of socially acceptable, progressive time spend. We have had days where we tackle emotional issues in such depth, but it can not be easily translated as a valuable experience, yet it will prove to be one day to come.

    Great insights, Hollie :)


    1. Yes, exactly Lisa.. Nothing is never nothing! But it is nothing that can be explained easily in response to those kinds of questions. Actually, a day of just being together, maybe making some potions in the garden, losing something and looking for it for a while and then washing up afterwards and preparing food along the way is so full that I can't imagine how you would do 'something' anyway ! Thanks for your comment and for reading :)