Recently I learned something about parenting from a stand-up comedian. I was listening to this bit about children from Brian Regan and around the 1:35 mark he tells the story about his son flinging around half-eaten spaghetti from his mouth and watching the sauce splatter across the room. Regan explained that he made a mistake as a parent because he stopped him: “Hey man, knock that off. Can’t you see the paint on the walls is more important than the joy in your heart?!” At that last line the audience burst into loud laughter and applause.
I know, I know, it’s a stand-up routine and a not a sermon. Let’s not take it too seriously. But the audience resonated with the line–and so do many of us I imagine–because there is something uncomfortably and refreshingly insightful about the joke. Why would spinning around with spaghetti always be the wrong thing for a child to do? Obviously, probably not a good idea as a guest. And not a good habit to develop as a general rule. But isn’t the best response to such antics–on some days, in some situations, with some people–simply to laugh? Even better, think of the fun you might have if you slurped up your own spaghetti, started bobbin your noggin, and joined Junior in the act. Being a parent means being responsible, but does it have to mean always being the heavy?
I think I’m a pretty fun dad. I like to get on the floor and get tangled up with my kids. I like to be goofy. I like to laugh and make them laugh. But I also know that one of my besetting sins is impatience with my children. I discipline them in anger (Eph. 4:26) and provoke them to anger (Eph. 6:4). I’m well aware of all the dangers on the “too soft side” of the parenting equation: no boundaries, no discipline, unruly and disrespectful kids. I just want us to remember the dangers on the other side too. Like never learning there’s a difference between acting like a defiant rebel and acting like a kid. Why is that when my kid turns over the picnic table, places a large plastic car on top of it, inserts several brooms and starts riding the thing like a spaceship my first reaction is to tell him to cut it out and play normal? I actually know why that’s my reaction. It’s because I don’t want to pick up the mess. So maybe I should teach my son to pick up after himself. Or maybe I help him put things back together before bedtime. But what’s with the internal desire to make sure our kids have fun only by means of an approved list of “normal” activities?
Some parents are permissive and lazy. Others are over-bearing kill-joys. Sadly, many of us manage to be both. I say: keep them safe, keep them away from sin, give them the gospel, and let the good times roll. Hey, I wouldn’t mind being five again. So why make the five year-old miserable because she likes being five too. Kids are kids. And we’d be better and happier parents with better and happier kids if we allowed that sometimes the joy in their silly, childlike hearts is worth more than the paint on our precious parent-like walls.