In a recent column arguing for the value of letting children get bored, Pamela Paul argued that boredom can spark creativity, and can help children learn strategies for coping. And you could argue that the daily get-up-in-the-morning-and-face-another day tedium of parenthood can similarly be good for adults, though I’m not sure it necessarily pushes us in creative directions. Too much boredom, of course, can be bad for children. But if coping with a little boredom now and then helps children grow, it probably also helps parents grow into their adult selves.
It is also often true that parents are boring. I know, I’ve been there. Once upon a time, I thought potty training was interesting. I don’t mean as a professional responsibility; it’s still part of my job. As a pediatrician, I often have occasion to discuss the topic, sometimes with very anxious or upset parents, and as with infant sleep patterns and toddler eating habits, I try hard to listen carefully and counsel wisely, and remember that each of these issues plays out differently with every child in every family, which is why mine is such an interesting job.
No, I mean, once upon a time — or actually, thrice upon a time, once with each child — I thought that potty training itself was the most fascinating subject in the world, endlessly worth discussing at adult social occasions (yes, I’m afraid I do mean over dinner). Fortunately, my children were in day care, so I had a peer group of parents who were dealing with children at more or less the same developmental stage, and we could find each other at brunches and potlucks and obsess together. (I’m going to say that I hope I kept some slight sense of perspective and didn’t inflict too much of this on other adults, but I’m sure some were caught in the crossfire, and I thank them for their patience.)
And then, of course, each time, my own child moved on to the next stage, and potty training dropped right off my list of interesting conversation topics.
My older two children went to a cooperative day care center, so once a week, each family was responsible for a morning or afternoon of “worktime.” There you were, at the beck and call of the unfailingly cheerful (and unfailingly engaged) day care teachers, supervising the block corner, or zipping jackets up to go out to the yard, singing the cleanup song, encouraging everyone to finish snack because it was time for the potty trip.