Episode 37

Are we bored yet? The lure of overscheduling and the power of boredom

July 4, 2022

[Kyle]: In today's episode we want to tackle the idea of scheduling our kids for all the good things and all the opportunities and, is boredom underrated? Is it something that we are all avoiding because we're terrified of it? Looking forward to the conversation today. 

[Music]

[Kyle]: Hello, and welcome to episode 37 of The Art of Raising Humans. I’m Kyle.

[Sara]: And I’m Sara.

[Kyle]: And today we want to talk about overscheduling our kids, but before we do that, I want to remind you if these podcasts have been helpful to you, we'd love your comments, we'd love your feedback. You can definitely put comments, we definitely love five-star reviews, you want to put that on there, sharing it. Any of that stuff that feedback really helps us. Actually, this podcast today as you're gonna hear, is from a podcast listener. So, one of our more faithful listeners, Adam Palmer. He reached out and gave us some advice on this one and so, we thought that was a great topic to really cover, because it's an issue in a lot of families, especially in America, is definitely trying to fit everything you can. I mean, I know even in the summer, oh my gosh, you think summertime would be a time of doing nothing, but it is about doing a lot of something, a lot of something.

[Sara]: Oh yeah, there's so many camps and honestly, the pressure starts, what? I’d say early or late spring-- You know, early spring, late winter.

[Kyle]: Yeah, you got to get on top of it, yes.

[Sara]: You’re already thinking-- Oh yeah, because you're going to miss out on the camps.

[Sara]: If you're not getting-- You've got to figure out “there's so many camps, which ones are my kids going to do? What are they going to do with their time?” and you're already thinking “summer's coming, let's get this schedule going” and even-- We're not super invested in having a busy schedule at all.

[Sara]: And I feel like our daughter is always going through this and that. So, there's more coming than what we can-- We're like “okay, we don't have time for that one, we're gonna--”. It's crazy all the things that come at you, all the opportunities, all the options.

[Kyle]: Well, and that's not even like dumb things, it's like all really good things, it's all good things. Every one of them you can justify how not only do we want her or him to be involved in it, but we need to do it now. Because if you don't get in now, then that opportunity seemingly seems gone forever and they're now-- Or if they get into it, they're gonna be way behind and so, oh my goodness, it’s just--

[Sara]: “You didn't start this at seven, so too late for you!”

[Kyle]: Exactly

[Sara]: For a lot of things “you didn't start this at three or four, too late for you!”

[Kyle]: “They're never gonna be good at that, they're never--” I mean, for you and I it's not even like, we want them to get a college scholarship on doing that, so that pressure is not even there. I remember early on actually, when our kids were playing sports, they were okay at it, they were good at it. But we were almost relieved that they weren't great at it, because if they were great at it, that was going to be even more pressure to have to get them into those even better things and then travel every weekend to go to all these places. So, it was-- I remember you saying when I would be frustrated, that they weren't better at some kind of sport that I wanted them to excel at and you'd be like “it's a relief” and I was like “oh, you're right. Actually, I hope they don't get better at that sport because it's going to be too much time on our hands”, right?

[Kyle]: Man, it's going to take up too much our schedule. So, I know you and I, like you were saying, have intentionally tried to keep our schedule pretty open, you know? We do not want to be parents who are over scheduling, that was our intent. But can I talk about the pressure we have felt? Even as the kids have gotten older and even, the desire they have of wanting to be involved in all these things.

[Sara]: Well, a lot of this stuff is, there's a pressure of “it's just fun”, right? I mean, especially if you have a very adventurous child. Then it's “oh, that sounds fun, that sounds fun, that sounds fun. I want to do that, I want to try that” and there are more opportunities that you can possibly take advantage of, you just can't take advantage of all the opportunities. So, just to pick and choose and I don't know if-- I want to say other generations didn't feel this, but I don't know for sure.

[Sara]: There weren’t-- At least in my childhood, where I was there were not this many opportunities. So, even as a parent, I’m just trying to navigate, but I can't really go back to “well, in my childhood--”

[Sara]: You know, we're just-- This is the time I’m in, this is the time my child is in and like you already said, there's also this-- I have to deal with my own fears of facing the “oh, but I want them to have this opportunity and I didn't get to do that, I really wanted to do that. So, I want to give it to them” and “oh, if I don't get them in early enough, then I have to--”. To me, you know, ultimately comes back to myself and examining how much of this is me and my desire to schedule them, right? That's my starting place. What's my inner drive? Is it fear-based? Is it FOMO? You know.

 

[Sara]: What is-- Or is it just “okay, this seems to match my child and let's go forward with that”, but I would start with examining myself and my own intentions behind getting them into the activity.

[Kyle]: Well, I think you hit the word FOMO, for sure. I mean, it is in us at times and in the kids, this fear of missing out and I think that is what is different than what you were saying, us growing up. Is not having social media and not having this ability to see like “oh my gosh, look at that camp that that kid's in right now. That looks amazing!”. I just talked to a kid that I see and helped, that got to do a Space Camp and all these kind of fun things, you know? And you think “oh my gosh, that sounds amazing!” and you think “what am I doing right now to make sure my kid is in that amazing camp that looks so cool!?” or you know, that-- Like I know Abby had talked recently about wanting to do horseback riding and that sounds really awesome and then, it was like “yeah, but what about this activity?” and you can see the whole list of all these “good things” they could be doing, all of these activities that I think would benefit them and would expand them and so, that's why I think it'd be easy to dismiss them, if they're just like “oh, that's just like, nonsense, that's just like sugary cotton candy”, you know? These things seem to be nutritious and good and--

[Sara]: Well, and you have the pressure. I know there's an increasing huge amount of pressure. You're already looking towards college possibly for your kid, a career college something and you're thinking “I need to get these activities, I need to get these before my child now, so they can have these experiences, so it'll open doors for them by the time they're 18”.

[Sara]: You know, and so, there is this pressure too to build your kid's resume almost, prior to that and you only have so many years. So, you need to get that those things in and then they can put down “I went to this STEM camp and I went to this--”, you know.

[Kyle]: Well, and you never know. I mean, it is true, you never know which of those activities will spark something in your kid and I think every parent listening to this and us included, wants to find that, you know? It's so exciting when you expose your kids to some kind of new activity or new kind of, you know, just a new adventure and they go “whoa! I never knew I would really like that!” and that might be the way they find their thing, right? And I think a lot of times as kids, that wasn't the approach, it was kind of like “just go do this thing because other kids are doing it, this will--”

[Sara]: Keep you busy, build some skills.

[Kyle]: Yeah, I’ll keep you busy. Yeah, it will teach you how to do teamwork and all that stuff. But now it's like “I want to really find that thing in you, that desire you have”. So, maybe they'll go to this one STEM camp and “oh, but this other STEM camp might really cultivate them”, you know? Or I mean, I know this sounds silly, but what if Abby did go horseback riding? What if she was really good at it? And all of a sudden found this, you know, this island of competence where she just like “that's me” and like, that would be so exciting! Because you never know when that could happen.

[Kyle]: So, I think there is this this kind of angst in me and then you at times when we hear about these things of like, “should we do that?” You know, “should we put them in that?” And I want to emphasize that I think the intent a lot of parents have in that, the intent is good. It is this-- Typically a motivation of “I want to give my kids opportunities, because I believe through those opportunities, they will get to know themselves better, get to make better connections, make better friends”. There's a lot of different pathways that opens up, we've talked a lot about that with hope theory, so we can increase my kids hope. That there's a lot of--

[Sara]: Prepare them for the future.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah, equip them, all that kind of stuff. I’m even getting connection with good mentors, you know, all those kinds of things. So, I think for most parents, when they're dealing with this thing and they're trying to schedule all this stuff, I think it comes from a place of wanting to give their kids these opportunities.

[Sara]: I agree, I fully agree.

[Kyle]: But I think in that though, I think when you and I are making a decision about it, for me and I’d love to hear your thought, I typically reflect upon that feeling. What is the feeling that's driving this urgency to do this now? You know, what's the feeling that's triggering that thought that says “if my kid misses out on this, then X, Y and Z is going to happen”? And typically, X, Y and Z is a bad thing, right? And if they could just get there-- And so, it kind of goes back to that language podcast we did about, you know, using words like “have to” or “need to”, you know? If I’m thinking “oh, my kid has to do this” or “my kid needs to be a part of this”, that kind of raises a red flag to me and I start going “well, I don't think that's true”, you know? I mean, if they did miss this, I don't think their life would be, you know, totally negative and bad and all these negative things would happen, you know?

[Sara]: It's a very limiting mindset to have to think “there is a pathway for my child and if they miss that pathway, it's all over for them”. The world is big and vast and we want to have this openness to all the things that can come, because you don't want your child to grow up with the anxiety of “well, I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do this and I’ve got to do this or it's all going to fall apart for me!”, because it's really not. The world offers lots of pathways and lots of opportunities and lots of people. If this person's not a friend, then this person might be a friend and if this pathway doesn't work out, then this pathway could work out and you want you want to foster that in your child. So, by creating-- To me, I think whenever I do-- I can slip into that, where I think “okay, there's this eighth grade STEM camp and if Abby doesn't get into that eighth grade STEM camp, then-- Okay, well, that year's over then and we've lost--”, you know.

[Kyle]: I know, yeah. Well, and you can never do that again, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, but you catch yourself and go “okay, no, no, no, there are lots of opportunities, we're not gonna run out of opportunities” and if that may have been a great pathway, I’m not even gonna downplay the pathway being great. But that may have been a great one, but that doesn't mean it's the only, there are lots of opportunities and obviously, there are lots of years to figure this out. People change their careers in their 30s, 40s and I want my children actually to grow up. I would rather foster that in them to go “all right, look. Okay, there's an opportunity, let's find other opportunities. You can change, it's okay, you don't have to have it all figured out now, we don't need to put all this pressure on now”. And so, I--

[Kyle]: With the word-- As you're saying that, the word that keeps popping my head Sara is “discernment”. Is kind of teaching your kids how to discern, you know, when they're making a decision like this, you know? I’m also thinking, I don't remember what the quote is, but also in that discernment of “typically, the enemy of best is not bad, it's good”, you know? That we end up doing a lot of good things at the expense of what is actually best to be doing, you know? And sometimes, I know this sounds crazy and we'll talk a little bit about this in this podcast, sometimes being bored is the best thing to do.

 

[Kyle]: Sometimes doing nothing at all is actually better than doing a lot of something, even if that something is an amazing camp, right!? So, I’m thinking-- I think that's what I was trying to describe and you're trying to say too is, what a parent can do through this process of-- We've mentioned this many times in our podcast in the past. As you're co-creating these decisions with your kids, is the ability to discern not what is good, but what is best. I know when Abby comes at me with like, 20 different really amazing things she could be doing, I will look at her and I’ll say “honey, we live in a country that gives us a lot of cool things to do, it's amazing time we live in. With the technology, with the access, with the fact that we have some resources that allows us to do these things. It's going to give us a lot of opportunities, but with that can come a lot of stress and anxiety” and what that is, is am I making “the right one”? You know? And I want to move away from that dichotomous that going to this camp is the right one or the wrong one. So, if we miss it, we just made a wrong choice, you know? It's really about what is best for the child, but also best for our family, you know?

[Kyle]: And I love how you just expanded that conversation, to this idea of scheduling what activities are we going to do. Is really a conversation about “how do I want to approach discernment and making decisions about almost any opportunity?”. Whether it's a career opportunity, whether it's a dating opportunity or marriage or kids or whatever opportunity in the future. How do I discern what is best? Not just what is good.

[Sara]: Yeah, and I even think with that, so all we've talked about you said “bored”.

[Sara]: But we've talked about, what do you do with the opportunities you have and not trying to stress and have a lot of anxiety about that, but with that, you pull in “I want to actually have board time and I want to have family time” and then I think “okay, let's step back and think about what are our values”. You know, when I’m talking about over scheduling, I’ve got to think “what is my value as a family? How much schedule time do we want?”

[Sara]: And where does-- To me, it's a big value to spend time together. So, I will miss out on, so to speak an opportunity, because to me I’m trading these years with my family and with my-- And I think our involvement, I mean, we won't even get into the statistics of how important it is to be involved with our children, right? Father’s Day just went by, there was a lot of great things on that.

[Sara]: But being-- Having those playing games with our kids, putting puzzles together, cooking dinner together, watching a movie together, all that's so important, so I’m not gonna sacrifice that. So, we sit and we think “what's our value?”. So, I’m gonna schedule you somewhat, but I’ve gotta-- I wanna factor that in and I want to factor in board time. I want to factor in time to be, time where nothing exists that you have to be doing or should be doing, need to be doing, all those words you hear, but just time for a kid to sit and just-- That's where creativity flows, that’s where--

[Kyle]: Yeah, you just inspired two things in me was, one, is seeing boredom as an opportunity, you know? I think that's a real shift. Is being bored an opportunity? And of course, we're not going to go into that, but there's so much research on that.

[Kyle]: Boredom is where creativity comes from and real inspiration comes from and to be honest with you, it's so important. Because what I see and what you see in working with kids, kids are scared of it, kids are scared of being bored.

[Sara]: Adults are scared of it.

[Kyle]: And that's right and they're just so scared of not having something to do and that's what technology is so deceptive, it says “you never have to feel that, you never need to be bored, you always have something at your hands” and so, I think that's such an important value, to say “I’m not afraid of boredom, I’m not afraid to not have something to do. It doesn't mean I’m less than somebody else. I missed out on that camp and they got to do that? Well, I got to be some-- I just got to be me for a week. I didn't have to do anything, I just did this thing, right?” and that that can actually be an opportunity and I think a very undervalued opportunity.

[Sara]: Oh no, it's important, it's essential and along with that, to me boredom and play go together and I don't mean play as in the four-year-old little play, I mean teenagers still play, right? We still play. When we decide to go out and just throw the frisbee with the dog or something, you know, that's play. So, the importance of-- To me, boredom and play go together, because a lot of times when you're bored, that's where it sparks. If you let that boredom sit there, play sparks from that. You said creativity, those things come from--

[Kyle]: Inspiration, yeah.

[Sara]: Yeah, when you sit there and you're quiet enough to be bored, then-- And that play, there's so much and we probably don't have time to get into it, but the benefits of play and the benefits of boredom are vast and we don't want to miss out on that for our kids. So, when you say “okay, we've got to be careful of over scheduling our kids”, the shift in that is “oh, we've got to be careful not to lose out on boredom and play time” and we actually want-- Let's create a space for that.

[Kyle]: Yeah. Well, and even as you're saying that, I’m just thinking, even more so in today's age. We've got-- Because it's-- You don't-- Now you actually don't need to schedule other stuff, because the kids would be like “I’m gonna play my video games. I’m gonna get on this device. I’m gonna do--”. There's always something for them to do, we almost need to fight for that space to say “let's make boredom an opportunity”, okay? And then the other thing you inspired in me was, what I see a lot is parents avoiding the boredom and over scheduling, because they think-- Maybe one of two things is, I’m thinking I’m probably missing some, but one is “that time is better for my kids than them just being with me. Us just being together isn't as big an opportunity as doing bad activities, you know? Doing that camp. Them just being with me, I don't know what they get from that”, right? So, it's almost like this undervaluing of my connection with my kid and them just spending time with me, which I think every parent is undervaluing that, because it's so important for them. But then the second thing is the avoidance of conflict.

[Kyle]: That if I am go, go, go, go, going all the time, in lots of parents’ minds keeps the conflict down among the siblings.

[Sara]: So, that's better, right? We should schedule things because they're just going to fight if I leave-- If we're together and we have two hours of nothing to do, the kids are just going to fight and we want to avoid that.

[Kyle]: Well, it makes me think of when we first got the dog as a puppy, but also when kids are very little, the advice you're given a lot because of the big emotions that the kids have or the dog being out of control is, just tire them out, just go, go, go, go. Run that dog around the block, so-- And then when the dog comes up to be so exhausted, there's no problem, right? It's the same with the kid. “The kid’s having a problem going to sleep? The kid’s crying a lot? Throwing a lot of tantrums? Oh, just exhaust that kid out and then the kid will then just be--” So, it's almost like I think we kind of continued that on into the-- Whereas if we're just going from event to event to event, it's like we're just grabbing food to go, we're just doing-- It's like, one, we feel so much purpose at times, I think it's kind of--

[Sara]: “Look at what I’ve gotten done or look what I’m involved in, look at my child”.

[Kyle]: Yeah, “look at my schedule, it's full. Like, we have no time to be bored today, we're busy doing a bunch of good things”, right? So, there's a lot of purpose that seems to be there and therefore a lot of meaning, but we teach our kids that go, go, go, always doing is better than being. So, if we just sat here and had nothing to do, were like kind of like losers, you know? Whereas if we have something to do...

[Sara]: Well, right, like “what did you do this weekend?”

 

[Sara]: Nobody wants “oh, a bunch of nothing”.

[Kyle]: Well, if you did say that, “are you lazy? Well, why didn't you do anything?”, right? There would be some of those assumptions.

[Sara]: Yeah, there's kind of this-- Sometimes there's this feeling of “oh, I need to have a long list of what I accomplished or what we did or what we were involved in. We had parties to go to, we had--”, you know, all this stuff. But I wanted to briefly just touch on, we won't get into it, but play, and so, I’m calling again, I’m using play as “what adults do”, this is our downtime.

[Sara]: That is where curiosity comes from, social emotional skills are built in that space. That is where a lot of those internal-- We deal with so much anxiety in our world right now, those numbers are going up, that's where a lot of self-care can happen and we need to teach our children that self-care. Even for younger children, that's where a lot of their muscle development happens, because they're building little blocks or Legos or they're doing big gross motor things. So, and even for us, that's where we get in a lot of those physical activities, a lot of social and emotional development happens. We hone our skills with our kids when we're actually playing with them and they're learning those social emotional skills with each other and with us. So, play builds that more than a structured activity does.

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. I think also play allows someone to get to know who they are, right?

[Kyle]: It's through the play that I really get to know what I love to do and my desires, right? And I get to really kind of learn how to, you know, find ways to explore those desires through play, right? Whereas if I’m always going to other places, it's nice because people can't inspire things too, but sometimes then I’m just following other people's desires or other things they love, right? And I’m learning to love those things too. But what's really inside me? And I think a lot of times in that play, that's where the kid experiences that and it can create that connection with their siblings, create that connection with their parents, you know? With their friends. It's really-- I look back and a lot of times it was. I mean, I hope every listener-- That the way you and I fell in love with each other, the way I got so deep with my friends, it actually wasn't by doing a bunch of things, it was a lot of times just being together.

[Sara]: Yeah, just hanging out.

[Kyle]: And that's actually when you really know you're comfortable with somebody, when you can sit with them and not have to do something with them, right? And I wonder if that's true about ourselves, right? I can really be comfortable with myself when I don't need to be doing something, I can just be with myself.

[Sara]: All that stuff always distracts, right? It pulls away, but if you remove all those structured activities and all those schedules, then you're down to you and you get to spend time with yourself and learn about yourself and we live in a society where we need to do that. People are sometimes numbing out and going to sleep to them and we want to wake that up and we want to build that curiosity and the creativity and all the beauty that comes from the not scheduled--

[Kyle]: Yeah, yeah. Well, and the last thing. I’m thinking about that, Sara, kind of wrapping this up is, I’m thinking a lot of kids when summer comes, you know, lots of them want to go on vacation or do some fun activity, but most of the time what they hope to spend most of their summer doing is nothing, you know? They hope they do nothing. They're like “yeah, I’ll do this camp”, but they're actually like someone's tired when they're telling me about it, like “I just like to do nothing”. Because I think they feel like their life is always being dictated by something, you know? And they just-- And I know for a lot of parents, they get scared of that, because they think nothing means video games, nothing means vegging out and unfortunately, that's lots of times what the kid is going to do and so, I think it's because there hasn't been a healthy conversation on what being bored can lead to, the opportunity it can be. Because really, it is they just go from one something to another something, you know? And that summertime could be a great time to just cultivate doing nothing and allowing the kid to understand what that means. Nothing is actually just as valuable as something. You are not loved for what you do, you're not loved for the something you just did, right? That you can be loved and whole just as you are by doing nothing.

[Kyle]: So, I would encourage all the listeners as your-- You know, it's still summertime as you're listening. If you've still got some time left and I’m sure you're doing so many cool things, we are as well. I mean, this summer is full of so many opportunities, but just take a moment and think “are we trying to fill this? Are we trying to avoid conflict? Are we trying to get away from the boredom? Are we scared of boredom? Do we feel like being bored and having nothing to do means I am nothing? You know? That I’m not as valuable”, you know? And so, I just want to challenge just to sit as a single parent or as with your spouse and like, how are we valuing boredom in our family? What ways are we cultivating that? And then, what do we notice when our kids are doing it? You know? What kind of creativity or inspiration comes out of that?

[Sara]: Yeah, yeah. I think that's-- I think that's so, so important and I think the way they see us doing it, the way they see us playing and being bored and being with ourselves and our own self-care, will lead to how they're going to grow up, how they're going to start doing that in their own lives.

[Kyle]: So good. So, I’d love to hear from you listeners about any ways that you decide to cultivate boredom. How did this--? Did this conversation help you see overscheduling in a different way? Because once again, the stuff you're probably doing is really good, you know? But it's in the discerning of “what is best for my child and my family at this point?” and I think lots of times in this culture, in the society, we're overlooking boredom and so, I hope you embrace it and I hope you'll tell us about ways in which that's changed your dynamics over the summer. It was such a joy talking to you today.

[Sara]: Thanks for listening.