Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Saying "yes — and" in parenting

I've been thinking about how improvisational comedy relates to parenting (or, indeed, to any relationship).

The first rule of improv is to

Say "yes — and"!

The negative form of this rule is "Don't deny" or "Don't block."

In other words, you're standing on the improv stage, and your partner says, "Chris, there you are! All the other acrobats are waiting for the circus to start!" A bad improv response is to go, "What acrobats? This isn't a circus! And my name's not Chris!" Because now what's your partner going to do? You've just killed the whole scene.

I'm not a good improv actor1, but let's say a decent response would be, "Sorry, Ringmaster, I was helping the lion tamer rehearse — and there's been a slight accident…"

You're validating your partner's starting point, and the "and" part is that you're helping the scene to continue.

It's a way of being generous, of entering into the spirit of what your partner's creating, of making both of you look good and honoring the fun.

I was thinking about how I want to be a "yes — and" parent.

Mikko was entranced with the flubber at Schule. Sam stopped on the way home to buy school glue and food coloring. (Recipe coming soon…)

Mikko saw me knitting and wanted to make his grandma a scarf, too — yellow, because it's her favorite color. I didn't say, even though I was thinking, Four-year-olds can't knit. I set about brainstorming how we might be able to put something together as a team. (Whether Grandma will want to wear it or not is another story, but that's unimportant.)

There are so many opportunities in the day to block our kids and deny their requests, and I don't mean that in a guilt-inducing way, because we're usually being completely reasonable when that's our first instinct.

I'm just trying to be a little less reasonable, a little more open, a little more free-spirited.

I might not grant every request (today Mikko wanted to buy, in quick succession, a dog, a star, and a frying pan), and I might not do everything in the same time frame as a four-year-old would appreciate, but Sam and I try to make an effort to be good improvisational partners, particularly as we're moving into unschooling.

Do your kids want a train ride and Amtrak's out of your budget? How about hopping on the commuter train and back?

Do they want to make a tower and can't find the blocks? Break out the toilet paper rolls.

Do they beg for a pet it wouldn't be prudent for you to adopt? Think of another way you could bring animals into their lives: volunteering at a shelter or visiting friends with pets. Maybe they really just want to pretend to be an animal and have you serve lunch on the floor!

I'm trying to find ways like this where I can provide both the "yes!" enthusiasm and the "and" assistance and expansion. With Mikko's initiation, it makes for a darn good show.

How have you recently said "yes — and" to your kids? How does it feel when you enter into the spirit rather than block the action?2

1 I'm not any type of improv actor.
2 Thank you to the hilarious book Bossypants for making me think about improv, and to one of my inspiring college professors, Roger Lundin, for always "yes — and"-ing us in class. By the way, you, too, can have random footnotes.


Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

I love this post because I've been thinking a lot about this lately. Sometimes Baby wants to do things that I want to say no to. If I take a second to reflect on why my impulse is to say no, I almost always realize it is a silly reason and that there is nothing wrong with following Baby's lead. This scenario happened 5 minutes ago when Baby wanted to throw his cloth diapers all over his room ;-)

Momma Jorje said...

LOVE this! It definitely is so much easier to say "No," and sometimes I even realize afterward that there was no real reason to do so. I mean, it was the easier option, but... saying "Yes" would have caused no harm, taken minimal investment, and brought a little more happiness and togetherness to my little one (and myself).

I generally try to be more of a "Yes Mom," but I love the idea of being "Yes, AND" - so open ended, so sharing, so involved.

Also, I wrote my first post with footnotes last night! (It isn't live yet.) Thanks SO much (again) for the tutorial!

'Becca said...

This is something I've had to work on at times! I'm very much a planner and an exacting sort of person, so my first instinct usually is to resist disruption of the plan or doing something that isn't exactly what was specified, but if I can relax about it, I may learn something from my child.

When he was just a year old, I learned that saying no before I fully understand his goal actually can create a problem.

A couple weeks ago, I had a migraine and my son, now 6, was bugging me to "make something" with him and to tell him what we could make. I was overwhelmed by the idea of taking on some unnecessary craft when I felt so awful I wasn't sure I could make dinner. (He informed me that cooking was not adequate to fulfill his creative impulse.) Eventually I mumbled a vague memory of making a pig out of a plastic milk jug when I was his age. "Was it a piggy bank?" he asked. "I need another piggy bank! We don't buy that plastic milk. I'll find something in the recycling." He got a yogurt tub. I think my only further contributions were to suggest covering it in construction paper, and to cut the slot--he did all the rest and was thrilled with his new piggy bank. And then he was a big help making dinner. Whereas if I'd stuck with, "NO, I'm not going to think of a craft for you, go away!" I can almost guarantee he would've been underfoot whining while I was trying to cook.

I've also had good results from letting my kid show me "The Way I Usually Do It". I like to give instructions, but sometimes he needs to take that role, and usually it won't hurt anything.

Corey said...

I have been thinking a lot about this as well. Recently I've been hearing, "Please, don't" come out of my mouth way too often. I realize a lot of it comes from my own feelings of being overwhelmed at the moment and the insecurity of not knowing where the "Yes-and" could lead is too much. My children are wonderfully curious and creative and I want to be the one to encourage not squash these tendencies. Thank you for reminding me of how important "Yes-and" is!!

Ellerie said...

I just LOVE this!!! I don't have children yet, but I want to remember this when I do. There are so many times I hear parents tell their kids they can't do something, and my initial reaction is to try and figure out a creative way the child could, so this is just right up my ally! :)

Fresh and Feisty said...

This is great. A lot like a redirection idea. Thanks for putting into words what I have felt :)

Melissa said...

Love this post! What a geat reminder.

Kelly said...

Great post Lauren! I would really love to be this type of parent too... :)

Also, I really want to read Bossypants... :)

Hannah said...

It's amazing how much I catch myself saying no! I definitely try to find ways to say yes more often.
hrhersch at yahoo dot com

Laura said...

Today Selena wanted to make a real airplane that she could really fly, and a real boat that she could really paddle. Whining and claims that I don't love her ensued when I couldn't come up with a reasonable way to make this happen. Watching youtube video's of boats being made and a promise to see if kayaking would work this weekend (were already planning on going on trip to water with available kayak) somewhat remedied the situation. But I'm getting worn out and sticking them in front of the TV seems so alluring. ;) Parenting is tiring. :P Typing that all out was therapeutic. Thanks Lauren!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama: I do the same thing, where my mind jumps to how it (say, throwing cloth diapers around!) inconveniences me or just seems "wrong." Like, does throwing cloth diapers around make any more of a mess than throwing toys around? Nope. Does it harm the diapers or set Baby up for a lifetime of disrespecting property? Nope. But sometimes (and you're not saying this; I am) I get stuck in that mindset of "It feels wrong (i.e., like something my own mother would not have allowed) — therefore it must be wrong and I should entrench my position as The Authority Figure and show my kid who's boss" instead of allowing myself the grace to unclench and reconsider and calm down about these little things.

Lauren Wayne said...

@'Becca: Love love love your piggy bank story! It's so true that sometimes it just takes that small initial investment, and then the kids take over and things are actually easier on the parent than otherwise. Very cool. And I have opened your links to check out — can't wait!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Tabetha: Love it! Before I had kids, I had a lot of contact with a particular family where the son was told "no" about pretty much everything, and then he was labeled rebellious because he tuned it all out. Not to be judgy on the family, but I knew I wanted different.

Lauren Wayne said...

@Kelly: Bossypants is super fun, and a fast read! She has a bit about her parenting in there, too. I was just sad that breastfeeding ended up being really hard for her. :( I wanted to go back in time to give her a hug and the number for a lactation consultant.

Lauren Wayne said...

@dr. becky: So glad you feel that way! :) Have fun with your experimenting!

Lauren Wayne said...

@Laura: Oh, totally! Your comment about the real airplane and real boat reminded me of this post from mudpiemama: "Creating (Im)perfectly Together". Her kids wanted to make a real pirate ship — check it out! :) I would have the same reaction to such requests. Mikko's asked to make "real robots that really work" and "spaceships that go to the moon," as well to take an airplane trip immediately or buy a purple car or whatever it is that strikes his fancy. And sometimes it works to enter into the imaginative spirit with him and build a fort that we pretend is a rocket ship, or talk excitedly about where we would fly if we were to get on a plane right now, and sometimes it doesn't work at all. And that's what the TV's for. ;)

I agree that parenting is most definitely tiring. And I feel like it's not my job to spare my kids from all disappointment. I'm really impressed by your youtube and kayaking remedies, for what it's worth.

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

Just coming back to say thank you for linking up at Green & Natural Mamas Thursday again!

Jennifer T. said...

My husband is horrible at disengaging from adulthood sometimes. He's more apt to correct instead of going along with the imagination of it all. I think he's got to get back into the practice of how to be childlike. But, then, so do I.

Anonymous said...

Laura, I have also felt overwhelmed by such requests... some where along the way, however, I realized I am not there to make all of these things come true but to help my daughters persue their ideas... turning the idea back to them... "Wow, making a real airplane that flies is exciting! How could you do do that? What would you need?" Rather than trying to have all the answers, respect their ability to think this through and have some ideas of their own... Parenting is tiring! Some times we forget that we don't have to be everything for our kids...

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