But Seriously: 5 Ways to Handle Family Life with Humor

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The Molinari Family: Artwork by Brian Guay

Lisa Smith Molinari’s sense of humor is her super power as a navy wife, mom, and writer. Lisa writes a weekly humor column and is the author of The Meat and Potatoes of Life: My True Lit Com, a funny memoir about motherhood and marriage (Spring 2020).

“The world is complicated,” Lisa says, “Raising kids and keeping a marriage intact is about as easy as juggling wolverines. Handling the stresses and complication of family life with humor has always been my best coping strategy.”

Courtesy Lisa Smith Molinari

She began laughing at life early on and was named “Class Clown” in middle school and again in high school. “Being funny was a way to fit in, to find friends, to entertain,” Lisa says. “Later it became way to ease tensions and get through tough chapters and the daily grind too.”

When Lisa became a mom and later had middle schoolers of her own, being able to take life with a dose of humor became even more important. Writing became another outlet for her, one that merged easily with her ability to find something funny in most situations.

Lisa says she was often  stressed by the details of her busy routine as a wife and mother of three. In her years of military life, that meant deployments and frequent moves. However, she says it was the minutiae of a hyperconnected world that threatened to overwhelm her.

“There’s so much to keep track of,” she says. “Coffee pods and car pools, gluten and global warming, social media and salad spinners. Humor always helped me keep perspective, to sort through the never-ending details and demands to find what really matters—and more importantly—what doesn’t.”

“Humor always helped me keep perspective, to sort through the never-ending details and demands to find what really matters—and more importantly—what doesn’t.”

   — Lisa Smith Molinari

By applying her sense of humor, Lisa says she was able to see that much of what bogged her down in life was inconsequential.

“Laughing at the trivial things in my daily life helps me face my fears and insecurities and focus on what’s most important to my family — like snuggling with the dog, the finer points of making popcorn, and never missing an episode of Survivor.”

Lisa began to pursue a career as newspaper columnist in 2010 after having an essay about marriage published in the Washington Post. Her weekly column The Meat and Potatoes of Life now appears in Stars and Stripes, reaching military communities all over the world. The column is also published in dozens of newspapers across the country. In 2018, Lisa won a first-place award for humor columns from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

That doesn’t mean her three kids always think she is funny, 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 has limits. She offers this advice for laughing through challenges without laughing off what’s important:

Self-deprecatory humor is one of the best ways to put others at ease. Don’t take it too far, or it looks like fishing for compliments.

When communicating a valid complaint to a family member, approach with a bit of humor to soften the blow. My daughter once offered this well-strategized compliment to my husband with a surprised smile: “Daddy, your breath doesn’t stink today!”

Playful banter between family members can be a blast, but relentlessly busting each other’s chops can lead to hurt feelings. Pay attention to reactions, and don’t take a joke so far that it’s disrespectful.

Different people are comfortable with different kinds of humor. Know what’s appropriate for each family member. I might appreciate the risque joke my husband heard in the locker room, but if he tells it on  taco night in front of the kids, I’ll find it about as funny as a screen door on a submarine.

Be careful with sarcasm or snark.  It can come across as abrasive  when you should be shooting for playful. Remember, you love your family, so don’t put them down just for a laugh.

“Humor has been such a significant part of our family life,” says Lisa. “Our family sees it as a virtue, as laudable as courage, integrity and good character. Over the years, I’ve shown our children all the ways good humor can be a useful tool in dealing with grumpy people, mediocre grades, dust bunnies, and bad breath…. and when all else fails, impromptu dance parties in the kitchen make any day better.”

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.

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