It’s perhaps the great plight of parenting; our desperate need to be doing, the mad rush to be moving about, going here, heading there. We join in this universal chorus with elementary school and its soccer practices and birthday parties. Saturday mornings grow sacred for worshiping the god Pop Warner. While hopeful Pele’s and Beckham’s learn the finer points of hip fake and skip cut, parents huddle negotiating logistical responsibilities for the weekends Chuck E. Cheese or Monkey Joe’s run.
Our kids quickly grow accustomed to every idle moment brimming with playgrounds, swimming pools, and parks. Our parenting prowess seems tied to our child’s restlessness. If they’re bored it means we must be doing something wrong, so we hang another albatross around our already strained necks. Not surprisingly kids in time grow to expect that mom and dad will change into Cedric the Entertainer at their whim. Caught in this death spiral, and our parenting reputations in the balance, we spend small fortunes making sure our kids are always amused and make success equivalent to their exhaustion and the number of photo opps. Collapsing in their beds with a phone full of pictures is proof of a parenting job done right.
Several years ago, after my children’s entertainment threshold grew beyond the world of Wobble-Weebles and a worn out cell phone, a trend emerged that I was thoroughly unprepared for. I believe I had done an above average job providing my children with enough shiny objects to distract them from shoving pennies in light sockets and annoying me to the point of neurosis. Each with their own rooms, a warehouse of toys, and friends in the neighborhood should have made for ample diversions. Add to that my major-league talent for adopting any number of creature or character forms when beckoned and my house was often a three-ring circus.
It was this same arrogance that amplified my shock and dismay when they began complaining about just how bored they were. No matter the latest gadget or newest toy, nothing seemed potent enough to maintain their attention for more than six minutes, after which they would stagger around the house, zombie-like, moaning about their lack of anything to do.
Somewhere along the arc of parental knowledge, whether it was during the reign of Dr. Spock or some other ‘expert’, the parent’s role grew from simply loving and providing our children sustenance, clothing, and shelter to that of sideshow performer. Those forebears swallowed the hook and notion that to be a good parent meant filling a child’s days with endless wonder and amazement; a nasty habit they’ve passed onto us.
Like many parents, I took my children’s boredom as my parental bankruptcy, believing their current lethargy could well lead to their future need for therapy. Coupled with the inherent guilt of being a divorced parent, I began to wonder if child boredom wasn’t a newly diagnosed type of child abuse.
Whether this was an elaborate naptime scheme between a four and six year old or just my own insecurities, the result was the same. I soon made it my life’s mission to make damn sure my children never complained of boredom on their weekends with dad. And just to certify my efforts, in case their shrink tried to pin any future psychological problems on daddy issues, I took rolls of pictures as evidence of the fun we had.
My attempts to be the ‘fun parent’ brought three unforeseen consequences. First, I needed to refinance my home to pay for it all. Second, I risked significant jail time buying the cocaine necessary to keep from physical collapse. Third, adoption or selling them to the circus became attractive options after realizing no matter what I did a platoon of juggling baboons can’t keep a child amused indefinitely.
The turning point came soon after I cashed in their college fund to buy a membership to an elite puppetry company. After only our third visit they disclosed they no longer wished to go. Pissed and sitting on nine more months of primo seats to Rumpelstiltskin and the Three Little Pigs, it finally dawned on me that keeping any children – and especially mine- entertained is a losing proposition . So in that moment, and with little regard to the impact on their future mental state, I decided something had to change.
It’s exhilarating to know you’re in the will of God, and my decision was, I believe, heavenly sanctioned when days later I heard the best parenting wisdom ever. Listening to some hokey talk radio program, a long-forgotten psychologist offered advice so sound and simple I’ve beaten myself senseless for not thinking of it myself.
Everyday since, when my kids complained of how bored they were, I would turn to them and with a hint of condescension politely say,
‘You’re responsible for your own fun – if you’re bored that means you’re boring’.
Have you ever noticed that kids are always bored but they’re never boring? They get trigger happy to tell you how there is nothing to do and how they are bored to death but will fight tooth and nail fending off any accusation that they might be boring. There seems to be a Grand Canyon divide between one and the other. I think the reason is simple; to a kid’s thinking my boredom is your fault, but to be boring, well, there isn’t anyone else to blame for that. I can still remember the look on their faces the first time I hit them with this comeback, it was like a robot whose circuits just overloaded. With smoke coming out their ears they dashed upstairs to compute what had just happened to them.
The results from this nugget of parental insight have been nothing short of amazing. Over the course of six months, I repeated this phrase every time my kids complained of the vacuum in their entertainment zone. It’s been so successful I can’t remember the last time they had anything to say about the level in their fun tank. Now, even if they are bored they’ll never peep a word of it.
As parents we can either go slowly in sane, and broke, trying to keep our children entertained or we can pin the responsibility of their own fun back on our kids and ensure we make it to retirement and not the federal penitentiary.