We’ve all seen it. The peaceful, sleeping infant, watched over by the perfectly coiffed, smiling…
It seems every toddler’s favorite word is “no.” By default. Mine included.
Want to change your poopy diaper? No.
Want to take a bath? No.
Want to go outside? No.
Sometimes their answer IS yes, but they lead with no and then move to yes.
I can relate. Because growing up I too led with “no” (or “I don’t know”). Why? Because you could always change it to a “yes.” But changing from a yes to a no was more complicated. So I lived my life with this as a general default. And then I started improv. The number one rule of improv is “yes, and.”
When you’re in a scene and someone starts with: “Wow, I can’t believe we actually made it to the moon.” You don’t respond with: “No we didn’t. We’re not on the moon! We are at CVS you weirdo.” You say something like: “Me neither! Who would ever believe that we would be the first two women on the moon.” “Yes we are on the moon, AND we are two women on the moon.”
Tina Fey writes about this #1 rule of improv in her book Bossypants and Amy Poehler talks about it in Yes, Please. I don’t know if you know this yet, but I’ve been called the Amy Poehler of Vaginas. True story. After bringing Everett home from the hospital, it didn’t take me long to realize that my improv training prepared me for motherhood better than anything else.
Better than any parenting or birth class, better than nannying or babysitting. Better than any book. I mean, really there is NOTHING that prepares you for motherhood. BUT! Employing the rules of improv can make for a much smoother ride and provide a timely bunker/generator/lifeboat(?) when you really need it.
So let’s review the rules of improv and how they apply to motherhood.
We’ve already talked about “Yes, And” so let’s apply it a little deeper.
We know it equates to accepting the reality created by our scene partner and adding more information that builds on what they created. Example: I tried to put my baby down drowsy but awake and they started screaming. Instead of responding by yelling at them “NO! You ARE sleeping,” I instead rub their back and say something like “I see you don’t want to be sleeping in your bassinet right now. You are so sad to not be sleeping on mommy. AND you are going to stay in your bassinet because mommy can’t handle another nap ON her”
How can you “yes” something you didn’t hear or see? You need to be IN the moment and respond only to the information that is actually being presented.
You can’t write the scene ahead of time, because your scene partner (baby) has their own idea of how this is going to go down.
Example: It’s the middle of the night, no one knows what time it really is, and your baby starts making noise. You’re awake immediately and already going over to them when you stop. You realize that yes, the baby is making noise, but they aren’t crying. They are grunting and squeaking. Maybe dreaming? Maybe trying to get more cozy? No one knows. But you realize the baby doesn’t actually need you at that moment and you can go back to sleep. If you can. Otherwise you open pstprtm and read informative, nourishing, and hilarious articles about your pelvic floor.
I don’t want you to get caught in a tub of poop. You deserve better. Listen better.
Play To The Top Of Your Intelligence
Make your decisions with the information that you actually have. You know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know. It so often feels like every single decision you make is going to be THE THING that dictates the rest of your kids life.
Like the 2’s program you enroll your toddler in WILL determine the college they go to, their career opportunities, financial security, mortgage rate, and ability to support you when you’re in a nursing home.
We can’t control everything. I know. It’s annoying, but it’s also impossible. What we can do is take the information that we have in THIS moment and make the best decision we can. We can take the next right step. Not by making things up or spinning fairy tales, but by playing to the top of our intelligence.
Example: Your child is now two years old and people are applying to preschool. As stated above, this single decision is going to be what determines their retirement. But pre school is three hours a day and you need full time childcare. So maybe a nanny is better. But then you don’t have backup and what if they don’t show up for some reason and now I’m someone’s boss. So now you’re thinking ok, maybe a combo. Preschool in the morning and then a babysitter picks them up for the rest of the day.
You’re now spending time you already don’t have managing two schedules for your kid, wondering wtf you’ll do if the babysitter gets sick or something. You’re paying a lot more money and energy than you bargained for. You realize there is a wonderful daycare across the street from you where you can happily walk over with your child, drop them off, and leisurely pick them up. The price is better, you save even more time, and you never have to worry about your childcare falling through.
Starting earlier than we’d like, our kids are trying to find their independence and place in the world. As annoying as that can be for us, we want empowered little people running the world. Right? AND we also want these kids to do what we tell them.
Alissa, this sounds like I’m supposed to do two different things at the same time!
Yes AND this is our ticket to freedom. By making statements we give ourselves and our child(ren) clarity on what they can expect. And it gives us clarity on what we are really asking and doing. Is changing their diaper something we want our kids opinion on? Not really? So why give them a choice?
Because they will say no and then we have to disregard their feelings and do it anyway. We are teaching them that we don’t listen to or honor their wishes. So we need to be clear when we ask a question or make a statement. And ask questions only when we are ready to accept the answer.
Example: If we were to ask a toddler, “Do you want me to change your poopy diaper?” We know the answer will be no while they collapse into a puddle of tantrum. Whether or not they can answer, they are learning this is something they have a say in. You will have more success, and fewer tantrums, by saying “It’s time to change your diaper!” Bonus points adding, “Would you like to walk to the changing table or have me carry you.” This way your little one feels they have some control of the situation. But we know they don’t 😉
There Are No Mistakes
There are no mistakes, only opportunities to learn. There is no script. You can’t mess up your lines because there aren’t any! And if you’ve ever done improv before you know that if you try to “write” the scene in your head and force your scene partner to read your mind, it ALWAYS backfires.
Does anyone else do this with their spouse? Because I 100% do. The thing with being a mom is, you’re basically throwing spaghetti at the wall. But in an informed/top of your intelligence kind of way. And when it doesn’t stick, you take that info, regroup, and try another wall! Until it sticks! And then you use that information to navigate the next obstacle. Because there’s always another obstacle.
Example: Baby starts sleeping one long stretch at night. Great! Except it’s from 6pm to midnight. Then midnight to 4am and finally up at 7 which resumes the every three hour pattern.
We hear about the powers of a dream feed. That by feeding the baby (without fully waking them) about 3 hours after they go to bed this will reset the long stretch buying you until 3am. You try it. Your baby thinks this means YOU prefer an every three hour schedule around the clock. The dream feed works for some babies, and not yours. You now know that your baby likes an early bedtime. You bump it up to 5:30pm and poof! Baby sleeps through until 1:30am.
You learned something. And applied it. There is no script. There is no “right” way. The moral of the story here is: let go of the story you wrote in your head. Let go of the stories other people told you about how things work. Instead be present to the cues of your baby. And let them lead. Maybe that’s how you two find your flow.