It's just after breakfast and my eldest comes up to me with that one face expression. And before he opens his mouth, I already know what he's going to ask me: Papa, what do we do today? If I don't come up with at least five super-duper ideas and plans to fill every single second between 8am and 8pm, his response will be: But I'm sooooooo (add as many o's as you like) bored! What can we do? So, I sigh, what is it we can or we should do?
I know, you, I and millions of other parents face this dilemma at least once a week. Whether it's holidays, rainy weekends or you happen to be a home schooling, stay-at-home parent like me. When my wife and I swapped roles about eighteen months ago, I had that vision of being the universal super papa. I can do anything and everything - nonstop - 24/7. I pressured myself a lot: I thrust myself into great outings, craft activities (I hate doing crafts!), even baking with my cake enthusiastic boys.
It was fun but incredibly exhausting at the same time. It took me a moment to figure out that this artificial time table, which I more or less created, covered each day from 8am until 5pm, was not needed and actually more destructive than helpful.
Through reflecting and reading (and here I recommend the awesome book The Idle Parent by Tom Hodgkinson) I did find out how important it actually is, to be bored. Sounds odd? Well, that's what I thought in the beginning. Wouldn't I neglect my children when I don't offer activities around the clock? Wouldn't they get frustrated, make big messes and a smash up the house? Would I be considered a bad, irresponsible parent? You see, the guilt trip can make you feel wobbly and insecure in the blink of an eye.
So, what did I reflect on then? I remembered my own childhood: the long and quiet (and sometimes lonely) moments, when I sat in my room or by the window and did NOTHING. Staring out of the window, a bit of day dreaming, watching people and cars passing by... being bored. At the same time I enjoyed exactly those moments. So peaceful and calm, so relaxing and refreshing at the same time. No one who would demand things from me, no squabbles with my sister, no solving of unsolvable maths homework (which I hated anyway), no arguments - just me.
Often, after I had such moments of boredom, I returned to the business of life refreshed and more energetic. While I had that breathing space, my creativity did some over time and I came up with ideas and plans on what, how and why I would be doing things. Of course I couldn't really appreciate it then, but I can now.
I see exactly that sort of creativity and exploring in my eldest, when I give him enough time and space. Yes, at first he might feel frustrated or even angry (Papa, that's just not fair!), but once he's calmed down, he gets active: he might start his own art-project or he turns his bedroom into a post office or he records his own story on tape or video... the list of creative play, after being bored, is long. Sometimes I then join in, as the customer in his post office or I just listen to his latest story telling. But I don't have to invent everything for him. No, he's creative enough.
So I let him go and explore, play and experiment, because this way he finds out what he enjoys and what he would like to learn. Don't get me wrong, most days are filled with some sort of activities anyway, but now they come more from my children. And I also like the mornings where I wake up and I know: hey, there is NOTHING planned for today.
We are lucky to live very rural (which has its drawbacks too, obviously) and my children spend a lot of time roaming the fields. They build dens, nests, dig holes, build things with nails, "fish" in the pond, collect stones and the other day were "chased" by some sheep.
Being able to explore their world makes them independent and rich in natural experiences that no adult could manufacture as well as they can themselves.