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The Comedy of Parenting by Sarah MacLaughlin

comedy_parenting_150pxLong before we became parents (or even started dating for that matter) my partner and I prepared for parenthood. This took many forms, of course. One example is that I took some Early Childhood Education classes. My husband, Rich, took several workshops in stand-up comedy. If you think my skills outweigh his, you’d be wrong. I’ve got the theory part down. But he just kills it with his execution.

I know what I should do—what response would be best.  I know how to use humor, silliness, and just plain Playful Parenting, (See Resources below for Lawrence Cohen’s wonderful book), but often; I react instead. That doesn’t usually go so well.

Every parent loses their temper from time to time. Small children want what they want and are happy to show their feelings when they don’t get it. Volume control is nonexistent. Conflicting needs, compounded by a child’s yet-to-fully develop-brain are difficult to navigate.

Rich has been paving his way as a parent with comedy from the beginning. He is a creative genius in this department. He has a litany of characters, each with their own voice and personality. They tell outrageous stories and ask ridiculous questions. He gets it all wrong and pretends to know nothing. My son Joshua thinks this is hilarious.

In situations where patience is required, I can usually hold my own, but certain circumstances just irk me. A big trigger is when I override my own good sense and engage in some sort of “bargain” with my four-year-old. (A word to the wise: Do not ever do this.)

Here’s the short version of my story:

I tell Joshua it’s time for bath and bed. He tells me he wants to play more. I look at the clock and tell him that he can play for ten more minutes, but then it will be a quick shower instead of a tub. He says okay. (Would you believe I had already been in this situation once before and it had NOT gone well? And here I was trying it again? Yes, you can. You know how hopeful and downright dumb we parents can be.) I ask him if he’s sure he is okay taking a shower instead of the bath. He says yes. (See, I’m no dummy. I double-checked. With the four year-old.)

Flash forward ten minutes to the bathroom:

I start the shower. Somehow, I am completely unprepared when Joshua announces that he wants to take a bath. I remind him that he agreed to take a shower. He says he’s changed his mind. I attempt to convince him that a shower will be fun. He resists. I insist. He fusses. I get mad. He retreats to the corner. I stare him down. He stares back.

I take a deep breath and it hits me that this is not going to work. I am certain that trying to force him into the shower in any way, shape, or form will end badly. I consider bowing out gracefully and somehow making it seem like a tub is my idea, but I’ve set such a clear expectation that it would be difficult at this point.

Then I ask myself: “What Would Rich Do?”

I smile hugely at Joshua. I stick my hands into the running shower and announce that I am helping Joshua take a shower.

“Here, let me wash your hair, little boy!” I say.

He giggles. I continue to pretend I’m washing Joshua. He stands in the corner and laughs. I look at him over in the corner and act shocked. I say,

“Hey, wait a minute! If you’re over there, who is in here?”

I am extremely surprised to find that there is not a child in the shower. He laughs more. I ask him to get in the shower. He says no. (I should have known my little Taurus would not be swayed so easily.) I am annoyed, but I am making progress.

Going for proximity, I go to him and pretend to wash him right there in the corner of the bathroom. He howls with laugher and tells me he’s not in the shower. I apologize profusely and go back to washing the imaginary boy in the shower. He laughs. I go back and forth between the fake boy in the real shower and the real boy in the fake shower. Eventually, he gets in the shower and I feel like I’ve earned a gold medal in parenting.

That story had a happy ending. Sometimes, they do not.

If you can buy fifteen to thirty seconds between feeling irritated and taking action, you can remember to use humor. Yes, it was time consuming. Guess what? Any coercive approach would have been even more so. You can stay in your prefrontal cortex and remember to invoke humor, goofiness, and a playful quality in your home. If you set the tone, a child will follow your lead.

What situations in your parenting could use some lightening up?


sarah_maclaughlin_150pxSARAH MACLAUGHLIN is a social worker and parent educator who is author of the award-winning book, What Not to Say: Tools for Talking with Young Children. She brings 20 years of experience working with children and families to her coaching practice. Sarah informs and supports families; one on one, in groups and through online virtual programs like PEAK Parenting. She is Mom to a seven-year-old son who gives her plenty of opportunities to take her own advice. Learn more at her website: