Thank God, My Kid Finally Gets Sarcasm
Turns out, parenting isn’t always serious conversations — sometimes it’s snarking at each other.
I used to teach high school English and journalism. When I came home at night I reverted my sarcasm and ribbing to baby coos, toddler talk, and preschool-level arguments. Research suggests kids don’t really get sarcasm — which I realized was a key trait in my sense of humor — until at least 8 but maybe as old as 12.
And so it’s been a pleasant surprise to realize I don’t have to wait till all my kids (who are under eight) reach high school to have hilarious, real-world, and even sarcastically fun conversations with them. Because one of them is already there.
My 8-year-old is coming into his own, throwing me off with his newfound fondness for dad jokes and puns, and I’m finally able to banter right back. Let me set the scene: “Did you eat breakfast?” I asked one day. “No, I just threw it out,” he replied. My head spun around and I started to get angry, until he announced: “Gotcha.” Game on, little friend. I enjoy the banter amidst a family with three additional younger siblings who don’t quite “get it” yet.
These types of interactions have led to a secret bond I don’t yet have with my other children, an increased closeness that we can share now that our interactions aren’t strictly serious, logistical, organizational, or even meaningful. Sometimes, we can just have fun together, in a somewhat snarky way.
The impact humor has had on our relationship was a total surprise for me. I thought from following parenting influencers and psychologists that the parent child bond comes through serious conversations about cyber bullies and spirituality, how to deal with tough teachers and friends, and other Hallmark-movie-type conversations. Turns out, those things are necessary, but we needed just the opposite to progress in our bond.
The most unexpected result was an instant improvement in behavior. Standoffs about not wearing shorts to school in a blizzard (no exaggeration) became much easier to handle with a sarcastic, “Hey, go freeze, no problem,” followed by my son heading outside only to turn right back inside and change. What? How had I missed this simple parenting trick called being silly and sarcastic?
It worked in other instances too. He’d refuse to eat a vegetable, and I’d pretend to feed one to him like a little infant, playing airplane with the spoon. He’d play right along, opening up (and subsequently spitting it out, but still…). What would have been a tense evening around trying to get him to do homework or some other task evolved once humor became a go-to parenting tactic.
Turns out, our newfound bond is a well-documented phenomenon in encouraging strong parent-child relationships. Psychologists recommend becoming a “playful parent” whenever possible, leaving everyone “feeling much better” than old-fashioned discipline. WebMD gives us some tips, such as using funny voices, falling, fake crying, and making something a game. But be prepared for slapstick humor, especially if you have adolescent boys like I do — fart jokes just never seem to get old, much to my surprise.
But beyond humor, parenting an 8-year-old is a refreshing transition out of diapers and tantrums and “I have no idea where my folder is,” into a relationship with a tiny adult (yes, with still largely underdeveloped logic and restraints and more).
All of a sudden, I feel a bit less like a parent and more like I’m living with another family member who I really want to hang out with on a Friday night, getting to know his personality and watching a future adult emerge from his lanky body and flawed knock knock jokes. Just when I thought I was losing something, as sappy Instagram posts will have you believe, I learned I was gaining much more. Sure, cute little toddlers are precious and time is fleeting, but this stage is a welcome surprise, and I’m all here for it.
Alexandra Frost is a Cincinnati-based freelance journalist, content marketing writer, copywriter, and editor focusing on health and wellness, parenting, real estate, business, education, and lifestyle. Away from the keyboard, Alex is also mom to her four sons under age 8, who keep things chaotic, fun, and interesting. For over a decade she has been helping publications and companies connect with readers and bring high-quality information and research to them in a relatable voice. She has been published in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Glamour, Shape, Today's Parent, Reader's Digest, Parents, Women's Health, and Insider.