One joy of having adult children is the discussions we have. Our phone calls will start with an update on how they are doing, but, inevitably, we will go down one rabbit trail after another, based on what we are reading and learning.
As a result of our family culture and my parenting style, my children are lifelong learners. My middle son told me he is always learning something new. He’s never interested in resting on his laurels but is always seeking to improve his skills or further his knowledge.
In our most recent discussion, my son told me about an article he read yesterday in the New York Times, Let Children Get Bored. He chuckled as he read a few sentences of it, reminding me of the many times I let my boys be bored. I never rescued them from boredom. In fact, they soon learned that if they told me they were bored, I found chores for them to do. It didn’t take them long to figure out they were in charge of their own free time, that I wasn’t there to endlessly entertain them.
Car trips meant hours of boredom. We never had videos or devices to entertain us. We played road games, and they had things to read and draw. I broke up the tedium with snacks, and, occasionally, we’d listen to an audiobook together. Church required sitting still and drawing or reading when not actively taking part. School involved hours of math problems and copybook and reading and writing, some of which was interesting and some of which was important, but dry.
The author of this article comes to the same conclusion I had: in order for children to learn how to approach times when things aren’t like a video game with endless thrills, a person must have time to be bored. Looking up into the sky and creating cloud pictures, facing a blank piece of paper and creating a short story or poem, or building a go-cart out of bits and pieces of trash were all results of my children’s boredom.
One of my children would study atlases and draw cartoons for hours on end. He borrowed every drawing book from our library and bought atlases with his own money. Another boy entertained himself for weeks with a ream of blank printer paper and a box of new pencils. My mechanically inclined child created interesting Halloween costumes, invented a game for children in our church, and rigged his room with lasers and mirrors to make a tripwire.
Boredom teaches children to think for themselves, to build a rich internal life, to create and daydream, and to learn how to handle themselves when faced with the inevitable times of boredom that come in life. Every job, every home, every relationship, every event has times of boredom, even if it’s just waiting in line.
My son told me he chuckled over the article because it reminded him of his childhood and that he was now glad I had parented this way. His internal life is much richer and his ability to entertain himself much greater than many people he knows. I am thankful to have grown children who come and tell me the times I got our family culture and style right. It gives me hope that they will also parent their children well.
Have your grown children thanked you for the things you did that were painful at the time but resulted in good fruit? It’s one of the greatest blessings of parenthood.