Blogs can be great shop windows displaying all our best work; a fabulous piece of art, a successful bake, an example of marvellous parenting in the face of extreme challenge. And try as I might to share my mistakes as well as my triumphs, mine is probably no different. You don’t get to see the loaf which looks like a splat, or hear about my lapses into short fuse parenting. However, for the greater good, I am about to share a shameful secret with you.
I laugh when people fall over and at other terribly inappropriate moments. I admit it is childlike and can be irritating.
I laughed uncontrollably all the way through my sister’s wedding because the vicar was amusing. I was a bridesmaid. I laughed when my husband Rob fell into an Irish peat bog. (Extra funny because he was angry.) I once dropped a bag of vomit between the front seats of our car just as we pulled up to passport control at a ferry terminal. It covered the hand brake, gear stick, Rob’s Blackberry and worst of all, the passports. As I wiped them ineffectually with a dissolving piece of kitchen roll and passed them to the immigration officer, I gasped for breath and tears rolled down my face. Rob looked murderous. That only made it funnier.
I was reminded of my, let’s call it weakness, this week during a course on therapeutic parenting. Several delegates explained how their children laugh at inappropriate moments, for example when people fall over and (I’m sorry but I’m laughing even now), hurt themselves. It was clearly the time to nod seriously in agreement, which I did, but a part of me was thinking ‘but it is quite funny though. Isn’t it?’. Then I was taken back to the Irish peat bog incident and snorted. Yes, I know. I am a bad person.
In common with many traumatised children my own can flip between hysterical crying and laughing, which can be disconcerting. They also laugh when they are in deep trouble, which can be infuriating. Pain, anxiety and fear catapult them into disregulation, where emotions spin out of control and make little sense to the onlooker. We may laugh until we cry, they do it the other way around.
Hilarity aside, I’ve been thinking more about empathy. Quite often our children can’t help it, whatever the ‘it’ is, whether that’s singing through a maths lesson or taking the scissors to a bathroom towel or laughing when they’re in trouble. It’s easy as adults, for us to judge their behaviours as purposeful and manipulative, particularly when we are deep into the dark place of parenting amongst the tangles of trauma. And society has decided that laughing in the face of authority is a heinous and shameful crime. It shows a lack of respect and the miscreants need to be taught a harsh lesson. We hear about child criminals laughing in the dock, like they just don’t care and moral outrage and cries for harsh sentencing echo across the land.
But back to my own kitchen table as I don’t find that moral outrage gets me anywhere as far as therapeutic parenting goes. Because I do it myself, I get the laughing thing and so it doesn’t bother me as much as it bothers others. But cutting up towels and singing through maths? I’ve still got some way to go on those.
Fern Britton, an amateur.