Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Why ‘The Joys of Parenting’ Gets A Laugh

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 21, 2013

Giving parents permission to have negative feelings for their children will always make them laugh. The previous cartoon posts entitled “The Joys of Parenting” are funny because without cloaking disgust in humor, parents feel horrible (code for guilty) when they feel regret about having children. I do not mean the kind of regret where people want to give their children away, but I mean the wistful fantasy of reflecting on life without kids. Even this fantasy can produce so much guilt that parents quickly reassure themselves and others, how happy they are to be with their progeny. Humor bypasses societal expectations allowing a release of negative affect with a smile. In a similar way, sex always sells in comedy shows. Most of us feel awkward about talking about sex, unless we are making a joke, in which case, we know we will get a laugh, again, as a release of tension. This tension, or mixed feelings, results from those sticky feelings of guilt and shame that we all try so hard to avoid, and thereby engage in activities which serve to protest the underlying feelings. As Shakespeare so eloquently stated, “thou does protest too much,” suggesting that underlying the protest is some hard truths. We love and hate our children, our parents, our significant others and ourselves. This cauldron of conflicting feelings challenges us to deepen our sense of ourselves and others. Those who take on that challenge are richer for it, and those who avoid the challenge, compromise the depth of their relationships. Some, who take on the challenge, become funny and charismatic folks, demonstrating a deep understanding of conscious and unconscious feelings. It is easy to get a laugh, once you know the formula for eliciting guilt and shame. Or, as Henny Youngman famously said,  “take my wife–please”.

13 Responses to “Why ‘The Joys of Parenting’ Gets A Laugh”

  1. Mimi said

    Beatifully said Shirah! And right next door at the Geffen they are addressing this topic with “The Gift.”

  2. Jon said

    Humor can be serious business. There is no question that the release of tension is one of its important elements. The Joni Mitchell lyrics of the song People’s Parties “… laughing and cry/ You know it’s the same release” comes to mind.

    Whether the tension comes from built in societal repression (e.g. sexual), or contractions (e.g. puns), or just absurdities (e.g. slapstick), the ability to laugh is an ability to release those tensions. Good humor should make you laugh, and then make you think. Great humor should make you laugh, then make you think, and then make you laugh again. A well cultivated sense of humor is a sensible survival strategy in this world.

    Joni Mitchell came to mind as I started writing this comment, so, I will close it with her closing lines of the same song:
    “I wish I had more sense of humor
    Keeping the sadness at bay
    Throwing the lightness on these things
    Laughing it all away
    Laughing it all away
    Laughing it all away”

  3. Ashana M said

    I don’t think it’s just about cloaking guilt in humor. There is something inherently funny about the frustrations of raising children–what they do to drive us to that, what we do because we are driven there. I have sat down and laughed, unable to go on with what I needed to do, because of the ridiculousness of either my response to frustration or to situations that were making me frustrated. Being angry at your kids is not the same as being angry at someone your really don’t like or someone who can really wound you. You may feel moved almost to violence with your kids, but it is usually hard not to continue to like them. It is that juxtaposition that is so funny. It’s unique. We don’t always maintain that sense of still liking a frustrating spouse, but I think people often are able to do that with kids. There is no other relationship where the care is so unconditional or so full of hope for the future.

    • I am not sure I see the same things. Many parents do not like their kids, either from time to time, or on a more prolonged basis. These negative feelings can bring out so much shame and guilt that it is nearly impossible for these feelings to see the light of day. Thanks.

      • Ashana M said

        You probably don’t. I spend an unusual amount of time with people who genuinely like kids and choose to spend their days with them. You spend an unusual amount of time with people who are not very happy with their lives generally. We see different slices of the world. Neither is probably a representative sample of humanity.

  4. Shelly said

    We laugh at the cartoons because we all recognize the universal feelings in them and share them with one another. It is quite a relief to know that we are not the only ones who feel that way. You are right in that we feel guilty for feeling them, but also happy that the cartoons recognize the fact that we are not alone in those feelings: there must be thousands of other parents who are frustrated with their children’s behavior or else the cartoons wouldn’t exist! Parenting is indeed the hardest job on earth and the most frustrating. By comparison, having a job outside the home is “easy” and allows us to escape. You were right-on in this blog in your descriptions of the tensions and mixed feelings we parents feel in our interactions with our children. Thanks.

    • Thank you. Yes, parenting is arguably the most important and most difficult job, but then again, creating decent members of our society also has a huge pay-out. Thanks Again.

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