When I first had my babies, I thought about what I wanted our family life to look like. And one of the first things on my list was laughter. I wanted our family to be a place where people laugh. I think love and laughter and memories all go together; it’s difficult to have any of those things without also having the other. Does your home ring with laughter?
I read one study that teens laugh twice as much as adults in their fifties. And once we pass fifty, it’s all downhill. We stop laughing. That’s a tragedy. But perhaps we wouldn’t stop if we fostered laughter in our homes! So here are some random thoughts on how to foster laughter, in no particular order:
1. Give kids permission to laugh at you.
This starts when they’re toddlers. Whenever I did something stupid, I’d go running to wherever my kids were and I’d say, “Look how Mommy put my shirt on inside out!”, or “Look how Mommy spilled!” And we’d all laugh. Children like to laugh. They like to feel that they can laugh at their parents, too, because while kids want to feel safe, they don’t want to feel like their parents must be perfect. If you give your children the impression that they must always think you’re perfect, then your children will feel disloyal and dishonest when they realize that you’re NOT perfect. So give them safe ways to talk about your foibles!
And if Daddy does something funny, too, tell the kids about it, and laugh! Of course, you don’t want to tease, and you certainly don’t want to allow your children to tease each other. There is a difference between healthy laughter between people and laughing at someone, and you should teach your children the difference. But it will be easier to learn if you model it from the beginning!
2. Play a lot.
We laugh when we play. We laugh when we talk. We laugh when we’re simply together and things happen. We don’t tend to laugh when we’re alone in our rooms doing our own thing. If you want to encourage laughter, you have to actually be together! And sometimes the things that you will end up laughing about are the things that you were absolutely upset about at the time.
I remember I once took my children camping, along with three of their friends. In one day I managed to break the tarp on our trailer, drench a child with water while trying to get the water off of said broken tarp, burn dinner, and then have the roof leak on us. At the time it was a tragedy because we had to leave camping early. But it’s one of our funniest memories. In fact, those friends even drew a picture of all the things that went wrong, and it’s still on our fridge, five years later. But we wouldn’t have laughed about it if we hadn’t been spending time together!
3. Do out of the ordinary things.
And when you do spend time together, do it in out of the ordinary ways! Don’t just watch TV or movies, even if they are funny (though we still have a riot quoting Shrek). The things that are funny tend to be the things that happen in everyday life that you’re paying attention enough to to see the humour in them. When you’re trying to hurry up and get to all the practices or get dinner on the table you often don’t have time to see the humour. So try to do strange things with your family!
Don’t always watch TV; sometimes play board games, or go for walks, or play soccer in the park. Last spring the girls and I laughed for three weeks straight over “Fernando”, a humongously obese baby robin that hung out on our fence posts because he couldn’t fly. He would bleat all day and his much smaller mother would bring him worms. Every now and then Fernando would topple onto the ground and wobble down there for a bit. He was just a riot. They sometimes invited friends over to watch our pathetic robin. But we noticed him because we went for a walk; we didn’t hibernate.
We also do really strange things at the dinner table. When the kids were younger, we’d have trivia questions after dinner. We’d ask Canadian trivia, and you couldn’t leave the table until you got something right. My nephew, when he’d visit, would answer “Charlottetown” for every single question, and inevitably by question 12 or 13 he’d be right and he’d get to leave. It’s been a running joke ever since.
A few years back I also purchased this little booklet of “graces you can sing” to the tune of hymns, and everytime we have company I pull them out. All the teens complain and moan and groan, but if they’re ever over the first thing they’ll ask is “are we going to sing grace?”, because it’s so strange and kinda funny, because most people don’t know the tune.
Most of the humour in our lives isn’t some side splitting joke; it’s just everyday life that happens when we’re alert enough to notice. So spend time together out of your regular errands, doing weird things, and you’ll inevitably laugh!
4. Enforce technology free time
Finally, while movies and TV can be funny, and YouTube videos can make tears run down our faces sometimes, the best humour comes when we’re just with each other. So have technology free nights, say from 6-8, where there is no TV or iPods or Facebook. Just spend time with each other, and you will laugh.
Sometimes we laugh just doing the dishes together–bubbles can be funny! Sometimes we laugh at memories while we’re talking. Sometimes we laugh at my oldest daughter falling UP the stairs (I didn’t know anyone could consistently fall UP the stairs until she hit puberty a few years back).
Having fun in your home means that other people will want to hang out with you. Your friends’ kids will want to have dinner at your house. Your friends will enjoy being there. And so will your husband! A house filled with laughter is really a home, so don’t drown it out by being too busy, too proper, or too plugged in!
How do you laugh in your home? Let me know!