A little practical parenting advice: this habit can be devastating to our children because they really do care what we think. Maybe it’s time to reframe the “norm” and reconsider what we consider a joke.
Laughter is one of my love languages. One of my favorite things about my husband is how he makes me laugh. We laughed a lot in our home as the kids grew up. So much so that sometimes I would tell the girls, “Stop laughing at your brother and your daddy. You’re just encouraging them.” Their response was always, “Good!”
Telling Jokes on your kids can have Unintended Effects
We also speak the language of sarcasm, lovingly gigging each other with well-placed quips.
I would tell stories on the kids, especially my son, who was a handful.
He gave me lots to tell. I’m a story-teller. It was all in good fun.
Until one day.
My husband started noticing that our son would make comments like, “After what I’ve heard about how hard it was to raise me, I’m thinking twice about having kids,” or “What y’all put up with as my parents,” etc.
My husband began to see that the joking had subtly affected our son’s perspective about our perspective. Even if it was minor. Even if it was innocent. Even if it was “all in good fun.”
I watched their father begin to be intentional with his words to our son and then our daughters. My man of few words had always measured his out carefully, but now he was even more deliberate. He challenged me to rethink what I said, both in private and public. Words matter. (I should know that as well as anyone.)
But how do you merge a family who laughs with and at each other with a decision to be more encouraging?
Practical Parenting: How we made this small change
We didn’t make major changes. We didn’t exchange light-hearted conversations for the deeper meaning of life. We just trimmed a little sarcasm and added a few more affirmations.
I stopped telling jokes on my kids MORE THAN I praised them.
And I stopped telly ANY joke that couldn’t be wrapped into something positive.
We still tell jokes. There are stories of their childhoods that are classics and make for the greatest blog material and social media posts. But I only tell them now if I can use them to illustrate a desirable quality in the grown child. There are also some quintessential stories that are “child-approved” and they even tell them on themselves.
I still reference the “work” it was to parent, but never (at least that’s the goal) without talking about how the return on investment more than paid for itself. In fact, I hit the jackpot. The lottery. More than I ever deserved or possibly could have “worked” for.
Changing the Culture
We live in a culture that is obsessed with making jokes at others’ expense.
My mom tells the story of seeing an episode of “Good Times” back in the 70’s. The moment made a memory because that was the very first time she personally had seen a put-down get a laugh track.
How far we’ve come, right? It’s the normal, accepted, “in” thing to do — even with our children.
Maybe it’s time to reframe the “norm.” Reconsider what we consider to be a joke. And remember that laughter is never by itself an indicator of whether it’s ok with the one who’s being laughed at.
We don’t have to lose the laughter but we can reframe the jokes, stop and think before we say something flippant, and add in more words that lift up instead of tear down. Those few steps could be culture-shifting and life-changing within the walls of our own homes.
As parents — even parents of grown children — we hold in our hands the ability to shape their thoughts. My own parents STILL have the power to lift me up and inspire me to think that what I’m doing here matters.
So I’ll leave you with this last little practical parenting tip to think about:
Whether they act like it or not,
our children care what we think about them.
Our external dialogue is writing their internal script.
Let’s make sure it’s one where they are the hero,
not the villain, the scapegoat, or the moron.
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Encouragement for moms can be hard to find.
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