Father Knows Best: Boredom

Things have been rough lately, mostly because at least two people at any given time have been sick in this household--sometimes all four of us--since at least Thanksgiving. It's exhausting. But at least it's fairly simple to figure out what you need to do to get through each day. I think about when Henry was a baby. I was tired constantly; some days I could barely keep my eyes open. But while I was by no means confident in what I was doing, I knew pretty much every decision was around eating, pooping, or sleeping. Not that complex.

I'm not nearly as exhausted these days, which I won't complain about. But I'm more frequently being faced with probably the hardest part about being a parent so far, which is boredom. That sounds harsh, but I don't know how else to explain that agonizing feeling when Henry wants to read the same book 12 times in a row, or play the same game (in the wrong way, of course) for an hour straight (and I only barely tolerated it the first time because he was being adorable), or the same routine day after day after day because with his autism it takes tremendous effort to talk him into deviating from original plans. I've learned that sometimes the only way to get him to do something I want to do is to just do it without asking, which works okay if we're going to a new park, but usually not well when it's playing with a new toy.

I know that in six or seven years he might barely ever want to play with me at all. He certainly won't want to hang on my leg or beg me to pay attention to him. Nor will he say, "I love you Daddy," genuinely but with an ulterior motive of getting a cookie. So I want to enjoy every second. But too many nights I just can't wait until he goes to bed so I can do something interesting. And I feel horrible about it.

So, what advice say you guys? How do you keep focused and interested in toddler time night after night after night?

32 thoughts on “Father Knows Best: Boredom”

  1. One thing I've noticed is that I'm much more mentally prepared for toddler time if I've had a chance to decompress and do my own thing for a bit before it's time for playing with/reading to/supervising the Poissonnier. Riding public transportation really helps me with this, at least on days when I can get a seat. If I've had time to listen to a podcast & read some RSS feeds while in transit, that refreshes me a bit and makes reading The Bear Wants More for the 53rd time of the night a bit less of a chore. On days when we have to drive in I'm much more impatient for some personal time, which doesn't come until around 8:30, after the supper dishes are washed and the kitchen is tidyed up.

    I don't know if that helps you, though. If there's something that you can build into your routine that breaks up the work to parenting shift in duties, I'd focus some effort on making that a regular thing. If that's not an option due to your commute or pick-up/drop-off routines, then (obviously) YMMV.

    1. That is why I am often on child duty when getting home. She cooks dinner while I attempt to keep them happy until it's done. Usually I fail, especially with the youngest. After dinner, if there's time, they're more likely to play on their own so we both get a break.

      1. We trade off on making supper during the week so we can stay fresh. I like listening to podcasts while I cook, but usually only get about twenty minutes before I have company in the kitchen because it's been decided that the Poissonnier is too hungry to play.

    2. This is entirely true, and far too rarely happens, especially since Philosofette and I both need that down time.

      I can usually manage to get supper made and eaten before I crash into some sort of "me time" for a little bit, until the kids demand my attention back, and then I feel guilty for having indulged that time.

      1. I remember reading(/skimming) an article in defense of parents' "Me Time", or at least lamenting the fact that nowadays, every moment of a parent's attention is expected to be spent on their child, and that they're made to feel guilty if that's not the case. Not quite sure where I stand on that, but I sure remember playing alone a lot more than the boy seems to.

        1. I think my guilt has just as much to do with the fact that - like Beau writes - I'm fully cognizant of the fact that this time is temporary. It's half "I'm not doing enough for my kids" and half "Someday I'm going to wish my kids would play a game with me."

          1. No, I totally get it. That's why I said I wasn't sure on where I stood. That being said, we don't have any family near us, nor do we know any babysitters, so if he's not at school/after care, he's with us. Wouldn't mind having a night off or two here and there.

            1. We definitely would struggle with that when our boys were young. Her parents are in Washington and mine are in Minnesota and our siblings are just as far away. It didn't help that I was working evenings and she was working days, so there was a lot of times we would be either working, sleeping or at home alone with the baby/toddler. We would occasionally enlist the help of friends to give ourselves a date night. We also weren't afraid to take babies out in public even when they were tiny. I think Junior was 3 or 4 days old when we went out to eat to a restaurant.

        2. While I do think we as parents today obsess a little much on play time, I also feel like "back in the day" parents felt more comfortable trusting their kids with neighbors. Just let your kid go outside and hang out with neighbors all day, and hope they come home at some point. That's how my parents describe their childhoods anyway. They were never ever ever indoors if the weather was even kind of crappy.

  2. I got nothing. Except that, when your kids get to elementary school age, you will rapidly begin to forget the boredom and only remember the highlights (good and bad). Probably a brain chemistry thing. Or just the alcohol.

  3. You should never feel guilty for not enjoying something. There's nothing wrong with that. If you stopped doing it, then you would have a reason to feel guilty. If it was all fun for you, that would make it easy to do. Doing it for him is why you're doing it. Focus on that and focus on what he's getting out of it. The autism will make it harder than most, I'm sure. It's OK to look forward to adulting time when the children are asleep. That's your reward for doing stuff for the children. Finding stuff to do together that you both enjoy will make it easier, but that's not always feasible or even possible, especially with an autistic child.

  4. Quick tip: find the things that you can do over and over again without aggravation.
    I'm thinking mostly of books you choose to read. Go with the ones you can stand.
    I've read Sandra Boynton's "The Going to Bed Book" probably 1000 times in my life. Maybe 1500.
    I like giving all the characters in "Ten Apples Up on Top" different accents.
    I hate how "A Crack in the Track" (Thomas the Tank Engine) slips into and out of meter and rhyme, so I "lost" it.

    1. Yep, I'll read Boynton books all day (well, most of them. Doggies makes my voice hurt). My mom bought him a book which is just a list of vehicles. A thousand of them. And he wants help memorizing the whole book. God it's painful. Though I have learned something too I suppose.

  5. If possible, you can get the combination of consistency that children love but the variety that you as a parent need by reading familiar books by the same author; for instance, Mercer Mayer "Little Critter" series of books, etc. The artwork is also usually busy enough that you can find something new to uncover in different readings.

    1. I'll take almost anything that is actually a story. Even the Dr. Seuss books I don't like (e.g. Cat in the Hat) at least have an order to them. Flap books destroy me, as there's no guarantee how soon it will be over.

      1. What we do now is limit the number of pages for those sorts of books. Right now it's five pages. But we had already established the concept of time limits so extending it to pages was natural.

        1. yeah, that's what I finally learned. His biggest books now have page limits and he generally will go along with it. We'll also say, "1 big book" or "2 small books," when it's crunch time

            1. Giving two choices like that may be the best trick I've learned as a parent, and it works in so many situations.

      2. Ugh, the flap books. Just commiserating, I have no real advice on how to get around those (short of "losing" one or two of them...)

        My 3-year-old really enjoys ripping up paper objects, and will sometimes happily sit and destroy things if given the opportunity. Gotta say I wasn't too sad when he ripped every flap off of the Christmas one we had.

  6. I keep meaning to comment here, and then I keep realizing I'm not sure what to say other than yes. The peperoncino is 3 and sometimes after playing with him for a bit I can kind of fade into the background and then start doing something else while he plays on his own. He's also pretty good at playing with play-doh at the kitchen island if I'm cooking or baking.

    I was home with him for a full weekday recently when I had no child care, and we ended up making a trip to United Noodles partly just because I wanted to get out of the house. The store was plenty entertaining for both of us, and hey, he got to try pickled lotus root for the first time!

    We have other kids on our block, so going to play at someone else's house is often a good way to break up the monotony. (Thankfully, my neighbors never seem to mind if we show up unannounced.)

    I also think parenting is a ton easier when the weather is warm and we can play in the yard, go to the playground, etc.

  7. Plane trip update: newbish had no prolonged outbursts on the plane for either flight (he had one short one on the return flight when I accidentally and quite stupidly showed him how the window shade worked and he wanted to raise and lower it dozens of times). We even hit some turbulence, and he laughed with delight.

    Thank goodness for tablets and books and little toys.

    Also, thank you all for your advice. It was all very useful.

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