7 Ways Improv Makes Me a Better Parent

By The Second City | Oct 30, 2013

While it seems like just yesterday, my adorable daughter arrived and made a mom out of me nearly a year ago.

I consider it a gift to her that she has a charming, hilarious improv actor for a mom, although she may not feel that way when my actor money won’t pay her college tuition. We will create an object-work bridge for that when we come to it.

Until then, there are so many ways that improvisation makes me a better parent.

1. Yes, And...

Thanks to Improv Mom Tina Fey, “yes, and” is now a mainstream concept. Let’s be honest-- that’s what got me into this situation in the first place, am I right? But it doesn’t end there. “YES, you may put that catalog in your mouth until it disintegrates, AND I will be telling your dad he can’t order any more audio/video equipment.” “YES, you can pick up that prop sword, AND I will hover over you to correct your form.” “YES, I love you, AND you are killing me right now.”

2. Listen and React

When you bring audience volunteers on stage who have never performed in their lives, the only direction they need is to listen and react. This is the best parenting advice ever. Cry, comfort. Hungry, feed. Poop, clean.

3. Rule of Threes

Everything in improv comes in threes. Threes are magic. I have to say “threes” one more time to prove my point. It’s the same with kids. Have you ever heard a mother say, “I’m going to count to three, and then [arbitrary consequence]?”

This keeps kids alive.  

Not the warning itself, but the three seconds we force ourselves to take, to look into the wide, innocent eyes of our flesh and blood and remember that we loved them just moments ago.

4. Don’t Drop Your Sh*t

If you believe it, then the audience believes it, too. That’s how we get away with spontaneous celebrity impressions and talking on invisible telephones. In the first year of my daughter’s life, I have sung to her at every opportunity in the hopes that she always believes that is what singing is supposed to sound like.  I am very committed. And convincing.

5. Don’t Ask Questions

Or, more accurately, ask useful questions. In improv, questions are okay as long as they add information. She will never learn what a ball is if I repeatedly ask, “Hey, what are you holding?” If I am unwilling to screw over a scene partner, I am definitely not going to do that to my kid. A better question: “Can you show me that red ball?”

Note to improvisers: I am referring to an actual red ball my daughter plays with.  They are not just in your minds.

6. Don’t Deny

You got me here. If I didn’t deny my daughter, she’d be covered in glass, cat scratches and Fruity Pebbles.

Skip this rule.

7. Love What You Are Doing

We improvise not for the money, not for the fame and not for the approval of our parents. My improv road is not always paved-- with anything, actually-- but I have loved nearly all of it. My daughter demands late nights, little sleep, constant attention, and I often walk away from her feeling like I could have made a million different choices.

But I love all of her.

Natalie Shipman is an alum of The Second City Touring Company and ComedySportz Chicago.  She currently writes, acts, teaches improv and performs stand-up around the city. Follow her on Twitter: @natalinasp.

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