Once while I was researching a parenting magazine article I came across a suggestion to surprise your kids by jumping into the tub (fully clothed) while giving them a bath. "Do you really think parents do this?" my editor asked when I told her what I'd found. "I imagine not many," I replied chuckling. "But, really, what stops us?" she asked with a twinkle in her eye.
The next time I spoke with this editor, she told me she had become one of the exceptions. While washing her 3-year-old son a few days earlier, she plunged right in--work pantsuit and all! The amazed look on her child's face was worth every penny in later dry cleaning, she said. They splashed together for a good portion of the evening, and since then her son approached her with a new sense of delight. His mom had become fun!
When most of us were kids, we wore our silly antics like a badge of honor. But as adults we've convinced ourselves that we need to act properly, especially around our child. What would he think of us, we fear, if we let our hair down--or, even better, yanked it into horns above our head and painted it fuchsia?
Well, he might think that it's okay to be jolly, to find a light lining in serious situations, to maintain our childlike wonder no matter our chronological age, and to connect to other people through laughter--all wonderful life lessons we'd do well to absorb ourselves. Laugh, and the world laughs with you. What if that's not simply a line in an Ella Wheeler Wilcox poem, but also the key to a lifetime of joy--especially for parents.
After my editor's experience, I resolved to be sillier. (Although I never did jump into that bathtub.) During dinner preparation with my kids, I announced that we were planning a feast for a prince who would be arriving soon. As I made their beds with them, I squealed that we had to finish before the wicked stepfather (for equal time!) came to check our work. And I put on some music and started twirling around until I couldn't walk straight.
Silliness can even be an effective parenting technique. I read about a woman who realized that rather than forcing her children to switch from one activity to another, she could join in their magical thinking. "Uh-oh, the train is coming!" she'd call to her kids who were engrossed in the park sandbox when it was time to leave. Scooping up blades of grass, she'd hand these "tickets" to her laughing children and everyone would happily bolt for the "train" (also known as their car).
In moments like these, we adults stop separating ourselves from the whimsical world of our children--our mature parent to their frivolous child--and meet them in the joyful place where all hearts reside. What could be more fun than that?
Meryl Davids Landau is the author of the new book, Enlightened Parenting: A Mom Reflects on Living Spiritually With Kids, from which this was adapted.