A few years into my pastoral career, I was looking for a hobby. I was always more of a theater kid than a softball player, so I ended up with improv. If you’re familiar with the show, “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” you know that improv is a form of theatrical storytelling in which the plot, characters,and dialogue of a game, scene, or story are made up in the moment.1 I found myself performing in Hollywood regularly, and, 12 years later, improv is still a source of joy, whether I’m a fellow performer or an audience member. I believe there are principles of collaboration that I found in improv which you may find helpful in parenting your kids and teenagers.
I love how God is unfolding a story that you and your kids are a part of. However, that story is set in an information-saturated world that often elicits a response of fear and control. Fear-driven control creates an environment where we miss out on the joy of collaboration. Instead of merely observing a story, you could be participating in one with your children. If you and your kids are believers in Jesus,it may be worth asking, “When was the last time I joyfully collaborated with my kids in God’s big story?”
If you find yourself thinking a long way back, I’d suggest that the first rule of improv could be a great tool for you as a parent. It’s the rule of, “Yes, and ….” It encapsulates the way improvisors accept an offer someone has given, and adds to it in order to expand the story. For example, if two players are performing what is supposed to be a beach scene, and one of them starts doing ballet, the other one acknowledges the other’s actions and works it into the scene, perhaps by making a comment on how much they love dance competitions on the sand.
As your kids voice observations and concerns they have with the world around them, you have an opportunity to begin making positive offers rather than leaning into negative contradictions. As they discuss people around them who are hurting, or questions that they can’t reconcile, there’s an opportunity to contribute help and truth.
In my experience, parents are often like new improvisors who respond with, “Yeah, but …” instead of, “Yes, and ….” In improv, this response is caused by a very clear idea of how the improvisor wants to see the scene unfold, and he’s trying to control the scene rather than collaborate. Many parents fall into the same trap. They desire to see a very clear and conflict-free story unfold in their child’s life, which can elicit a, “Yeah, but …” response. Parents can often respond to their child with trite theology and dismissive pragmatism, which don’t help a student collaborate or build a plan of action. While the parents are full of good intentions, they miss the opportunity to address the child’s questions and empower him with storytelling.
The parents who are experiencing the joy of collaborating with their kids in their role in God’s big story don’t necessarily understand improv, but they do understand, “Yes, and ….” When a high schooler shares a concern for a friend who doesn’t have a stable home and could use a ride to church, the “Yes and …” parent provides the ride and also encourages her teenager to invite that friend over for dinner. I’ve seen families like this sharing holidays with that young person years later and impacting his extended family. And all of it started with a simple, “Yes, and ….”
I’m not saying this principle applies to our theology.
We don’t say, “Yes, and …” to any old belief our teenagers come to us with. I believe Scripture is our authority and the Spirit of God is guiding us, and always in concert with His Word. But in matters of how we react to our kids, it can be helpful.
Having been in student ministries for a few decades now, I’m struck by the frustration of parents who feel their student is dismissive of their offers for support and help when they are in early adulthood. I firmly believe that the parent who is constantly responding with, “Yeah, but …” usually will find herself relegated to observing a story unfold in later years. With Scripture as our guide, I wonder how, “Yes, and…” can become a part of your parenting. It’s not the perfect response every single time, but it does allow you to collaborate with your student on their part in God’s big story. While the joy of improv on a stage is fun, the impact of parents collaborating with students can have eternal rewards. With God’s Word as your authority and a faith-filled trust in His sovereignty, could you find a time to say, “Yes, and …” to your children in the weeks to come?