Several weeks of sheltering at home together reminds families what they love about one another. It can also remind them of all the behaviors, habits, and quirks that absolutely drive them up the wall. Family foibles are magnified by enforced togetherness, says author, humorist, and navy wife Lisa Smith Molinari, and sometimes the only remedy is a dose of laughter.
Making people laugh comes easy for Lisa, a humor columnist and author of The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com, a funny memoir about motherhood and marriage. The pandemic has shifted the dynamics of the Molinari household, with both Lisa and her husband, Francis, now working from home, and their college-aged daughters also home after their campuses were closed.
“My best coping strategy has always been humor,” says Lisa, who has used humor to overcome insecurities since being voted Class Clown in high school. She adds, “It puts people at ease, and helps me deal with tension during stressful times, like deployments or global pandemics.”
Family foibles are magnified by enforced togetherness, and sometimes the only remedy is a dose of laughter.
Lisa says not taking herself too seriously has helped her handle serious events in her life. As a navy wife, she discovered humor writing as a way to get through her husband’s year-long deployment when their kids were young. After one of her essays was published in the Washington Post, Lisa was inspired to pursue a career as newspaper columnist. Now her weekly humor column appears in Stars and Stripes and dozens of newspapers across the country.
“It’s not always easy to find material,” she admits. “Some days I’m wracking my brain for ways to see how this is funny, but we manage to find a way to laugh anyway. People tell me that I have the best stories, but really, I don’t live an extraordinary life — I just know how to see the humor in everyday things. Carpools, chicken nuggets, clogged toilets, and mortgage payments might sound boring, but any situation has the raw material for a hilarious story if you look for it.”
That doesn’t mean her three kids always think she is funny—especially after weeks of quarantine togetherness—but her husband, Francis, is fond of a good joke and doesn’t mind when the laugh is on him. Still, Lisa says using humor to cope requires balance. She offers a few tips for laughing through challenges without laughing off what’s important:
Lift up, don’t put down. Make sure the humor doesn’t come at someone else’s expense. Busting chops may start in good fun, but when it goes too far, it hurts. It’s far too costly in the long run. Humor should bring you together, and an inside joke isn’t funny if you’re the one on the outside.
Lighten the mood. Especially a minor problem becomes magnified. Use humor to ease tensions and put things back into perspective.
Be sensitive. Isolation may cause more sensitivity and anxiety, so humor may not apply to everyone in every situation. Be sure your family knows you take their feelings and problems seriously.
Look beyond the one-liner. Humor isn’t only about making a joke. Good humor also means kindness and a light-hearted attitude.
Self-deprecatory humor puts others at ease. Better to laugh at yourself than make a joke at someone else’s expense.
Never ridicule and be careful with sarcasm or snark. These tear down rather than build up when directed at a person. Use humor to lift each other up. This is true no matter what is going on in the world.
“Our family sees humor as a virtue, and that’s just as true now as it ever was,” says Lisa. “Humor is such a significant part of our family life. It helps us cope now when we are all stuck together. If we can laugh at ourselves or the situation a little bit, we can lift each other up.”
Lisa Smith Molinari is also a coauthor of Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom, and Strength in Military Life and has contributed to two editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Read more about Lisa’s work on her website The Meat and Potatoes of Life.
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