House & HomeMom's LifeThe KitchenWork and Passions

motherhood can be boring, but it doesn’t have to be.

by Meagan Francis on January 5, 2010

I’m kind of a sucker for making lists of goals and plans, and I love the fresh-slate feeling the first real “business day” of a new year brings. On the other, when the last cookie is eaten or tossed, the last holiday decoration is put away, and the last personal item left behind by a formerly visiting family member is located and set aside (note to my brother: let’s be honest here; I probably won’t get around to mailing your stylus for at least a week) I’m left with a sense of letdown, of being at loose ends.

Back to life, back to reality. Back to diapers and deadlines and dinners my kids turn their noses up at, without the cheery hum of carols, the smell of baked goods and long chats with family and friends over a glass—okay, several glasses—of wine to break up the monotony and paint the ordinary with the rosy glow of not-so-ordinary. Sure, when you think about it, all the things that make the holidays special: food, friends, family, music—are things I have in my daily life anyway. But the holiday is like a charged-up version of real life, imbued with Bing Crosby and the gentle buzz of sugar cookies and Syrah.

So it’s a little hard to take when the holiday fun comes to a screeching halt and I’m back to business as usual.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my life. I love that I’m able to be home with my kids, and I find a certain amount of comfort in the steady, predictable routine that propels us through each day.

But this motherhood stuff? It can be really boring.

Especially when you spend the bulk of your time parenting young children. Case in point, my typical day. I wake up at 6:30; get my oldest out the door, then have my tea and toast. I wake the next-two oldest up, get them out the door and turn my attention to the youngest two. We all get dressed. I make breakfast, check my email while Clara is occupied in her high chair, then clean sticky bits off her hair and hands and set her on the floor. The next hour is spent watching her crawl around while being always ready to pounce, as she somehow manages to find tiny bits of apparently delicious who-knows-what in cracks and crevices I didn’t even know existed.

The day drags on. I might play a round of Old Maid with Owen, and read a few books aloud, or if I’m feeling more ambitious, I’ll cook up a pot of play-dough or break out the glue and glitter. More digging random bits out of Clara’s mouth. Then time for her morning nap, during which I’ll get some work done. Then time to throw the kids in the car and head to the school to pick William up from kindergarten. Then we all head home for lunch. Then lunch dishes. Another diaper to change. Another nap. Wait for big kids to get home. Serve snack. Wipe up counter. Rinse. Repeat. It’s not hard. It’s just not very exciting, and sometimes a life full of “not very exciting” can start to feel suffocatingly hard.

Sure, lots of days we take an outing to the library, or the children’s museum, or a play date. Maybe I’ll take the kids to the nursery at the Y and go to yoga. And of course, there is a lot to be said for just going along for the ride and really appreciating those small, fleeting moments you have with your kids—you know, the ones that people with grown kids are so fond of reminding us that we’ll never get back.

But even on those days where we keep busy, and even on those days that I really take the time to smell the roses and appreciate the small joys of the baby’s chubby cheek against mine and the way my four-year-old’s hair falls sweetly in his eyes, in between the moments of wonderment and joy and humor, there’s still going to be a whole bunch of boring.

I hate boring. In fact, I think boredom was my worst mental-health enemy when I was first adjusting to motherhood. It’s so easy to start feeling utterly stuck: you can’t shake up the routine unless you can afford or find a sitter, (or unless you’re willing to deal with the consequences of a missed nap or glares from strangers as you lug the baby into a bar or the movie theatre.) Hell, you can’t even run around the block without a lot of to-do and preparation. Here are little people depending on you to be steady and predictable and reliable, even as the steadiness and predictability of it all seems to be smothering you.

And some of the things we do to ease the boredom even make the situation worse. We watch bad daytime TV until we actually start to feel dumber. Or we read fifteen pages worth of nasty comments on a blog post for the rush we get out of something happening, already—even if it’s happening to somebody else. We don’t have time to read anything meaty, or take up a new hobby, or learn a new skill, we reason with ourselves; so we settle for more easy and mindless forms of entertainment. Which, as it turns out, also tend to get pretty boring, thus perpetuating the “I’m so freaking bored” cycle.

The truth is, I don’t really mind the endless little minutia that goes along with parenting. I rather enjoy blowing on Clara’s belly after fastening a fresh diaper, or pretending to be chasing germs off Owen’s teeth with the toothbrush. I don’t even mind clearing the table or sweeping crumbs off the counter: there’s a certain Zen calm to restoring order to the house, to the keeping of a routine. No, it’s not the mindless tasks I find myself dreading; it’s the idea that there’s all there is.

But when I really think about it, I know it’s not all there is. It can be hard to remember when we’re elbow-deep in the tedious slop of life, but even if most of our time is taken up by minutiae, that doesn’t mean our minds have to become muddy as well. Maybe our brains are capable of more than we give them credit for. Maybe our imaginations sometimes become flabby, dulled by routine and not enough real input. But we can change that.

I’ll be writing about New Year’s Resolutions later this week, but today I want to kick it off by resolving not to be bored. Here are a few of the ways I’ve found to keep my brain sharp and happy:

  • Choose challenging media. Yes, with hundreds of cable channels offering countless reality shows and celebrity scandal recaps and thousands of blogs (some great, some good, some…well, not) it’s easy to get lost in choices and just stick with what’s easy. There’s something to be said for brain candy, but just like real candy, if it’s all you consume you’ll get bloated and squishy. The good news is, you’ve got a lot of great options at your fingertips. If you’re looking for drama and romance, try the History channel. Join a virtual book club or read literary blogs. Subscribe to a newspaper or weighty magazine and force yourself to sit down and read an entire article without getting up to check your email or Tweet.
  • Take Action. Instead of mindlessly watching the Food Network for hours a day (guilty!) try buying those exotic ingredients and-gasp!-making something with them. Or if you’ve been zoning out on home-improvement shows, actually hammer a nail into a piece of wood or slap some finish on a piece of furniture. Shake things up. Don’t just passively watch or read–try doing.
  • Check in with a daily source of inspiration. I’ve been following the blog Mental Multivitamin for years because her “Hey, you: do something with your brain already” attitude is a nice no-nonsense kick in the pants, and her blog offers a lot of jumping-off points and inspiring ideas.
  • Learn something new. Brains get dull when they re-use the same old circuitry over and over. Working to master a new skill or learning new information literally re-wires your brain, creating new connections and making you smarter. So maybe you don’t have the time or funds to take guitar lessons right now–you’ve still got options. Check youtube for free tutorials, subscribe to a magazine, or join a group for enthusiasts. Even if you can’t jump in with both feet, you’ll learn something by osmosis.
  • Develop Discipline. Don’t have time to write, or paint, or do yoga, or practice the piano? Baloney. Look how much time you just spent reading this! Hey, part of happy motherhood is learning how to work with the five- or ten-minute blocks of time you’re granted throughout the day. If you wait around for eight undisturbed hours a day to fall into your lap before you can start working on that novel, you’ll be waiting a long time. Look at it this way: a year is going to go by whether you exercise, or write, or draw, or start your business, or don’t. You may as well devote every bit of time you can to the things that really matter to you. Yes, your kids are a big part of that, but they don’t have to be–and really shouldn’t be–the entire enchilada.

When I’m engaged in my life, the little “boring” bits of motherhood are actually pretty enjoyable. When I’m checked out, every little task becomes just one more burden. I’m choosing instead to engage, and to keep re-engaging every time I find myself starting to zone. Are you with me? I’d love to hear how you plan to combat boredom this year.

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle January 5, 2010 at 8:09 am

Thanks for this! It was a great reminder – I may actually take those violin lessons after all! I am actually fortunate to have kids who are “old” now – 17, 16, 14, 12 because they remind me constantly to take joy in the younger ones – 6 months, 2 and 5. I used to struggle often with the “what am I contributing to the world” issue – and I have to remember that taking care and doing the little things counts too. I would hate to stay home with my kids only to have my kids hear me grumble about it! Rather, I take pride in my work and know that although I don’t get a paycheck – there is a reward in a job well done…looking at my 17 year old and 16 year old, I know this for sure.

Reply

RookieMom Whitney January 5, 2010 at 9:41 am

Megan, I love this. Would you mind if I reprint your bullet points on RookieMoms.com with a link to this post?

Reply

MFS January 5, 2010 at 9:46 am

Many thanks for the mention. Health and happiness (and good books!) to you and yours in this new year.

Melissa

Reply

Z January 5, 2010 at 9:54 am

iTunes also has iTunes U which has great lectures available from many places and it’s a good way to learn about something new :)

Thanks for reminding us to be more productive with our time.

Reply

Christine LaRocque January 5, 2010 at 10:11 am

This post couldn’t have come at a better time. I’m only a few short weeks away from returning to work after a year-long maternity leave. For many reasons I’m dreading it, but your post reminds me of one of the most central reasons I work. It keeps me focused on my life and fresh for my children. Work is my escape and at the same time helps me to provide for them in a way I want to. Through both my maternity leaves (both were a year long) I struggled with that feeling of being so bored and yet so full of joy at being able to spend quality time with my children in their first year of life. I thrive on routine, but it was the isolation that created the boredom. Thanks again Meagan for putting into words the reality of motherhood. I’m certain many, many people can relate to this.

Reply

Amy @ Frugal Mama January 5, 2010 at 10:44 am

I totally agree. A day in the life of an at-home mother can be monotonous. But what’s great about being able to raise your kids is that there are pockets of time (when the kids are napping or having quiet time, or when they sleep at night) which you can dedicate to pursuing a hobby or passion or part-time job.

Volunteering with child-based organizations (like schools or community organizations) is also totally do-able and can be really rewarding, as well as provide something to add to your resume.

I love cooking, writing, and helping the community and I’ve been able to do all of them while raising kids.

Even though the days can be the same, each day in itself is packed with variety in terms of activities, location, and social opportunities.

Considering all this, on top of getting to be present in your children’s lives, I think motherhood is the best job in the world.

Reply

Kristen @ Motherese January 5, 2010 at 12:23 pm

I adore this piece, Meagan. I think I’ll forward it to two good friends who just became mothers.

When I first started staying at home with my older son, I could not believe how monotonous the days felt. There were the fleeting moments of magic associated with chubby knees and first words, of course, but much of the day felt just as your described: rinse and repeat.

Perhaps even harder for me was the lack of predictability of it all. Yes, there were pockets of free time, but I never knew exactly when they would come. For those of us coming from the working world, this idea of loss of control is a difficult one. There is beauty and power in the letting go, but it is a challenging growth process.

Reply

Laurie January 5, 2010 at 4:45 pm

This is a great summary of what I don’t love about my life at home with my wonderful kiddos. I love being a mom, I love the little moments, but I have too often let myself slide into the trap of thinking I was stuck with the same monotonous tasks and routines each day. I’m not stuck unless I let myself be though, am I?!! And tonight when the kids go to bed, I AM going to try some yoga, instead of watching the Food Network, lol.

Reply

Laurie Puhn @ expectingwords.com January 5, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I have a mix of time with my toddler, and working in and out of the home as a writer/lawyer-mediator. The mix is really important to me, though it always pulls me in two directions. I actually find it calming to have a couple weekdays with my son, just him and me, and no other work on my mind. Sometimes I’m jealous of moms who can 100% focus on their kids every day. Reading your post reminds me of the cliche – the grass is always greener on the other side. No matter how we balance family and work, I think most moms think about whether we’d be happier if we found a different balance. Perhaps the best thing to do is to follow your advice in the above post: whatever balance exists in one’s life between work and family, find ways to be a leader in one’s own life: find hobbies, plan a family event at the local church or temple, read books, start a parenting group, etc. Where there is a will, there is a way.

Reply

angie January 12, 2010 at 5:13 am

Thank you for writing this, Meagan! I didn’t even know it was monotony I was checking out of! I thought it was responsibility, or difficulty, or something, not garden variety boredom. I agree–life is better when you engage.

Reply

Sarah January 14, 2010 at 10:41 am

Meagan, this is great. And pretty much what I’ve been suffering from and whining about lately. Enough already, right? It would seem that my feelings of being engaged in my life come and go a little too quickly. I’ve never been good at self-discipline, but maybe if I call it something else I can learn how to stay engaged a little bit longer.

Thought-provoking as usual. Thank you.

Reply

Emile January 22, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I’m so glad to have discovered your blog today. It seems that many of your recent posts are particularly timely for my thought train. I do feel “bored” a lot with my day to day millings. And, I have so many books I want to read, things I’d like to knit, languages to learn, etc. It’d be fun to actually have my own blog too. I really want to get more out of my days for me and for my kids. I find myself taking shortcuts with them (like TV) in order to grab minutes for myself that never seem to be enough to fill me up and then feeling guilty for having tried. Anyhow, I’m subscribed to your blog now and will be looking to hear what more you have to say about all this.

Reply

Tricia January 29, 2010 at 3:38 am

Thanks so much for this post!! It describes what I have been feeling and dealing with more often than not lately. It’s so refreshing to see it in writing and to know other Mom’s feel bored and stuck the same way I do sometimes. What an inspiration and a great reminder to quit checking out and to stay engaged.

Reply

GBR February 12, 2012 at 12:55 am

Wow. You wowed me. That was just what I needed to hear. So few mothers will admit that they get bored, and often. Thanks for your ideas. Sad how easy it is to forget to exercise our brains.

Reply

Janet Poole March 21, 2012 at 5:36 am

Hi Meagan, when I looked at your struggling mom section I went straight for the mom guilt post. The guilt thing has always fascinated me, because I had it, then overcame it phew. Then I saw this about boredom, oh yeah me again – didn’t quite get there on that but then my youngest went to school (thrilled yet sad). I read your about page and saw there are other supermoms with FIVE kids… and happy! Huh? I admire you guys. My kids no longer littlies and much easier (for me). You have an incredible site here and doing so much good supporting other moms – encouraging them to be themselves. That its normal to have these feelings. Yay to you. Bye for now….

Reply

Meagan Francis March 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

Thanks Janet – I really appreciate the very nice comment!

Reply

Megan November 16, 2012 at 9:22 am

I know this article is from a good long while ago, but I read it for the first time today and it helped me. Like, a lot. I wish it had shown up in my life two years ago, but maybe it was waiting until I wasn’t so exhausted to really take it in. Just wanted you to know how much I appreciated it today.

Reply

Vigga April 19, 2013 at 11:16 am

Thank you for this great article, I really needed something like this :) It’s always nice to know someone else feels the same as I do!

Reply

Krista May 8, 2014 at 8:46 am

This perfectly describes how I felt raising my first child, (we had moved away from my family to a small town a month after he was born only to move back 2 years later) and still sometimes now after my second. The I’m bored, my brain is going numb feeling. Thanks for putting it into words but also giving some inspiration too.

Reply

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: