Sorry, Not Sorry, Kids: I Won't 'Bust' Your Boredom

by Rosalynn Tyo
freemixer / iStock

I’m a fun mom.

My kids know that I’m generally available to play with Play-Doh, build with Lego, paint, color, do jigsaw puzzles, or read books. I’ve made dozens of snowmen and countless sand castles. I happily accept their help with baking, cleaning, raking leaves, and shoveling snow. If they catch me in the right mood, I’ll hopscotch or play hide-and-seek. We meet up with friends at the park and go to the library on a regular basis. And I’ll sit on the back porch and blow bubbles for hours or until someone accidentally spills the bottle, so usually about 20 minutes.

Yet somehow, in this whirlwind of hilarity and hijinks we call everyday life, there is the occasional lull. I work from home, and because my brain powers down around 10 p.m. every night, determination or caffeine consumption be damned, I have to spend a few of their daylight hours at the computer. Sometimes we are stuck indoors for days on end because it’s way too cold out. Sometimes—oh, the horror!—Netflix doesn’t work.

So, yeah, on these rare occasions, my kids get really bored—the kind of bored which can seemingly only be expressed in full-body flails and increasingly melodramatic sighs, culminating in a “plaaay with me” whine that raises my temperature and makes my skin crawl. I know mine aren’t the only kids out there who do this. But sometimes it feels like I am the only mom out there who thinks it’s a good thing.

If my Pinterest feed is any indication, what I’m supposed to do in this situation is drop everything and DIY a dollhouse out of a shoebox, cover the living room in a mile-long race car track made of masking tape, or dye a 5-pound bag of rice rainbow colors. Do all the other moms do this? Back when I was a first-time mom, I assumed so, and of course, all too eager to follow “the rules” of parenting, I tried. Really, I did.

I “helped” my toddler make vaguely demented-looking owls and bunnies out of brown paper bags. I cut a ton of tissue paper into shapes for stained glass that did not throw colored patches of light on the floor, no matter which of our many windows I hung them in. One Christmas, we tried building a gingerbread house out of graham crackers and—you guessed it—ate the sorry pile before the frosting hardened. It was pretty tasty.

The great irony of such boredom busters is that they are so incredibly tedious for the adult involved. And when you’re parenting little kids, tedium is not exactly in short supply. There are all the diapers to change, socks to match, and noodles to stir. And let’s not forget potty training, poop jokes, scrubbing stuff off of other stuff. Need I go on?

Now, as a slightly more seasoned mom of two, I’ve decided to stop deliberately boring myself just so that they don’t have to feel that feeling. When we’re all done baking cookies or coloring and my daughters tell me they are booored, I generally come back with an equally irritating zinger like “Well, I’m sure you’ll think of something to do soon. You always do!” or “You’re in a house full of toys and you’ve got each other! I know you can figure this out!”

Then I duck behind my computer and work or retreat to the bathroom with a book. Occasionally, I go downstairs to do laundry, which of course means I fold my arms, lay my forehead on the cold dryer, and wonder if I’m a lazy, selfish, or just plain weird mom for letting my kids experience, and work through, their own boredom.

However painful for everyone involved, the upside to this hands-off parenting approach is that it’s fast and it always works. I’d say on average it takes less than 10 minutes for the whining to be replaced by gleeful chatter.

Of course, the inevitable downside is that their solutions to the problem can be messier or more annoying than the flailing or the drama. One time, I emerged from the bathroom only to find the 2-year-old experimenting with all the surfaces stickers can stick to (spoiler: it’s all of them!) and the 5-year-old busy emptying her closets in search of the “perfect outfit” for the “royal vampire wedding” at which, of course, the honor of my presence was kindly requested.

So, there’s that. But since their gradual mastery of self-entertainment has yet to involve me vacuuming up a million grains of carefully dyed rice, I’m sticking with my strategy—even if it means I’m the only mom in the world without a “Boredom Busters” board full of pins.