How Improv Has Made Me a Better Parent

May 20, 2022

Seven years ago, I signed up for Improv 101 at the Push Comedy Theater in Norfolk, Virginia. At the time, I was a single mom (while my husband was on deployment and I was looking for some adult companionship -- so of course I signed up for Improv). 

Improvisational Comedy is like "Who's Line is it Anyway?" where the actors are on stage and receive a word or a suggestion and just roll with it. The improv isn't acting... it's rolling with it. 

I have to admit that I had a really hard time with it.  

I froze. 
I was afraid to speak. 
I was trying to be funny and falling flat on it. 
And, I just couldn't let go of my identity of being a pediatrician. I kept filtering my words and actions because "What would a pediatrician do/say?" This was before I really owned being the pediatrician with a sailor's mouth... and I was still tangling with what it needed to look like. 

I stuck with it.. .and then missed the Graduation Show due to a scheduling/work conflict. 

I was in limbo. I hadn't graduated, and it just felt incomplete. 

Fast-forward to 2022. The world was opening up again to in-person events and my son agreed to join me in Improv 101. 

OMG. It was completely different this time.  

I was ready for it this time, and I also had the benefit of time, learning coaching tools, and just being a different person than I was 7 years ago. 


First, let's start with the rules of Improv.

Always make your partner look good.

It's not about me. It's creating the environment for everyone on stage to do well. It means supporting your partner, giving them help, and also knowing when to step back and let them shine.
I think about parenting with this one. It's not about what I need to do for the kids, it's how I support them and let them shine.
It's support (and thankfully, partners giving others nudges, suggestions - no judgment, no criticism).

"Yes, and..."
This is the money, for Improv, for coaching, for parenting... heck, I now see it everywhere.
"Yes, and" is about taking whatever is in front of you, accepting that, and continuing on. Let's say that I'm in a scene and I'm a waitress serving lunch, and then my partner comes in and calls me an alien. I don't argue and say, "Dude, I'm a waitress." I say, "Yes, and... here's your galactic coffee."
Or something like that.
Yes, and means that I take what is, acknowledge and build upon it.
It's not about arguing, fighting, getting frustrated with changes. It's about rolling with it.
This, my friends, is also what coaching has taught me. In fact, I think that the intersection of coaching and improv and parenting is Yes, and... WHAT NOW?
It's about acknowledging and accepting our kids, not trying to change them. Being there. Listening. And then rolling with it.

I think back to the early days of COVID, when we had zero idea what was coming at us next. I had kids who were stuck at home, kids who were sent home from college abruptly, uncertainty about what I would see in the office. And yet, there was a calm that I cultivated.
It was a YES, and calm.

Yes, I'm uncertain and....

Yes, my child is upset and...
Yes, the pantry is being raided all the time and...

Yes, and is not about the past, it's not about the future, it's about taking what is right now, and working with it. Being present.

Let go of what it needs to look like, and just roll with it. 

Improv is more about being than doing. 
It's about becoming the character, a part of the scene 
And in my case, letting go of who I am. I checked the pediatrician/mom card at the door. (Well, actually, I would let the Mom card come in when it was helpful. I've been a kindergarten teacher surrounded by hellions, a synchronized roller-derby queen, and a toddler in a lifesize game of GTA: ok, don't ask.)

My son and I went to class together, but he didn't want to be in any scenes with me. AND THAT'S OK. He wanted to let go of what it meant to be my son. And he was hilarious. It was magical to watch him in his element.

As I think about all of this, and prepare for Improv 201, I realize that this is what I love about coaching, as well as general pediatrics. You see, I never know what's behind the next door in the office, I don't know if folks are having a good day or a bad one. 
Same thing at home: while I long for predictability at home, I can YES, and... when my son comes home from school grumpy... or giddy. 
Yes, this is what's in front of me... and now what? 
I don't have to change a thing. I get to roll with it. Be there, support my partner, make them look good. And it's not all about me. 

I'm rolling with it.... to Improv 201. See you there. And if you're in the Norfolk area, come join me. My friend Brad would be thrilled to have you join the Pushers.

Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!

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