The Joy of Embarrassing Your Kids

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday! Today’s topic will apply to you whether you are a parent or have been a child. That’s you.

When I was a teenager, I thought I would curl up and die when I was walking with my mother in the grocery store, instrumental music was being piped in over the speakers, and my mother started singing a Rod Stewart song aloud in the produce section. How could I ever show my face in public again? How could she do this to me? Could I dye my hair, change my name, and pass myself off as someone other than the daughter of the woman who dared to sing out loud among the public fruit?

Years later, I caught myself . . . singing aloud in the produce section of my grocery store.

My kids weren’t there that time, but I have embarrassed them plenty. You can’t embarrass small children, but when a child becomes a teen or tween, the Embarrassment Factor becomes a huge part of how you see your parents. In fact, in a recent study of British teens, 88% reported being embarrassed by their parents. Good news for us mothers: Dads are more embarrassing than moms (63%).

So why does this Embarrassment Factor show up so big in the teen years? Well, you’re trying to differentiate yourself from your family and become an independent person. Oddly enough, feeling independent often means faking it until you make it. You don’t want to look like you actually have to obey your parents, or even have parents. You were always independent, the captain of your own ship — certainly never a mere swab-the-deck lackey.

Moreover, whatever your generation has deemed to be “cool” is cool. Whatever your parent thinks is cool, isn’t. And it can be worse when your parents try to be cool like today’s teens. Thus, the fact that it was a Rod Stewart tune piping in through the grocery store’s speakers has stuck with me all these years. It wasn’t Frank Sinatra or Barbra Streisand; oh no, it was something from my era. That can feel like your parents are infringing on your territory — as if you could possibly lay claim to the entire pop culture that exists in your teens and keep it away from your parent’s mitts.

So what are some behaviors of parents that embarrass teens? I tooled around several sites and found the following:

  • Getting drunk
  • Commenting on your child’s Facebook posts
  • Singing or dancing
  • Overly affectionate gestures, such as close hugs or kisses
  • Yelling directions or chewing your kid out in front of friends
  • The “spit bath” – you know, the parent who licks his thumb and then uses it to wipe a smudge off his child’s face
  • Referring to child by cutesy nicknames
  • Hollering “I love you!” or other lovey-dovey phrases
  • Showing baby pictures, especially the unclothed variety
  • Dressing like a teen or wearing revealing clothing
  • Telling bad jokes
  • Breathing

As a child, I thought my parents were out to get me every time they embarrassed me. I recognize now that you simply don’t care as much what people think when you are older. Had you passed me in the grocery store last night (what’s with me and grocery stores?), you would have seen my husband browsing the shelves and me dancing to “What I Like About You” by the Romantics as it came in through the speakers. At age 40+, I don’t care if you think I’m crazy. I care that there are only so many days and years in life, and I plan to enjoy every minute I can — even if that means dancing in public. (For the record, my husband was not embarrassed by me. Or at least he said he wasn’t.)

So most of the time, parents aren’t trying to be embarrassing. They simply don’t have the antenna up like teenagers do. Plus, we parents remember when you kids pooped in your pants in public, ran around with snot hanging from a nostril, and danced freely to Barney the purple dinosaur music in public. How can you possibly be embarrassed now after that track record?

But there is the payback. Come to think of it, you embarrassed us. In addition to the above, remember that time when you threw yourself on the ground and yelled “I hate you” at Chuck E. Cheese because we had the audacity to say it was time to go? Or how about the time mom was holding you in church talking to the pastor, and you yanked her shirt to the side giving the good reverend a peek at her lace bra? Or the time that . . .

Okay, these didn’t actually happen to me, but I have my own list of “my kids embarrassed me” stories, and they could fill a notebook. So when a parent embarrasses a teen, we kind of wonder if it isn’t just karma. What goes around, comes around.

And then, there is embarrassment as discipline. I’ll tell a true story here. Some time ago, I learned that my mornings are best spent getting everyone else out the door and then getting myself ready for the day. When my sons were having repeated issues getting out the door in time to make the school bus, I finally declared that I was no longer getting dressed to drive them. I would take them to school, but I would go in whatever I happened to be wearing at the time. I have taken my children to school in my pajamas only twice in several months. Especially since the second time, I got out and escorted my teenage son to the sidewalk. They’ve been prompt ever since. The Embarrassment Factor was a motivator for them.

And then there is the mere joy of embarrassing your children. I am not talking about humiliation here! No, no, no. Just mild blushing from your kids. What causes that with my children? Whenever my hunky hubby and I kiss — even the most innocent peck — my sons now turn pink, roll their eyes, and avoid eye contact. Deep down, I think they are happy to know that their parents still desire each other, but they are embarrassed by our PDA. Which makes it all the more fun.

Of course there are limits! Shaming your child in public is not a good idea. However, parents inevitably embarrass their kids. And there is something amusing about that mild embarrassment. In fact, if you need help with ideas, you can check out Our guide to being an embarrassing parent from iVillage UK.

What do you think about parents embarrassing children? Is it inevitable? What are some of the most embarrassing parental behaviors? Do you have any personal stories as a child or parent?

Sources: The Times of India – British kids embarrassed by parents; ivillage.co.uk – Our guide to being an embarrassing parent

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19 thoughts on “The Joy of Embarrassing Your Kids

  1. Oh man, my mother was the queen of embarrassing (or so I thought as a teen anyway). Singing in public? Yep. Clinically explaining embarrassing sexual stuff when it popped up in movie theaters? Yep (My mom is a nurse, everything was explained clinically to my siblings and me). Speaking of being a nurse–my mom would often guest lecture in my class and she’d tell all of my friends how she made me eat my vegetables. Even if they had to sit cold on my plate for hours while I finished them. Yeah.

    Have I mentioned how much I love her? 🙂

    But your theory on embarrassing our kids thereby paying them back for embarrassing us?…I’m going to start taking notes now. Screaming in the grocery store? Yep, filing that one away. Yelling embarrassing anecdotes in public (especially if they have to do with certain parts of the anatomy–why does my son always do this?)? Yep. Filing that away too. Mwahahahahahaha.

  2. Oh, this was a great post! I’ve never analyzed the embarrassment factor but you sure did a super job! And I understand it better now. I haven’t cared what people think of me for years now. I’m way past 40+ and though I try not to embarrass my kids, if I even shuffle my feet to the beat of music in the Nike Outlet, you’d think I was jumping up and down and screaming the way my daughter acts! Geez! I SHOULD start telling her about the times she did gross things in public when she was younger that would embarrass ME!

  3. I’m older than I care to admit in a public forum, but my parents still embarrass me. My daddy wears rubber sandals with socks. In public. And to him this is dressing up. Even my husband, who is the kindest, most long-suffering man in the world, cringes at Daddy’s socks and sandals. My mother, when we go shopping, asks a million questions about items, has the salesman take it out of the case, even bargains with them…and then won’t buy. I can just see the steam behind their eyes. LOL

    But I embarrass them, too. I am very direct, and I don’t mince words. Also, I laugh at inappropriate things…loudly. I also…how do you say this?…have a dirty mouth, and I forget where I am. My daddy always laughs, but Mom is mortified.

    You’re right. What comes around goes around.

  4. This made me smile. So true! But my son has never complained about me commenting on his FB page, as he also comments on mine and we just have a good healthy laugh.

    1. Oh great! FB was mentioned among the embarrassing things, but I have also seen parents comment on their kids’ pages. I guess it depends on the kid and how you comment.

  5. And that would be me.
    I was told last night by my daughter that I put up too many pictures on face book. No, these are just cute posters of a puppy or something, not personal at all.
    But, too much.
    Yeah, I breath, therefore I embarrass.

    1. I get advice from my teen too — like a “how to be cool” tutorial. Not that he’ll ever think I’m cool; he just wants to let me know what I’m doing that embarrasses him so that I’ll stop. LOL. Thanks for the comment, Sandy!

  6. Love this! Brings back memories!!! Thank you for the laughs today, Julie. And what a great attitude: “I care that there are only so many days and years in life, and I plan to enjoy every minute I can — even if that means dancing in public” We all need to remember this. Have a great weekend! 🙂

  7. Love this. My mother was the Queen of this. I learned early on to never, ever lie about where I was. As long as she could find me all was well, but if she couldn’t, whoa. She’d stroll into a friends party looking for me, drive up and down streets – and ALL of my friends loved her, they’d hang out at my house when I wasn’t even home – so she was welcome everywhere she went and if I wasn’t there she’d tell stories. Really embarrassing stories. I will save the naked pics of my kiddo – I have something worse – the blog. I figure by the time he’s 14 he’ll be mortified.

    And the late for the bus thing killed me – my father once carried my 13 year old brother out and put him on the bottom step of the bus and handed him his shoes and coat one day. He was never late again.

    1. Oh my goodness, that made me laugh. I’m sure at the time you were wanting to crawl in a hole. The funny thing is that your teen friends will likely understand whatever embarrassing thing your parent does; they have parents too. Thanks for stopping by!

  8. A NOTE TO MY MOM who likely read this post and whom I may have embarrassed with the grocery store anecdote: Your son-in-law took your side! He looked it up and said that Rod Stewart had been playing for a while before he made it big and by age is more in your generation than mine. I give.

    I should also add for anyone reading this that my mother has an incredibly beautiful singing voice!

  9. Thanks for the laugh, Julie.

    As for parents and kids writing on each other’s FB, my daughter and I avoid that complication. We aren’t FB friends. *gasp* That always seems to bother other people more than it does us. Our view is that she, an-almost-21-year-old, is entitled to her privacy without mom butting in with embarassing comments, and I’m entitled to my privacy with adult friends and conversations.

    Still, I have plenty of fun mildly embarassing both my kids–just by being me. Like many of your commenters, I strive to live life to the fullest and get joy out of every possible moment. So what if that means belting out my favorite song or dancing while their friends are around. 🙂

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