James Burns

James Burns

How Improv Training Helped My Parenting


An improviser learns two very basic but crucial lessons when starting out that will form the foundation of every scene: Don’t be prepared and always say yes. Wh ich is pretty much how I got pregnant in the first place. So after saying yes and not being prepared, nine months later we welcomed our first, Elianna, to the world. You may shriek at the idea of not being prepared for a baby’s arrival, but I mean mentally. All tangible items relating to babies are a must for readiness. Mentally, accept that whatever you have visualised or rehearsed in your head will be of little use once the baby is in your life. 
Soon I stopped thinking 'but the book says'. Having read that 'baby wakes, change the baby, feed, burp, baby goes back to sleep and repeat every three to four hours'. I was not prepared for 'baby wakes, mummy changes baby, baby feeds, falls asleep goes back to bed for 15 minutes. Wakes up poos, wants more food, feeds, falls asleep, poos, then is awake for three to four hours'. As an improviser I thought, 'Accept the baby's offer and advance the narrative even though you want the scene to end with mummy in bed asleep.
Status, how the world perceives us, is a big feature of improv, usually playing high status or low status characters. Toddlers and babies are extremely high status – they're small, vulnerable and need your total care for their every need. However, they cry if the milk isn’t satisfactory and scream if you put them down for a nap. So in response I responded to this behaviour by accepting the baby’s offers  and doing as the baby asks, apologising if it went wrong. Then with a toddler, a status transition must occur. The once high status baby must now lower itself to accept my offers of 'go to bed, eat, don’t’ hit'. It's tough for both mother and baby to suddenly rail against the demands that were once catered to with a coo and a cuddle. A baby who refuses a feed would be told ‘oooh whose not hungry?’ But a toddler/older child will hear no cooing at all.
Stage directions are very useful and a helpful guide for dads. The father might say ‘oh the baby is crying’ and the mother will say 'change the nappy and bring mum some gin’.
When you go out on an excursion you think it will be one that the  kids will cherish forever. You feel warm inside(not due to a leaky nappy+baby on knee) and think how much you'll be like that a family in adverts. Except this usually doesn’t happen. Go with a full bag and a clear mind.  Two hour trips to embrace nature can end after 15 minutes with wet feet and tantrums. Be prepared to take the day as it comes. Some days are magical and couldn’t’ have gone better. But if you're ready to play fast and loose with any plan, if they day ends abruptly for whatever reason, the experience has still been beneficial…for the kids.
So when you say 'no' to your kids, mentally say yes in a way that you accept the opposition as part of the package and advance your narrative which is  the story of  parenthood. 
 Courtney Cornfield

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