In Defense of Boredom


Say there is this person, newly arrived to the world, very short and ready to soak up information like a glass of grape juice overturned on a white comforter (that is, fast).  This person’s first encounter with a spatula was nothing short of genius as they discovered all the capabilities and wonders that the spatula contained.  Innately contained. The first time this person felt a gust of wind on their face, they gasped at the audacity of something they couldn’t see snatching at their breath.  If this person occupies a house larger than say, a womb, and if they have access to the outdoors, there are probably enough first discoveries to last them several years of life.  And yet, if you live with one of these short people, you may find yourself aghast one day to hear the words coming from down below, “mommy, I’m bored.”

I know I’m not old enough to begin a sentence with, “remember when we were kids…”  But.  Remember when we were kids and summers were all Lord of the Fliesesque?  (Geez, I am old enough). You know, pass the conch and have a tribal council meeting in the clearing in the woods where you were pretty sure witches convened for seances and such.  Maybe you had a kid government of sorts and handed out offices like President, Vice President, and Treasurer. You voted on things like who gets to wear Liz’s rust colored jeans next week.  Perhaps you even paid dues that went towards refreshments for the staff meetings, or a birthday present for the cute lifeguard. Whatever, he had a nice physique.

I remember being bored a lot, especially in the summertime.  Nothing to do.  I guess we could create an elaborate scavenger hunt.  Nothing to do. Lets paint our entire bodies with pink zinc and walk down to the pool.  Nothing to do.  Lay around with the neighbor kids on the trampoline assigning nicknames to everyone.  Nothing to do.  Prank call random people asking if we can borrow their vacuum cleaner.  Alright.
Kim John Payne, author of Simplicity Parenting, says that boredom is the precursor to creativity.  If we don’t give our children the opportunity to be bored, we take away the space they need to create something from nothing.  There are very few days that I don’t leave the house, and on the days that I do stay home I sometimes have this nagging dread of coming up with things for my kids to do all day.  I’ve noticed that by giving my kids some time to play and create alone, their imaginations make up some ground over the scheduled days and I usually get a good laugh listening outside their door.  The reality is, our kids need supervision, just not constant supervision.  The chance they get while young to destroy their room, or put paint in their hair gives them a boost of autonomy that just can’t be taught under supervision.

Now here is where it gets personal.   Are we modeling this space making, boredom inducing quiet for our kids?  A Do As I Say, Not As I Do approach rarely works in parenting and this is no exception.  It’s hard to remember what life was like without my iPad and cell phone.  I imagine I was constantly wondering what my distant acquaintances were having for breakfast and if their dog was feeling better after having its toenail removed. I guess I was always rushing home to listen to my answering machine and feeling really out of the loop when I couldn’t call a friend during my 10 minute drive to class.  End sarcasm.  I’m actually not going to embark on an anti-technology diatribe, and that’s because I can quit whenever I want.  My precious.  Sorry, end sarcasm.  My point is that it’s way too easy to fill up every space of my day with information or tasks, and it can be difficult to protect a part of the day for stillness and reflection.

Maybe you can answer this best.  Why is it so important to have stillness as a regular part of your day?  I haven’t met a person yet that doesn’t see the value of this practice, but I imagine the reasons for it are endless.  It’s good for us, we know this.  It’s good to have space to think existential thoughts, to think about life and death.  To dream about our futures and our nows and examine who we are really.  Was it Plato that said, “the unexamined life is not worth living?”  I wonder if sometimes it feels easier to fill our minds with tv fictions, books, or social media so we don’t have to face those big things.  Big things like loneliness, disappointment, and regret. Maybe we fear those questions popping up like they do once we hit the pillow and turn out the light, questions that our kids might ask us one day.  Why are we here?  Why did Grandpa die?  Who was that man outside the grocery store with the cardboard sign?  Ah, the hard ones.
I’ll leave you with a quote from Wendy Mogel in The Blessing of a Skinned Knee.
The big paradox is that slowing down the clock takes as much effort and concentration as getting things done. In order to use time well we must work to protect it as assiduously as we guard our children’s health or promote their education.
What are some ways you have found to protect time for yourself and your kids?


  1. I remember another pair of Liz’s jeans ! It is definitely a different world and I am enjoying reading about the trials of motherhood through my eyes of Omahood.

  2. My boys now if they say that they are bored to me that I will hand them a chore to do. I don’t hear it often! But I totally agree, it’s so fine for kids to be bored, that’s how they get into trouble! The good kind. 🙂 I’m working hard on allowing myself to be an example of this!


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