parenting boredom

Processed with VSCO with a9 preset

Nobody talks about how boring parenting can be. It’s this weird Western system we’ve created, where we all raise our children alone; sealed into our little boxes on quiet, orderly streets. Perhaps meeting at a playground or a toddler group sometimes, where we will start a thousand sentences, and never find out how a single story ends.

I hate it, to be honest with you. I hate the brain fog that descends when it’s time to play magnetic princesses again. I hate that when it was my job, I was brilliant at this sort of thing, but now that it’s my own child I can’t find the enthusiasm for more than five stupefying minutes. She gets the shittier version of me, & my guilt over that could just swallow me up.

Of course, when I was at work, I got to take breaks. I could leave and talk to adults, drink coffee, tap away at a computer undisturbed. I’d write casenotes in unnecessarily Latinate language, choose toys carefully for their therapeutic value, listen to Radio 4 as I drove between appointments. 
A day at home with your own child is a different thing entirely.

If the ideal here is ‘Earth Mother’ – kaftan-clad & never flustered – then I am presumably from Mars. Or perhaps I am ‘moon mother’ – light and dark, changeable. Pockmarked with impact craters and consisting mainly of cheese.
I wake full of finger-paint schemes and wildflower walks, only to slump into a CBeebies haze by 2pm, offering her ice lollies and glitter if she’ll just.stop.TOUCHING.me.

In these moments I think back to the worst family I ever knew, in terms of neglect. The children were on the brink of being taken into care – really should have been, in my opinion – and another professional remarked that the mother ‘just couldn’t put the children’s needs first‘.
When I’m all out of energy and enthusiasm for parenting, I use that sentence as a stick to beat myself. Why can’t I put my child’s needs first all day? Am I just a better-disguised version of that mother?

parenting boredom

In reality of course, I know I am not. There are no mice on my living room floor. Unlike those poor children, Orla has toys and clothing and food and care.
And truthfully, I really do try. I start every day with a promise to be a better mum, to keep her needs paramount, to join in with her moments. Her attention is relentless – following and pulling when I go for a wee, screaming louder than the kettle boiling when I try to make some tea. By lunchtime I’ve postponed all of my needs so completely that I’m tired and grumpy and experiencing Twitter withdrawals. My needs are exactly that – things I require in order to function happily. Without them it is inevitable that I’ll temporarily become a less pleasant person.

I wonder, then, if that isn’t where the Earth Mothers secretly succeed. Perhaps they aren’t putting their child first all day, but just have the balance figured out. Maybe they know when to say, ‘now Astrid, mummy just needs a quick chicory-coffee and then she’ll play with the wooden stacking bricks for another half hour‘. And then maybe she goes, and drinks it, and thinks about grown up things for a minute or two.

I don’t know. I don’t have a bloody clue to be honest, because nobody talks about it, and I really wish we did.

  • Shrads

    Yes! This is so spot on Sara. I’ve often thought about why people don’t talk about this and came to the conclusion that it’s because no one else feels this way and that I’m a crappy mum. I beat myself up so badly about not being able to play with my boys for as long as they want without getting bored or irritated, or to get through the day calmly, without shouting. And I feel so guilty for wanting a break from them to do the things that I’d like to do.

    Thank you so much for sharing this, it’s so good to know that I’m not the only one. Xx

    • Shrads

      I should probably also add that the braver I get about talking to other parents about this, the more I’m finding there are more of us out there than I’d thought! x

  • I feel like I should hide my identity while saying this but, I don’t think children’s needs should be put first all the time. I hasten to add that I am not talking about love, food, shelter, etc. I am just saying that children do not need to be the center of the universe but somehow society has convinced us that we are bad parents if we do not put them there. You have needs that are just as valid as your child’s and fulfilling your needs will, in the long run, make you a better parent. Plus, it is good for children to learn how to adapt, to learn a bit of independent play, and a bit of patience.

    Being a parent is hard work and playing children’s games is boring sometimes. I am perfectly willing to yell that from the rooftops. It doesn’t mean we don’t do it, it just means, as you said, we find the balance between what we can do and what makes our child happy.

    I have a lot of opinions about this, as you can probably tell. I had better stop now because I am starting to feel like I am hijacking your blog in the comments section!

  • Melissa11

    I don’t think a childs needs should be put before ALL of yours either. As long as her needs are met as far as being safe/fed/etc go, there is zero obiligation to be her playmate 100% of the time.
    I think it’s good for children to learn they are not the center of the whole universe and sometimes they are going to have to wait for things or play by themselves for a bit! I mean, you’re not neglecting her, so it’s okay!

    I love my nieces by my freaking lord they drove me bonkers when I was visiting them. They had out ALL the noise making toys and wanted me to play with them for like, 3 hours and finally I had to just tell them that I was really sorry but I was done playing. and they were fine! It was hard, but kids are pretty resiliant creatures and will just move on to the next thing.

    I guess my family is weird because all of us fully admit to being bored or driven nuts by children. That is not to say we do not play with them and love them. But anyone who says that it’s not boring sometimes, or annoying sometimes, is totally lying! It’s boring sometimes hanging out with adults I love! So why would children be any different? You are total normal seeming to me to think those things! Don’t beat yourself up over it. I think you sound completely grounded and realistic.

  • xantheberkeley

    I think the reason the mundaneness of some parts of parenting isn’t talked about a lot, is it’s constantly changing.

    All I know is that every part of parenting is fleeting… and I often felt like a shadow was following me every where… that they never left my side! Constantly talking, never a moment of peace. But now the roles have reversed and I follow them around!… just wanting one hug, a slice of conversation or a little bit of attention from my teenage boys.

    Enjoy the tea parties while you can!

    x.

    • Madeline Norris

      Oh indeed, and one of the things that makes it tricky. You think ah, that’s how I do it, and then oh, it’s all different again.

    • I’m already finding myself feeling the same with my 10 year old, I’m the one asking *her* for hugs these days – which is why I’m really appreciating every ‘I want Mummy!’ moment with my 5 year old now. It’s all so fleeting, every second is so damn precious.

    • @oftheeveryday

      I just came across your blog after finding your account on instagram, and am so glad I did. this post totally captures the way I feel most of the time and makes it ok to do so and talk about it in public. western world problems for sure, but if we are here, may be by sharing it eases the guilt. I just keep reminding myself that it’s only temporary they need us so much and want so much of us and at some point, I guess we will wish they still did? may be. thank you for the post.

      • @oftheeveryday

        am a total comments noobie and seemingly not able to figure out how to comment on the main post ?

  • Nicky

    Thank you! At last an honest post about motherhood. I was crap at being mother earth. I don’t bake. I have the boredom threshold of a 2 year old with ADHD & the imagination of a brick. Frankly I sucked at being a SAHM. So I worked for the majority of my childrens’ early years (not all of it i might add). It was the right thing for me & for them. Did I feel guilty? Hell yes but let’s be honest guilt & motherhood go hand in hand. However I am now happy that my mostly grown up kids are confident, fabulous individuals so I don’t think I did too badly in the end! Fab post! Thank you!

  • Elizabeth Dalton

    This is so good to know that other people find finger painting and all day long play a little annoying at times. I think it’s normal but no one wants to admit incase the person they say to replies oh no I love every part of it we play and sing songs from morning to night. Really hard to find the balance, I feel bad writing this and have gave my little one my makeup bag as a distraction to type and read the post! I think as long as we consciously try to do are very best every day, then when we have moments of needing a break its ok cause we are doing all that we can. Elizabeth

  • Chrystene McKinney

    I can relate to this so much that I almost cried while reading it. I am counting down the months (ugh…) remaining until daycare, so I can go back to work and spend any amount of my time with adults again. I get bogged down not only by what you wrote above but also the mess. I enjoy a clean, beautiful space as does my partner. However, with a toddler – at least with my toddler – almost every bit of cleaning I do is undone within literally 5 minutes of me doing it, if not during! It is so incredibly draining to feel like I am supposed to be putting his needs first/giving him quality time and my loving attention while I am pulling my hair out trying to just get ONE THING done. As someone said in the comments, I know this phase will pass, that he won’t pull clean clothes out of the drawers, rip books from the shelves, scatter food (purposely) all over the floor, or burst into tears when I try to get him to do something else, but, while I am in the midst of this part of parenting, it is impossibly hard to see that light at the end of this tunnel. I too thought that I was an awful mom for feeling this way and that I was the only one, so truly thank you for sharing this post.

  • Hardy and Hay

    As always, your honesty is refreshing and the reason I check your blog every day for a new post! I’m not a parent but it’s reassuring to read this in advance of (hopefully) taking on that role one day, and I think hearing that it’s genuinely a bit boring and frustrating and tiresome a lot of the time is a helpful thing to know at this point and a generous thing of you to share! Your post does remind me of this one – not that you should take it as gospel, but her experience might be useful – even if only a little bit! – http://cloisteredaway.com/introversion_and_motherhood/ Flora x

  • Fi Cooper

    In my group of friends we did talk about it when our kids were little but it’s generally ‘offline’, because I suspect we know it’s YET ANOTHER thing we will be judged for (judging Mums seems to be a hobby for some these days). Many’s the phone call starting “I just can’t *bear* to colour in another fairy princess/build another very very tall LEGO tower. I need to talk to an adult, please bring tea/cake/gin!!”. I went back to work (part time) when my boy was 9 months old, and he went to nursery. He loved it much more than being home with me all the time, then when he was home with me we didn’t drive each other *completely* crackers (only a little bit crackers). If you don’t look after your own mental and physical well being as well as your child’s (and if that means a break from your child, however short, you should be allowed to have it without feeling guilty) then I don’t think that’s best for either of you.

  • Jenna Richards

    Oh Sarah, I could kiss you.

    You’ve described my every day. I love being a mum (and of course, I feel I have to stipulate that even though it should be bloody obvious) but it is so freaking boring.

    The fact is, we are adults, so building a tower of wooden blocks and knocking it down repeatedly for half an hour is never going to ‘do it’ for us. And even though I know that, I still feel guilty when my eyes glaze over and I know I’m not being 100% present for my daughter. Even if she’s not aware of it.

    I think putting our children’s needs first all day is what burns us out. We expect too much from ourselves.

    Good on you for talking about this so openly. I am sure so many more can relate to this.

  • Jill Hanson

    I’d forgotten that I used to feel exactly like this – my youngest child has just turned 20 and they are both at uni. It was a constant comparison with seemingly “perfect” mothers who gave their children 100% attention all day long. I didn’t enjoy the young baby/ tiny toddler stage (I never said it out aloud) but, as they got older it was easier to say that they needed to do something by themselves occasionally (good preparation for adulthood I think). Some of the comments below seem to suggest that going back to work was a solution but for me the “bad mother” guilt was replaced by the “working mother” guilt and the stress of getting away to pick them up from school etc. Also, I was bored at work sometimes or annoyed by colleagues wanting attention, no life is perfect! I don’t think these issues ever go away they just change as they grow up – now I worry about their exam stress and trying to find a job. On your better days you must realise that there is no comparison between your parenting skills and the parents of the “neglected” child you talk about, the trick is just trying to remember this on the bad days. Also, hold onto those fleeting special moments that can make all the boredom and grumpiness worthwhile. Now, looking back, I can see that there were things I wished I’d done differently but, looking at friends and their children, I know that I managed some things better than they did.
    It would have helped me to talk about these things with other people so I hope it has helped you a little writing this article.

  • AnnaInternational

    I am not a mother yet, but planning to try to be as soon as I’m married in a couple of months! So maybe I don’t qualify to comment on this, but I am so very glad I read it. A couple of weeks ago I took care of my sister’s two little girls for a few days whilst she was helping my other sister decorate her wedding marquee. Mummy and Daddy were still around for emergencies (luckily few) but the rest of the time it was me. And I found it really really hard! Their attention every second of the day without me being able to take my eyes off them (2 and 5 and with a huge pond and swimming pool in the garden, out of sight is potentially a disaster) was exhausting. And it almost put me off having my own kids, because I didn’t think I could do it. I thought that I was supposed to find it wonderful and be excited to have just that with my own children, but instead I started to see the toddler years as something to be endured. And maybe they are! Talking to friends, so many of them feel this way, and especially, I have to say, ones who live rurally with few friends nearby, as I do. I hope that I can cope half as well as you appear to on this blog, and I hope I have many moments amongst the dark ones where it is the most glorious job in the world, but I think that I am going to find motherhood tough.
    Incidentally, I’m not far away from you judging by your photos, and I work from home – I long for adult conversation over coffee in nice cafes, perhaps we could distract Orla together sometime! 🙂 x

  • Oh goodness, you put into words so much of how I feel! Thank you for the honesty! <3

  • I think you’re so right about it being a weird Western (and modern) system. Our parents didn’t get everything right by a long way but I do remember having a network of other parents and kids that we just SAW, not once a week for an hour but ALL THE TIME because they lived a few doors away and the mums (it was all mums) needed adult conversation and the kids needed kid conversation; and, if we weren’t hanging out with other people, the kids learned to entertain themselves a good chunk of the time because knowing how to manage your own boredom is an important skill (and because the mums needed an hour to themselves). How has our generation managed to convince ourselves that, if we don’t spend every single second focused on our kids, we’re bad parents? And how have we managed to alienate ourselves from support networks? I do love being a parent and I do also have moments of boredom; I also feel embarrassed if I admit to other parents that sometimes I expect my child to entertain herself (despite thinking it makes me a better mum to her, both because it recharges me and because it teaches her self-sufficiency).

    Is that at all coherent?!

  • Kate X Design

    Oh all of this! I taught preschool before I had my kids and I was really good at it. I genuinely enjoyed playing the day away and giving it my all but I knew that the day would end, peace would come and I got paid for it. Now that my kids are 9 and 11 people are encouraging me to get back into teaching and quite frankly I’d rather down a glass of cyanide. Family takes so much out of you there is nothing left to give. I harbour secret fantasies of becoming a barista at the local coffee house. Hang in there Sara and take the time outs when you need them. 🙂

  • #1 I am not yet a mom, but my best friend had her first child in 2012. I’ve gotten to watch her give SO DANG MUCH of her self and then keep beating herself up for not giving enough, for not being enough. Yes, we know that perfection is ideal, but I’ve seen that standard destroy so much of my friend’s precious, giving heart.

    #2 It’s encouraging you hear you recognize that it’s important to respect your own needs, not just as a mom, but as Sara Tasker, as an artist, a friend, a woman who needs to be intellectually stimulated. I’m sure there’s a great learning curve, but I hope to have that same mindset you’re finding: you are also worth caring for.

    Best of luck moving forward and finding more of the middle ground! Keep us updated!

  • Pingback: Vondsten op Vrijdag: Ouderschap is Saai. -()

  • Madeline Norris

    I don’t think it’s the kids that are boring, it’s us as adults, but that’s not our fault. By growing up we lost the capacity for endless play, we grew out of it. Kids need other kids and, and other adults (and sometimes alone time), don’t we all?
    We all need that ‘village’ to nurture us an help raise our children.

  • Pingback: Link: Parenting boredom – Tea & Oranges()

  • Lulu

    My boys are long grown and on their own, but I remember my years at home with them with crystal clarity, and I treasure them above all else. However… I did not love playing along with their games and toys. I loved being nearby to listen and chime in now and then, but please, not the toys! If they had been girls, it would have been the same. I was fine to get them started for five or ten minutes, then do my own things nearby, checking in with them from time to time. They have grown up to be fabulous, productive men.

    You are normal and sound like a wonderful mother. Why would we like playing with our children’s toys? They are learning tools, and we learned from them long ago. Let it go. You’re fine and so is Orla. ?

  • Rosie

    This. All of this. X100. I wish I could read a book in the down time, but my toddler does not allow for such things. The best I get is a quick scroll through Facebook which in all honesty, isn’t much less mind numbing, but does make me feel fractionally more like an adult person. I worked in childcare too in a former life and I thought just this morning, how did I have so much patience and energy for those kids but my own drive me bananas?

  • Sarah Hallett

    Oh my goodness! This post just totally sums up my feelings of parenting. Thank you, thank you…i can’t tell you how much better i feel to know that I’m not the only one. I also work with young children in my day job as a ece teacher and often feel as though my peeps get the raw end of the deal. My sparkly, enthusiastic work persona leaves me so utterly exhausted and depleated for my days at home with my own children. Try as I might to fight these feelings I am constantly left feeling, guilty and frustrated. I wish other Mum’s I knew would be so open and honest. I think that social media doesn’t always help, we see the edited, shiny and wonderful experiences of parenting not the boredome, frustration and simple messiness of it all. I do find having a creative outlet and a 2 work days does help to break the circuit helps a bit. But It is relief to admit that althouht i love my children more than anything in the world and I would not change being a mother for anything , it is also one of the hardest, boringest, challenging and most frustrating roles ever. Thank you.