Long ago and far away, I wrote a monthly column for Good Life Magazine about parenting. In one of those columns, I talked about boredom as an opportunity for discovery. The example I used was my daughter’s plaintive moan, “I’m so bored.” To which I replied, “Wow, what an opportunity.” “For what?” “To discover something new.” As a little one, she mostly toddled off to dig deeper into the toy box or pulled plastic cups out of the bottom kitchen drawer to make towers. Parenting success: She used the restlessness of boredom to find something new. As she got older, her reply to my brilliant suggestion to find something new went something like, “There is nothing new. That’s why I’m bored.” To which I would shrug my shoulders and say, “Still an opportunity for discovery.” She grumbled but eventually her restless edge would discover something engaging and her boredom waned.
This past Christmas, several of my daughter’s twenty something friends came by and sat by the fire. I mostly listened to them talk. What I heard over and over again was they were having trouble knowing what was next. Plans kept being scuttled. The future looked uncertain. What they thought they might do next suddenly seemed out of reach or not as appealing or worthwhile. The world roared to a stop for these twenty somethings and their compasses were spinning. As one young woman by our December fires said, “I’ve lost the horizon.”
Oooph! I felt the truth of her words in my body.
Horizons. Think about standing on a beach or a field or a mountain and looking out at the horizon. Think about that expanse. Think about being twenty something, not knowing exactly where you are going, but feeling like anything is possible because you can see the horizon and you won’t get lost because even a few wrong turns into jobs you don’t like or relationships that don’t like you, you will still be able to look up and reorient yourself. Oh right, there’s the horizon. There’s possibility.
Now, when they try to make a plan, a new variant emerges. When they try to travel, a border closes. When they think about what might be a worthwhile and satisfying life, it seems like the world’s value system of fairness and honesty is completely broken. Whatever certain markers there are (e.g. N95 masks prevent the spread of the virus) get hijacked by partisan politics.
They are in a place of restlessness way beyond boredom.
What’s my parenting tip now? Deep listening. Letting them know I am in the rudderless boat with them and I won’t abandon them. Neither will the horizon.