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.

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19 thoughts on “What a Comedian Taught Me About Parenting”

  1. Thanks for your honesty. I can very much resonate with what you said.

  2. Bill says:

    I heard this comedy bit last month and was convicted in the same way.

    But as many reading this will say, its just not that simple. It made me reflect on what I do as parent of young kids by making me evaluate my heaviness, but on the other hand, how do we teach respect? Respect for property, other peoples time (parents usually get angry about this because after meal clean up takes so much of our time), conversation (when kids act this way at the table, grownups usually have no conversation), etc.
    So yes, much of it is us not wantintg to clean up after them with I think is a respectful motive, and not something unreasonable for a parent to desire. So where I ended on this is perhaps teaching them to clean up after their joyful messes which also takes time, demands their respect, takes effort, etc. Parenting is not easy which is why comics go there so often.

  3. Aaron Wojnicki says:

    Kevin,

    When I heard this on Monday, I thought the same thing. Thank you for sharing!

  4. Todd Trausch says:

    Thanks for posting this Kevin. I know that I am more often than not guilty of being heavy and not letting my son just be a 4 year old.

    I like what you said Bill about teaching the children to clean up after they make their “joyful mess”. That is a great term for raising kids I think.

  5. Phillip says:

    Unless we become as…..
    Daddy, can I have a toy?
    Oh how we tend to squash loving expectations.

  6. Melody says:

    Wonder at what age does a Christian daughter no longer have to obey her parents? Or more specifically at what age should a parent quit demanding that their children obey them? Someone asked this recently and I gave them the American answer. Is it the same in the Christian context?

  7. Michael J. Bridge says:

    A few years ago, before having kids, I was leading a men’s group at church and we were watching a video about being men and dad’s by Dr. Tim Kimmel. He told the story of having a bad day, coming home, and taking his wife and toddler daughter out for their weekly ice cream date. Having had a bad day, when his daughter had finally covered herself from head to toe in ice cream and toppings, Dr. Kimmel got up in disgust and said it was time to go because he wasn’t in a good mood and didn’t feel like dealing with this. His wife told him, “We aren’t here for you. We are here for her.” He said that he sat down, ashamed at his own arrogance and impatience, and realized his sin.

    That teaching has always stuck with me. I need to realize that not everything is about me and that sometimes (probably a lot more of the time than I care to admit) I need to accept things that aren’t fun for me because it isn’t about me, but about my kids.

  8. Joe says:

    This is good. As parents, I think we have mostly forgotten the weight of influence our words and expressions carry with the kids. I have often thought of these things as I try and control 2 toddler boys from destroying the house, restaurant, church, public bathroom, grocery store, museum, etc. Of course different locations call for different responses, but the fact remains that we often can squash a precious, innocent(in intentions) heart of glee in our children with our onslaught of corrections, requests and restrictions – all for the sake of our personal idols of comfort and control.

  9. Heather says:

    I let my 9 year old dig a very large hole in our yard- large enough for him to fit in it standing up. The joy on his face as he spent days digging to China was well worth the destroyed grass. The expression on my friends face when they saw what I let him do to the yard- priceless.The hole is long since filled in , the grass is as good as it ever gets at our house but his memories (and pictures) of that hole live on. The lesson that joy is more important than things remains.

  10. Michael says:

    So what I got from this was we are all meeting at Kevin’s house for spaghetti dinner on Saturday!

  11. Bill says:

    Michael – Do you mean “we” or just our kids?

  12. Jon says:

    Thank you!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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