HOW BEING AN IMPROVISER PREPARED ME FOR PARENTHOOD
Before I jump in I’ll be clear and say that nothing can truly prepare you for parenthood, which is why it is so exciting and scary as hell...talk about following your fears, I had no choice. Getting pregnant was like boarding a self-driving train moving at record speed that never made any stops. In many ways, I’d already given up some control before baby. Then she arrived and the fun began.
When I say fun I mean part bliss, part torture, and 100% life changing.
Now that she’s 4 months I can reflect (and sleep!) and think deeply about how my past experience and training as an improviser helped me adjust to motherhood.
BE IN THE MOMENT
In the early days of new parenthood you’re living in your own private Las Vegas - minus the free drinks and Cirque de Soleil - because you’re up every 2-3 hours around the clock. Is it 7am or 7pm? Who knows. Babies don’t care about time. Why is baby crying? Who knows. Pick her up. Feed her. Change her. Still crying? Rock her. Sing to her. Still crying? Give her to your partner.
You never know what will happen next with a newborn so you get good at troubleshooting, going with the flow, and realizing that once you give up on your idea of how things are supposed to go, everything turns out okay.
I’ve played in hundreds of improv shows in front of audiences big and small never knowing ahead of time what will happen: what story we will tell, what character I will play, if people will laugh, or if we will bomb. Improvisers are trained to be present and to trust ourselves to handle whatever comes our way.
SLOW DOWN, TAKE YOUR TIME
Improvisers learn to build scenes slowly, to develop relationships with characters first, and to not rush to a joke in sacrifice of a good story. Doing this requires active listening and patience.
By nature I’m a doer who enjoys a packed day of getting sh*t done. My baby showed me real quick that I had to redefine my expectations of a day (and of actual sh*t). To stay sane I had to slow down and put things in perspective. Bonding and keeping baby alive became my top priorities. I forgot that text, my unwashed hair, and oh so many dishes in the sink.
I also set a goal to get outside once everyday even if it is was for 20 minutes. I call this the “One Thing a Day” strategy. Put only one thing on your to-do list and when you accomplish it you’ll feel amazing! (Put 10 things on it and you’ll cry, so don’t do that.) I’m now rolling this strategy into my business.
Making mistakes is okay and normal - in improv and in becoming a new parent. After an improv show I’d often be very hard on myself. My teammates and I would debrief backstage and I’d think: I shoulda said this! I shoulda done that! But the reality was that we’d never do that same show again so it was more valuable to reflect, learn and move on.
Dropped that bottle of breastmilk all over the floor? Move on. Dropped a spoon and woke baby up from a nap? Move on. Snapped her earlobe in her bib and she screamed? Move on. She’s fine and you’re doing the best you can. Be nice to your overtired self in your new role.
Finally, you cannot do this by yourself - improvise or parent! You need a team of people who have your back - people who will jump in to help when you need it and will allow you to shine when you’re getting the hang of things.
My partner and I have been lucky enough to share the child care. In the early days he let me sleep and fed the baby during the bewitching hours after 11pm. I also have parents that live nearby and visited regularly to hang out with baby and let me go to the gym. I’m also grateful for my local community of new moms who are deep in the trenches with me.
One of the reasons I love improv and sketch comedy is because I love working with a group. We always create something greater than I could on my own and I know that’s true with raising a child.
Does this resonate with you? If so please share by leaving a comment or passing on this post.