We All Need a Laugh, but Not Everything is Funny


COVID 19. Safer at home. Worrying about loved ones. Educating our kids in a new way. Trying to meet our families’ mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional needs during this new normal. I don’t know about you, but I could really use a laugh most days. I want funny things in my timeline. 

My screen time is up. Charlie Berens, Jim Gaffigan, and Imomsohard are all in the heavy rotation these days. I’m sharing more memes and laughing at myself a lot. It helps. It really does.

That said, not every “joke” I see shared lately is funny.

Some are at best tone-deaf and at worst downright hurtful. While I do not have a definitive list of what is and isn’t okay, I’m just going to say I know it when I see it, and I’m asking you to think before sharing.

Here are some examples that have really hurt some friends of mine:

Memes about putting your kids up for adoption during all this.

Attribution unknown, but I certainly wouldn’t claim this one.

Yes, many of us have had a little too much time with our kids. People are getting on each other’s nerves, but as my friend Emily, both an adoptee and herself an adoptive mom, reminded me: “adoption is born out of loss. Adopted people often struggle with feelings of being unwanted, while simultaneously being loved and loving their families. Adoption is not a punch line. 

Jokes about substance abuse.

We’re all stressed right now—every single one of us. Having a glass of wine at the end of the day is nothing to be ashamed of, but stating that “mommy needs wine” might send some mixed signals to our kids and trigger friends who are currently struggling with sobriety. Approach with caution.

Fat Shaming and Trivializing Eating Disorders.

Stress baking memes? I chuckle at those too. I’m glad I’m not the only one who bought massive quantities of flour, butter, and sugar. Some jokes go past funny and relatable and into the fat-shaming territory. Another mom on our team shared this on Instagram:

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Let’s talk about coping mechanisms and some of the “jokes” we have all seen rolling around in our social media feeds, particularly in regards to weight gain during a global pandemic. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that my weight wasn’t exactly in a range I was thrilled about before all this went down, but here’s the thing…..I’m sure I’ve put on more of it during this time. And honestly, it’s a tough pill to swallow that is being made even more bitter by the memes and wisecracks about weight and body shape/size. Listen, these are stressful times. And I’m in a comfortable and privileged enough environment that I don’t have to worry about having food to feed myself and my family each day and I’m downright grateful for it. But let me tell ya, that one anti-anxiety pill each day isn’t going to do squat to crush the decades of disordered eating in my past that thrives under stress, so yeah….I’m going to use food as a coping mechanism. And I’m NOT going to set one foot on this scale. The “jokes” going around about the Quarantine 15 or we need to release the stay at home orders so we can stop snacking or whatever…..it’s really gross. Our bodies are just trying to keep it together right now. Trying to protect us from self-destruction or invasion from the outside. Our schedules are jacked up, our hormones are all over the place, our brains literally don’t know if they are supposed to be preparing the rest of us for fight, flight, freeze or freak-out at any given moment. Now toss in less income, less access to higher quality food options, exhaustion, mental health challenges, loneliness, fear, uncertainty, and for some…..life-threatening environments or acute grief. Toss out the scale. Become a supporter of YOURSELF and others and know that when we say we are all in this together, we mean it. Shame, guilt, and assumptions about “should” can go pound sand because pandemic pounds are just pounds and they have zero effect on our strength or value.

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If you read the comments, you’ll see she wasn’t alone in this feeling.

Partner bashing.

Spending this much time with a given person is bound to result in some minor irritation, and joking about how you didn’t know your partner was a “let’s circle back on that” guy is one thing. Still, as Dave writes, “I’ve seen memes that joke about hating your kids or your partner, some of them pretty nasty. I don’t find those particularly funny. Sure, when we’re in close quarters, we all get annoyed with our loved ones’ habits. But they’re still our loved ones, right? I know it’s just a joke. Here’s my thing, though: I grew up with a dad who didn’t show much love to me or my mom. When he said hurtful things, he wasn’t joking. So, when you’re sharing a meme about hating your kids or partner, remember that some people live in homes where hate is a reality. There are plenty of other things to joke about. If you’re lucky enough to be in a loving home, why joke about hating your family?” 

Now, I am not telling you to get all Pollyanna here.

In general, I think we need to be real. A lot of us use humor as a way to break the ice on a topic we may be struggling with or to share a truth we might not otherwise divulge. I am all for anything that helps people to smile and share a piece of themselves, but the question I think we should all be asking ourselves is this: “What truth am I really sharing in all this?”

Is it that your kids are constantly eating and forgot to bring their school stomachs home? Friend, same. Share that hobbit meme. Not only is it funny and relatable, but it can also help us harmlessly express one of our annoyances.

Is it that your relationship is in a terrible place right now? That’s probably not something best suited for public consumption. The mob might help you vent, but it’s not likely to help solve anything. It might make things worse. Talk to a few trusted friends or seek out a therapist. It can work wonders.

As with all things, humor is subjective. What is funny to one person can unexpectedly hurt another person.

An example: I have joked about my only accomplishment as keeping my children alive another day. I thought this was harmless, but to a friend who lost her child, it was a reminder of the fact that she couldn’t. I certainly didn’t mean to hurt her, but I did, and I need to own that. If this happens to you, here are some tips to repair your relationship:

1.) Learn. While it is physically impossible to see everything anyone is thinking, if someone musters up the courage to tell you that something bothers them, accept that and learn why. As someone with OCD, I am used to jokes being made about my condition, and I don’t get offended immediately. I know not everyone knows what it is like to have a visceral fear response to an intrusive thought. More times than not, it’s not worth my energy to even say something, but If I ask you to tone it down because what you’re saying can be harmful to a fellow sufferer, just don’t be a jerk about it. I’ll move on, and we can still be friends. Promise.

2.) For the love of everything, DO NOT DOUBLE DOWN on it. Don’t call the person a snowflake, or tell them that they don’t have a sense of humor. Someone can have a sense of humor and still think that something you shared isn’t funny.

3.) Apologize and resolve to be better. We all hurt each other from time to time. It’s part of living in the world. Beating yourself up won’t help, and no one is asking you to. Live. Learn. Let live.


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