Raising Mary: When your kids expect parents to entertain them

Like all mothers, I’ve always got
stuff to do. But every so often,
my kids don’t. While I’m busy with
something, one of them will mosey
over, looking sorry for herself.

“Mom?” The word is more
drawn out, more like “MAW-uhm?”

“Yes, Mary (or Adelaide)?” I say,
knowing full well what’s coming.

“I’m boooored.”

I want to respond cheekily –
“Bored? The house is full of toys
you don’t play with!” Or “I’ll give
you something to do – go tidy your
room,” but I refrain.

Instead, I try to rule out the
possible reasons my children
might be bored. First, maybe they
really do need a little attention –
a fi ll-up of the proverbial bucket.
If so, I’ll try to take 20 minutes to
play a board game. If I’m baking
or cooking, I’ll invite them to help.
Even a short cuddle and a chat on
the couch can be enough to get a
kid out of her funk.

Second, she may have already
entertained herself for hours on
end, or is tired of playing with her
sibling. Playdates are good for
helping with this.

Third, she may need a change
of venue or some fresh air.

But many times, the “I’m bored”
whine is their programmed
response to a lack of stimulation
– usually from me. I’m not against
television, but if it’s the go-to
boredom antidote, your kid won’t
learn to occupy herself without it.
Same for computers.

A little bit of boredom, on
the other hand, is good for the
imagination. When Mary has
to resolve her own boredom, it
can lead to inspiration. One time
she gathered the stools from
the kitchen and the soft brown
blanket from the couch. She drew
paper eyes, nose, mane and a tail.
Next thing I knew, she was sitting
astride a homemade horse. Cool!

Adelaide will dress up in
costumes from our ‘tickle trunk’,
or play with her small toy figures:
superheroes, movie characters,
animals. I hear her ‘talking’ to
them in a breathy voice or making
growls and meows. So darn cute.

As an only child for 12 years,
I had to make my own fun a lot
of the time. I became a voracious
reader and grew a big imagination;
things that bring me great pleasure
to this day. So I don’t always ‘solve’
my kids’ boredom or feel sorry for
them. I’m a parent, after all, not a
full-time playmate.

Expert Advice ~ Sara Dimerman says:

It’s normal, and often appropriate, for parents to put their children’s
needs ahead of their own, such as when a child is tired or hungry, or a
parent needs to come home from an evening out earlier than he or she
had planned. However, if children learn to expect that your needs are
always secondary to theirs, they may grow up with a sense of entitlement
and elevated expectations. So, next time you rearrange a get together
with friends you haven’t seen in months because your child says he
doesn’t want you to go, think twice. It’s important that children see you
value the time you have set aside for yourself. Keeping their age and
ability in mind, children also need to understand that not everything can
be exciting, fun and child-centred all the time and that there are adult
activities that sometimes need to be managed, too, even if they’re boring.

Tracy Cooper is a stay-at-home mother of Mary, 7, and Adelaide, 5.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, May/June 2013.

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