Raising kids is a laughing matter, says speaker for Humor Project

Joyce Saltman wants to know whoever said parenting was funny. “In fact,” said Saltman, a professor o

The Humor Project’s 52nd International Conference

WHERE: Silver Bay Conference Center, Route 9N, Silver Bay

WHEN: June 20-22

HOW MUCH: By May 1, $455; after May 1, $485.

MORE INFO: HumorProject.com or call 587-8770.

Joyce Saltman wants to know whoever said parenting was funny.

“In fact,” said Saltman, a professor of special education at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, Conn., “the best way to lighten up about parenting is to recognize that in the end we each will have screwed up our children differently. So once you accept the fact that you are screwing up your kid no matter what you do, you can let go of trying to be a perfect parent because that’s never going to happen.”

Saltman, 64, the mother of two adult children — Dr. Steven Anisman, 40, and Beth Anisman, 37 — has a doctoral degree in higher and adult education from Columbia University. She is one of several speakers at the Saratoga Springs Humor Project’s Conference at Silver Bay Conference Center on Lake George, set for June 20 to 22.

“I do think hair color was invented for parents,” said Saltman in a phone interview. “My sister used to say the reason nuns have no wrinkles is because they have no children.”

Serving important role

Having a good sense of humor is the best way to survive parenthood, said Saltman.

“I mean when you have an argument with anyone, afterwards you have to ask yourself, ‘Does it really matter? In 100 years, who will really care?’ ”

Saltman said her son, who used to delight in telling her all the things she did wrong when she raised him, changed his tune when his wife gave birth to the couple’s daughter, Sophia.

“He said he never thought he would be able to love anything as much as he loves this little girl, and looking at her, he suddenly realized how much I loved him. He looked at me and said, ‘I was your Sophia.’ He’s been a little nicer to me ever since,” said Saltman.

One of the biggest problems parents face is worrying about the future of their children.

“What’s the kid going to do? What’s he not going to do? How is he going to turn out? Is he going to hurt himself seriously? Most of the things we get uptight about don’t happen anyway,” said Saltman.

“One of the best quotes I ever heard about worry was a long time ago at a church. It said: ‘Worry is pulling tomorrow’s clouds over today’s sunshine.’  ”

Parents who are trying to be perfect should realize that no relationship is perfect.

“For example, the chances are you are not a perfect wife or a perfect teacher, or a perfect secretary or whatever,” said Saltman. “Most of us have given up on perfection in terms of other relationships a long time ago. The chances of being a perfect mother or father are much slimmer.”

Willing to say ‘no’

Part of the problem, said Saltman, is instead of trying to raise our children the way our parents raised us, we began reading the hundreds of parenting books on the market.

“Remember the line our mother used to use, ‘Because I’m your mother and I said so.’ That was very much out of favor when we were raising our kids, and I would end up having many debates about why I would not let my children, particularly my son, do something. Finally, in the end it would come down to, ‘Because I’m your mother and I said so.’ If we could have started there, it would have saved a lot of time and energy, ” said Saltman.

As a child, Saltman said she always wanted an ice cream machine and a monkey. Her mother’s answer was always the same. “When you grow up and get married, you can do whatever you want. Right now, you live in my house, and I say no.”

“You know, that’s not a bad thing,” said Saltman. “That would solve a lot of moral problems about who sets the rules in the house. If it’s your house and you are the one paying off the mortgage, you set the rules.”

Looking back, Saltman, whose first husband died, said she thinks 12 was the worst stage for her children.

“I would have given them away when they were 12 had I the opportunity,” she said with a laugh. “They get nicer when they’re 30. That’s a long wait.”

Saltman said she often used humor to defuse an argument with her children.

“Sometimes, one of my kids would say something like, ‘Ma, I can’t believe that you could do anything that stupid,’ and my answer would inevitably be, ‘You know it’s amazing to me, too, that an otherwise intelligent, educated person could do anything that stupid. But this is what you are stuck with.”

Foundation of values

Saltman said that parents should instill values in their children instead of trying to be their friends.

“On the other hand, if you treat your kids the way you treat your friends, by saying things like ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and call them to apologize if there is a misunderstanding, you will have a better relationship. We are not born a mother or father. Sometimes, we do things we are sorry for,” she said.

Saltman once had a woman at a seminar ask her if she and her husband should have children.

“I told her I would not even make a decision like that for my own children,” said Saltman. “But I also told her if I had it to do over again, I would still have had my kids. In the end, it’s still worth it.”

Saltman will also speak about “Dealing with Difficult People with Delight and Lightness,” and “Laughter Rx for Survival: You Can Take It With You.”

Children as teachers

Joel Goodman, founder and director of the Humor Project, said his most important teachers about humor have been his children Adam, 27, and Alyssa, 22.

“When Adam was 4 years old, one day he came up and announced, ‘Dad, you’re funnier than me,’ ” Goodman recalled.

When Goodman asked the boy why he would say such a thing, Adam told his father it was because Goodman had his own magazine called Laughing Matters.

Goodman then came up with the idea of creating a magazine for Adam.

“With that, his eyes brightened, and we started a humor ritual where at the end of each day I would ask Adam what made him laugh that day, and he would describe some incident, and I would write it out. Then he would draw a picture above the written story. We did this for years.”

Goodman also recalled an incident in which Alyssa, then 8, made the family laugh during a trying situation.

“My wife, Margie, and I and the kids were at the Sagamore for a family celebration after one of our conferences, when Margie noticed she couldn’t find her purse. After looking everywhere, Alyssa said: ‘Gee, Mom, if you lost your purse, then you lost your wallet. That means you’ll have to get a new driver’s license. Maybe the new picture will look a lot better than the old one.’ ”

The family had a good laugh and eventually found Margie’s purse.

“Having a childlike perspective is a very mature adult coping mechanism,” said Goodman.

Categories: Life and Arts

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