I don’t know if this has ever happened to you, but it has to me often. A parent relates a disobedient or otherwise disciplinable antic of their child, and comments, “I had to leave the room because I couldn’t help laughing.” Nine times out of ten I simply can’t relate; I find myself giving a blank stare or a forced “Heh, heh, yeah.” I almost never have that problem. With a small toddler who is cute but testing defiance, perhaps I crack a smile as I crack down. Anything else? How can defiance, disobedience, or a breach of decorum be funny? Frustrating, maddening, outrageous, yes. Funny? Not when your reaction is to see work to be done, work apparently not done well, or even failure.
Eventually these stories from other parents seemed to be so ubiquitous that I wondered if something was wrong with me.
In A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family, Mary Ostyn wrote:
I am a fairly serious person and, at times, have to remind myself to go for the laugh instead of a lecture. […] Humor is one of a parent’s most powful allies. You’ll always be more effective when you aim for your child’s funny bone.
Sometimes “purposeful” and “intentional” can turn into “taking oneself too seriously.” Anything that doesn’t go as planned (and isn’t that usually most things?) is a temptation to discouragement or at least to the laser-eye of analysis. Instead, it might just be a reminder that God is in charge and we are not, and we need to be willing to laugh at ourselves.
Listen to this post!
In Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin took on “lighten up” in parenting as one of her steps toward happiness:
My goal for April […]? To become more tender and playful with my two daughters. I wanted a peaceful, cheerful, even joyous atmosphere at home — and I knew that nagging and yelling weren’t the way to achieve that. […] I wanted to stop my quick outbursts of temper — I indulged in that behavior too often, and then, because it made me feel bad, I behaved worse. I wanted to be more lighthearted.
To achieve this at home, she played April Fool jokes for her family, she resolved to sing in the morning (“by acting happy, I made myself feel happy. After singing a verse of ‘I’ve Got a Golden Ticket,’ I found it easier to resist slipping into a hectoring tone”), she took a “free-ride off [her] children’s laughter,” reframed her own complaining thoughts to gratitude for the reasons she was doing dreaded tasks, and made sure she told her husband the fun and funny things of the day and not only the annoying and problematic events.
The most effective way to lighten up — but the most difficult, because a whining child sucks every particle of humor out of my head — is to make a joke. [snip long example] We laughted until our stomachs hurt, and she didn’t mention tae kwon do again. This technique worked better than telling her buck up, and it was certainly more fun.
How often do I insist, with a sharp and irritable tone, that my children knock it off, shape up, and get a better attitude? When I do, I am simply teaching them hypocrisy, that it is only ok to have a bad attitude when they are the ones in charge. That is not the lesson I want them to learn.
In the short video clip on Canon Wired, “Too Many Straws in my Milkshake,” Rachel Jankovic’s comment applied this idea not only to how we handle our children’s whining, but our own as well:
In our house, we always find it better to think it’s funny. It helps to say things like “too many straws in my milkshake.” It’s a more cheerful way, instead of saying “I feel wasted right now.”
That is a good point, and one I need to take well to heart.
Twinkle at the Children
Mary Ostyn, again in A Sane Woman’s Guide to Raising a Large Family (which Amazon now has at a bargain price), tells of one of the primary ways she lightens the atmosphere in her home with 10 children (4 biological, 6 adopted):
Sometimes a day can get so busy, and we can get so preoccupied with all the things that we must get done that we can forget to smile into our children’s eyes. We can forget to make that heart connection. Even on busy days, when my kids come to me to share a story or ask a question, I try to “twinkle” at them — to let them know that I am glad to be looking at them.
Smile. Wink. “Twinkle.” Let my children see that I actually like them. I bet “twinkling”, looking into their eyes and smiling at them, is something that could become an unconscious habit if cultivated. Moreover, Mrs. Ostyn uses it as an attitude diagnostic:
If a kid is cranky and resists “twinkling” back at me, I’ll tickle him or spin him around or do something else that is silly or unexpected — anything to make him crack a smile. The minute or two it takes to make that connection is so worth it.
Rachel says something similar in Loving the Little Years:
But it doesn’t take long to fluff feathers – you can do it on the go. One of the favorite techniques in our house is to periodically startle the kids by yelling “uh-oh!” and when they all look at you with concern you yell, “I love you!” It is funny every single time, and the kids know you wouldn’t act that stupid if you didn’t love them.
Let us cultivate our own sense of humor, not take ourselves too seriously, and twinkle at our children.