I used to get embarrassed easily by my three children.
If they picked their nose in public. If they had a full blown temper tantrum in the middle of the mall. When two of my husband’s co-workers, and their wives came to visit, and my sons decided my bras made an ideal hat for their little heads. And, as hard as I try, I can’t forget the year I decided to take my children to my family church and they started in on each other while the mostly elderly congregation grimaced and flapped their cardboard church fans my way.
I ended up leaving in a not so church-like manner, wishing someone would throw me an anchor to keep me from drowning in mortification.
My children’s quirks, their at-times ill manners, and their rebellious ways always seemed magnified when we were out in public, especially as they got older. I was certain others thought I was a bad mother because I couldn’t reel them in and settle them down without losing it like I did so many years ago opening those heavy church doors, angrily gripping their wrists to exit.
I can already hear the cuffed hands yelling at me, “Get over it. All kids embarrass their parents, that’s a rite of passage just like all men like to fart, the louder the better.”
True, but somehow that rite of passage seemed to be a reflection of my bad parenting, of what I hadn’t done, or forgot to instill, from the time their minds could figure out what was publicly acceptable and what wasn’t. That, in my quest to parent in a different way from my mother, I extracted not only those things that weren’t my cup of tea, but those morsels of parenting wisdom that could have kept my grey hairs at bay.
The weight of embarrassment had become heavier than it should have been for me. The clock seemed to stop ticking as I relived each awkward moment, from start to finish, twisting it every which way in the hopes it could be less daunting. But the biggest negative was that my children saw that their actions, even the ones I knew were just a normal phase of mutiny or declarations of their individualism or because of peer pressure, caused me to become wimpy. I became rattled and morphed into a shrinking violet, this person who hung her head low and took flight like a bat out of…well you know, with them following behind me.
They saw how it led to my over-the-top reaction when we got back home and it was seventy percent of what people thought or saw instead of one hundred percent of what they did, or I alleged they did.
That was not the takeaway I wanted my children to have as they grew up. They had seen me handle other weightier emotions like disappointment, heartache, etc. that could have kept me in a dark abyss, but instead they saw that I didn’t wallow in them like I was stuck in quicksand.
You hold your head up high and walk away from that uncomfortable situation with an “Oh well,” attitude.
Even if I felt like staying under the covers and hiding from the world, I knew I couldn’t be sidelined because of them. I wanted them to have a blueprint for what to do when they were facing their own challenges. But when it came to dealing with embarrassment, I dropped the ball and constantly skirted around it. That E word stumped me. Until one day I decided to give it a swift kick and be liberated from it. Free at last.
I wanted my children to learn there were consequences for their actions, but other people’s judgements of them; their clothes, their speech, their ideas, weren’t going to be my barometer for those consequences anymore; the morals their father and I instilled in them were.
I wanted them to know that they had an inner guide in the form of an off button and that on occasion they needed to use it to self-monitor their actions. The newly liberated Mom in me wanted them to know that even when they made huge blunders that they regretted and that others deemed shameful, I knew what was beneath their surface once all those layers of onion skin was pulled off; goodness, insight and creativity and wit.
It’s the cycle of life. Just as we embarrassed our parents, our children are bound to embarrass us. But no matter how great or small the offense, whether it will benefit from a dose of hearty laughter or a good long cry, try your hardest not be that parent I once was and overt your eyes from those staring at you and count the seconds until you can run to some far away zone.
Instead, demonstrate how a rockin’ mom or dad does it. You hold your head up high and walk away from that uncomfortable situation with an “Oh well,” attitude. “Stuff happens and life goes on,” because it does.