My Most Valuable Parenting Tool

by Annie Reneau

Over 15 years of parenting three kids, I’ve collected a wide range of parenting tools. I’ve got redirection. I’ve got positive reinforcement. I’ve got time-ins and time-outs. I’ve got my “I mean business” glare. I’ve got the whole kaboodle, right here in my tool belt.

And if you were to ask me the most valuable one of the bunch? The one I’d ditch the rest for and ride into the sunset with, all happily-ever-after-like?

Humor. That’s it. Hands down. The best tool in the bunch.

Maybe it’s because I’m naturally so goldarned funny, or maybe it’s because life with children gives you all the material you need. But humor has saved my (and my kids’) proverbial bacon more times than I can count.

When my teen starts getting particularly angsty, the best remedy I’ve found is to make her laugh. It doesn’t take much. I can do a silly stare, a goofy voice, or a spontaneous song and dance number (you really have to see it) and snap her right out of her broody mood. Laughter loosens her—and me—up and dissolves those invisible threads of discontent that sometimes appear between loved ones. Sometimes she’ll get mad that I’m ruining her bad mood, but she can’t stop herself from smiling as she complains. It’s like I can see her prickles melting before my eyes. It’s a beautiful sight.

When one of my kids starts complaining about dinner, it’s all I can do not to take a deep breath and spew a big, long, frustrated lecture about starving kids and first world problems. I’ve done that, in fact. Sometimes that lecture is totally called for. But I’ve found greater success in getting my kids to eat something they find unsatisfactory by daring them to eat it with their toes. Or by telling them that if they don’t eat their entire dinner in three bites, including the plate and silverware, I’ll make them clean my toenails with their toothbrush. For some reason, toes are really funny to kids. And absurdity is a highly underrated parenting technique.

Turning to humor sometimes takes work, but it’s really just a mindset. I try to make humor my go-to disciplinary tool if I can help it. Laughter connects, and I always want our family to feel connected, even when we’re having a difficulty or disagreement. As long as no one is laughing at someone, giggling together is the best kind of family bonding. When a difficulty arises, I try to get us laughing first. Somehow, magically, laughter creates a calm, connected space where we can actually have a meaningful conversation about whatever it is that’s troubling us. Diving straight into discussion without making that soft spot first rarely gets us anywhere productive.

Humor is also insanely good for my frazzled Mama nerves. Laughter in the face of chaos is a hundred times better than freaking out in the face of chaos. Sometimes it’s hard when you’re right in the thick of it, but the messes, the destruction, the meltdowns, the being pulled in three directions at once—if you can detach yourself from it all for just a moment, and look in from the outside at all of the craziness, all you can really do is laugh. Or cry. But laughter is way more fun.

We all could use a little lightening up. Most of the time, life is funny. Most of the time, kids are funny. Let go of the idea that everything has to be perfect, or that every undesirable behavior needs to be strictly analyzed, or that being a good parent means taking everything super seriously.

Because seriously, being a parent might be the hardest thing you’ll ever do, but it’s also the most hilarious. When you focus on the funny, the hard gets easier.

And that’s no joke.