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April Fool's! How Jokes, Pranks and Humor Save My Sanity (and Help Me Be a Better Parent)

Posted by Elisabeth Wilkins

Humor has saved my marriage and my sanity on more than one occasion — and it often gets me through on a daily basis. My husband and I are imperfect parents and spouses; we definitely screw up royally sometimes. One thing we have always been able to do well, though, is laugh together.

So now that April Fool’s is almost here, our house has mobilized. You see, my husband, son and I are all into pranks. We pop out at each other, hide things in sneakers, and tell tall tales almost every day in order to get a laugh or a rise out of each other. (My son told me he had a black eye the other day on the phone — I didn’t quite fall for it 100%, but he did have me wondering until I saw his face for myself. I’m not innocent, either: Last year I told my husband Joe I scored a pair of large mating iguanas off Craig’s List. He believed me until the moment he came home from his business trip.) And when telemarketers call, Joe regularly pretends to be an old woman and says in an accented voice, “My husband can’t come to the phone; he is milking the goat!” (Or my favorite — “My husband is in the basement digging a big hole.”)

Some say pranking and practical jokes are a sign of immature behavior, and maybe they’re right. But somehow it works for our family, so we’re going with it.

This is not a new development, either. When my husband and I were first dating, Joe convinced me that the reason his family emigrated from Italy when he was six was because the Mafia was hunting for them. (I am a gullible Midwesterner who’s seen way too many Mafia movies and so I believed him — hook, line and sinker. He finally told me it was all a joke about a year later! And I have to admit I was a little disappointed.) At the same time, I was in my hippy skirt phase (hey, it was the early 90s!) and led him to believe that I’d followed the Grateful Dead. (For my rather straight-laced husband, this was like saying I’d chained myself to a tree for a year, could talk to squirrels, and had only eaten berries I’d gathered in the forest.)

When we got married, we laughed through our entire wedding ceremony. (We had a minister and a priest, to please both sets of parents. The priest, who we met the day of our wedding, was 6’8″ and somehow had a voice that was almost the exact tone and timbre as Kermit the Frog’s. For us, not laughing would have been an act of sheer iron willpower that we did not possess.)

And one of the very first milestones our son hit as a baby? Yup, he laughed early. (When the other moms bragged about their kids’ advanced abilities in the first year — rolling over, crawling, talking — I would chime in, “Our son is an advanced laugher.”)

So it stands to reason that jokes and pranks are big in our family. Last year on April Fool’s, I woke from a sound sleep to find my son’s rather large bearded dragon, aka scaly Australian lizard, sitting on the pillow by my head, drily staring me down. (I leapt out of bed screeching that morning, I can tell you!). He also filled the sugar bowl with salt. (Salty coffee — yum!) He’s already started on the plans for April 1, and so has my husband. (The motto on our house around this holiday: “Be prepared.”)

So why has this pranking and joking saved my marriage and my parental sanity? You have probably already picked up on the fact that we’re all a bit nutty in our family, for one thing; in fact we encourage general creative “nuttery” in our house. And breaking the tension, aggravation (or boredom) with humor and/or a surprise seems to help inject our lives with a little spontaneity. It also keeps us on our toes and puts a bit of a sparkle into the daily routine. Best of all, when we can stop in the middle of what we’re doing and laugh, fights are usually defused pretty instantly. (Caveat: laughing at the your child’s opinions, thoughts, or emotions doesn’t work — much better to laugh at something you can all find humorous. This is part of the “Harmless Humor” James and Janet Lehman talk about, and something Kim Abraham and Marney Studaker-Cordner address in their excellent article, Parental Coping Skills: How to Use Humor to Defuse Fights with Your Child.)

I have personally been combing the internet for good ideas for April Fool’s Day. Do you play pranks on your family What are you planning to do this year to surprise them (Any and all ideas welcome!)


About Elisabeth Wilkins

Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

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