Question: I appreciate a good sense of humor and enjoy the Love and Logic presentations because they are so funny. I can have a good laugh about homework and potty training issues but I have a hard time joking about my child’s serious health issue. Quite frankly, it’s not a laughing matter. I want my child to take his health care seriously- not think it’s funny. Can you help me understand how the use of humor can be effective when dealing with life-threatening medical issues? Thank you. - Nikki J.
I understand and appreciate your comments about Love and Logic's use of humor. Dr. Cline is currently presenting in England so we’ll have to wait for his input but here are some ideas around the use of humor that I’d like to share.
1.) About using humor in the Love and Logic presentations: As a Love and Logic facilitator, over the years, I have heard occasional criticisms of their use of humor to demonstrate points, but most people really appreciate and enjoy it. In fact one recent workshop participant said to me: “I expected this day to be pretty somber considering it was about parenting children with serious medical issues. I didn’t expect to laugh all day and I am so pleasantly surprised. I just wasn’t looking forward to sitting through another depressing program but knew I needed the information. Thank you for a wonderful day.”
Part of the use of humor in the live presentations is for the entertainment value. It is much easier to learn the tools and enjoy the teachings when we are giggling together. The other thing is that it helps us laugh at ourselves and lighten up a bit. We also feel bonded to each other through laughter because we are all in the same boat and most of us make the same, common parenting mistakes. And, I understand how hard it can be when we are in the midst of dark times (I know those days only too well). Sometimes we just don’t feel like laughing. But, believe it or not there will come a time for joy after the storm has passed even if you don’t think it possible right now.
2.) Around the use of humor with our children: In our book we talk about how to use humor appropriately and how it can be an important tool for "laying the responsibility" back on the child's shoulders as age and developmentally appropriate. When readers don't have that context it can sound kind of harsh and "not so funny."
Using appropriate humor, without making fun of the child, can be a most effective strategy with strong-willed children and helps to ensure that the process is fun for the parents. Using humor, fun and creativity are gentle ways of setting limits for children. For instance, instead of demanding “Take your insulin shot right now!,” a parent might affectionately ask, “Rob, do you think your blood would attract ants right now with all that sugar in it?” Most kids respond with, “Awww, mom” and perhaps some eye rolling but they head right off for the needle. Telling a strong-willed child to “do it now” is more likely to start a power struggle.
3.) Dark humor can facilitate dying and death: Sometimes individuals in the process of dying may joke about their pending death. For some people, using humor is simply their way of expressing feelings rather than raging or blaming or crying or sulking. Humor can be a very effective tool to de-escalate a painful situation and to allow some communication about difficult issues where none may be otherwise possible. Certainly it is not appropriate for all families but can be very effective in those who appreciate it as long as it isn’t being used to avoid facing the issues.
There have been studies, and in fact whole books written, about the use of humor when dealing with terminal illness and it appears to be a very common phenomenon. Outsiders may not understand the humor and can even, understandably, be appalled at how people can joke about something as serious as terminal illness and pending death. What is very interesting about the studies is that families with a sense of humor tend to be emotionally healthier than those who don’t engage in humor. Somehow, it lightens the load.
4.) Using humor to inspire and heal: In the March 2005 edition of Reader’s Digest there was an article that really touched me called “The Laughter Cure.” Dr. Stan Gardner paraphrases the article so well that I’ll just quote him:
“The article tells the compelling story of a stand up comedian, Robert Schimmel, who used comedy to deal with cancer. Robert tells of the shock of learning he had cancer, the shock of learning it had metastasized, and the determination with which he decided he was going to tackle—and conquer—the Non-Hodgkins lymphoma with which he had been diagnosed.”
“One story in it made me laugh out loud. Schimmel met this grumpy guy, whom he called a ‘transmitter’ - someone who transmits negative experiences to everyone around him. This transmitter, Bill, took pains to squelch Schimmel’s upbeat approach to dealing with the chemo treatments. That is, until Schimmel told Bill this: ‘I asked Bill if he’d gone to any support groups. He said no; he didn’t like listening to a bunch of sob stories. I said I’d gone to one the night before, to prepare for what I was facing. A woman there was upset because she thought her husband wouldn’t find her sexy once she started losing her hair. I told Bill that I looked at her and thought, Sexy? Lady, if you think you’re sexy-looking now, maybe you need to get your eyes examined too. Bill began to laugh. The nurses asked me what I’d said; they’d never seen him smile. And when I arrived for my next chemo session, Bill was there, saving me a seat. We told each other jokes all day while we got our treatment.’”
On Robert Schimmel’s blog, he explains the great impact humor had on him and those around him during this tough time:
“There are two kinds of people: Transmitters and Transformers. When tragedy hits, a Transmitter transmits negativity to everyone around them. Transformers take the darkness in their lives and transform it into something positive, and also transform others into Transformers. …So I’m emotionally split. I don’t want to get labeled as the ‘cancer comic.’ But as a cancer survivor, I know how much it meant to me when I met other survivors. It gave me hope. And if me being public about what I went through, even if it’s through humor, creates public awareness or gives someone else hope, then what’s wrong with that? I feel that if I connect with someone in the audience and it makes a difference in their lives, then what I went through wasn’t for nothing. Cancer sucks, but I believe that my finding humor in my darkest moment helped me get through it.”
Each family must find their own way along the difficult road of dealing with illness and death; each path will look different. The important thing is that whatever path taken, it lighten the load for that family and facilitate closure for those who may be left in the world of the living. Humor may not be effective in every family and that’s okay. Every family is different especially when we add in cultural differences. What works for one may not work for another.
The goal in our use of humor is not to offend or make light of difficult and painful situations. We hope that by giving you a chance to giggle that you will find comfort, hope, respite and effective parenting tools. My personal hope is that I can be a Transformer along this rough and sometimes lonely road. Peace to you on your journey as well-