You know that ‘bored’ feeling? No? Oh right, you’re a parent. You probably would not use the word bored to describe your days. We are adults and we have people who depend on us. We have homes and children to care for. We receive messages, emails, and phone calls from friends, family, and colleagues. We are more connected than ever, but we are also bombarded with information and updates.
If you’re like me, bored is a feeling you would welcome into your life, even just for a short visit.
If we dig deep, we can remember the feeling of childhood boredom: Staring out the window on a long car ride, walking back and forth from one neighbor’s house to another, sitting out front waiting for something or someone. The empty space made room for daydreams. The empty space made room for conversation or creativity. Sometimes the empty space just stayed empty.
As my kids are growing and my role is changing, it has become clear that I have to protect the empty spaces we have together.
I want to be informed, and I like to be connected, but how do I stop the constant scroll for more from seeping into my quiet thoughts or casual conversation? When I drive, my phone automatically stops text messages from coming through: Do Not Disturb, I’m driving. This is effective because I don’t even have to think about it. I don’t hear a ‘ping’, my attention is not diverted and I don’t need to fight an urge to ‘check’.
What if we protected time with our kids in this way? Do Not Disturb, I’m with my kids.
Trust me, I am not advocating for you to ditch the smart phone. I love my smart phone. Parenting can be incredibly isolating. There were many nights where my lifeline while trying to get the kids to bed was a friend more than eight states away who reassured me that I was not alone and that I was doing ok. My phone connects me to research, politics, and stories about people, allowing a brief escape from the daily bustle. But lately I’ve been thinking about how my constant contact with the world impacts what it means to really be with my children.
What I’ve learned is that for me to be present and in the moment, my phone must be somewhere else.
We’ve likely all had the experience of talking to someone when they look away at their phone because it’s alerted them to a message. Many of us have been on the receiving end of someone nodding or agreeing with us while typing a message to someone else. How does that feel?
Now imagine you’re learning how to relate to the world. Imagine you’re learning about the natural flow of back and forth conversation, the ease and complexity with which gesture and facial expressions accompany words and convey ideas. Not only do we learn about how to interact and relate to others in this way, but we also develop a stronger sense of who we are as individuals. Undivided attention makes us feel special and respected, heard and seen.
So what does being present look like for you?
All families are different. Our kids are different ages with different diagnoses and needs, we have different jobs and life pulls us all in different directions at different times. We know what works for one might not work for another. For some it might be 20 minutes of conversation and playtime after school, others might have a distraction free bath time or reading before bedtime. Some might have a leisurely walk to and from care or therapy, with extra time allotted for moseying and noticing what’s around you. If you have multiple children, how do you dedicate time to each?
Whether you have 20 minutes or 2 hours, put down your phone and create an empty space.
You might be bored. And you just might love it. I bet your child does.