Good parenting is serious business. It doesn’t take much imagination to quickly recall the periods of overwhelm, worry, and self-doubt. There are innumerable challenges and issues parents face that inspire feelings of anxiety and stress. We worry about co-sleeping, we panic over each developmental milestone, we operate in a constant state of sleep deprivation, all of our relationships endure stress – the list goes on as our families grow and our kid’s age. But when the child keeps you up all night, you’re running on empty, the spouse is bickering with you, you’re running late for work, and then the kiddo blows out the diaper all over your work clothes? Sometimes there just isn’t anything else you can do but throw your hands up and laugh.
If you’re like me, you maybe went into parenting with some outsized expectations. We often fantasize pre-parenthood about the decisions we will eventually make; we have preconceived notions and walk in with an idealistic mindset of how we will parent and parent well. It was sometime around the second or third minute after my oldest daughter was born when I realized that what I thought I’d be as a parent and what I will be as a parent are two very different things. We can forecast patience, calmness, and understanding, but when that fever spikes at 3AM and eighteen pounds of breast milk projectile onto your face, you realize how futile and unattainable perfect parenting is. The reality is that the unexpected is always lurking around the corner and we can’t control all the swirling variables in our children’s lives.
There are several tools in the parent survival toolbox, but there may not be one item more essential than humor. As a coping mechanism, humor forces us to integrate some much-needed perspective in our parenting lives. Humor allows us to acknowledge parenting failures without judgment. I have always assumed that Murphy’s Law (if something can go wrong, it will) was created when some guy named Murphy started having kids. The point being is that we know things will go wrong, mistakes will be made, and challenges will be perpetual. If we accept that imperfections will happen, then we can allow ourselves the ability to laugh at the inevitably insane occurrences that come along with parenthood. If we try to fight the reality of the turbulent ride of having a family, it will only become more difficult to endure.
Here’s the thing though: parenting is rarely funny in the moment. When your toddler flails wildly on the floor of the grocery store while screaming at the top of his or her lungs, the last thing on your mind is humor. When your kid first repeats that choice word they should not even know out in public, it’s not all that funny. When the diaper gives out all over your nice clothes while walking into a wedding, your mind may be ready to explode. And yet, when the lovely little rugrats are sleeping peacefully and the wine cork is popped, these are the moments you remember and laugh about. I love the affectionate moments I share with my daughters and will eternally treasure that bond, but I still find myself always drawn to recounting the conquered trials such as one of the many potty training horror stories or the nightmare adventures of vacation travel. It’s those moments of adversity that provide the most laughter down the road.
One of the inherent benefits of humor is the sense of connectedness and community it can encourage. It could be a hilarious anecdote shared between spouses that offers a moment of lighthearted connection after a long day apart. It might be a humble, laughing apology to your parent about what you must have been like as a kid. It could be confessing all the hysterical (and disgusting!) diaper and potty trials with your friends or a parent group. Or, it could even be sharing a virtual giggle about surviving the sleep-deprived life with your Twitter, Facebook, or blogging community. No matter what your outlet is (mine is a mixture of all the above), it’s imperative as a parent to have those avenues to community where you can share the good (my baby slept through the night), the bad (my baby woke up several times), and the ugly (my baby has reverse-cycled, doesn’t sleep at night, and our household is quickly plunging into a downward spiral of insanity). Humor is the beautiful means that adjoins us to our family, our friends, and other parents enduring the same challenges.
Not only is laughter good for a mother or father’s soul, but taking time to relieve the stress with a stray giggle here and there is good for the children as well. There are so many moments of tension that can appropriately be dissolved by a willingness to find the lighter side of the situation. I have a strong tendency to grow frustrated when my toddler spills in public that she preemptively recoils when she has an accident; the times when I can maintain composure, say a gentle word, and share a laugh about the mess she made absolutely thrill her. It doesn’t matter if you have a toddler, a child, or a teenager, using humor to make light of a stressful situation or anxious moment not only can release the negativity but also foster a bonding moment between parent and child.
There is no getting around how hilarious the family life is, even when it rarely feels that way in the moment. Sometimes that humor comes in the form of a genuine moment, such as a child mispronouncing newly learned sounds (we still have to avoid the word ask and her aunt Ashlee’s name). Most of the time, however, humor tends to surface in our weakest moments, like when the entire family gets afflicted with that nasty virus and accompanying ‘stomach discomfort’ the week of Christmas. No matter the motivation, we all can use humor to console our emotions when times are difficult and positive moments are necessary. The truth is that we will always fall short as parents, we will always make mistakes, and the times of embarrassment and frustration will be frequent. Parenthood is one of the most challenging endeavors we will ever encounter and I firmly believe we can only survive if we’re willing to occasionally laugh in reflection on this hilarious, tortured journey.
Written by: Micah Thurman
Micah Thurman is the founder of ParentalGrit, a humorous family blog sharing reflections, tips and tricks, encouragement, and all the laughs needed to survive parenthood. He freelances creativity wrapped in words and believes in the power of positivity in parenthood.