Parent / Child Embarrassment

By Rich Edwards

It amazes me the things parents do that embarrass their children. When I was a child I was certain the only reason my dad went to work every day was to earn enough money to take his children places to humiliate them. I knew that my mom stayed at home so she could conspire with other moms on the best ways to embarrass a child to death. My parents had insurance policies taken out on us kids which, I am sure, paid double indemnity if the child were to die of shame.
    I have jotted down some memories, similar to others I would be able to recall except for the fact that my mind, in self-defense, has pretty much repressed them.

(At the gas station, two boys in the background doing the ‘potty dance’)
Parent: “Can I get your bathroom key? My boys drank two liters of root beer trying to beat each other in a burping contest. They are about ready to pop. Ha, I made a funny. Get it: pop -- root beer. That’s funny.”

(At Disneyland)
Parent: “Snow White, Snow White! HEY SNOW WHITE!! Can I get a photo of you with my boy? He’s just getting over puberty and it might help his self-esteem to get photo of himself standing next to a pretty girl. Hey, where did that boy go?”

Teenage Suffering

To know the level of embarrassment a child has suffered, one only need count the syllables in a parent’s moniker. For example, in most cases, “mom” or “dad” has only one syllable. However, in situations of perceived embarrassment, the parents’ names begin to stretch: the more syllables, the greater the embarrassment. This is often followed by a rolling of the eyes and a general rocking back and forth of the upper body in anticipation of a speedy exit. For example “Da-aa-aad! Quit talking to Disney characters (whoosh, zoom).”

Now that I am a parent, I can relate to how my parents operated. First of all, as any teenager will tell you, parents are completely clueless. They just do not realize that what might seem completely reasonable to any other human being can cause potentially fatal mortification to the average teenager. These things include:

  • Existing
  • Or (worse) talking to them in front of other people
  • Or (much worse) talking to other parents
  • Or (much, much, way worse) talking directly to the teenager’s friends (AAAAGH!!).

The other reason parents embarrass their child is payback from when the child was small and did things to cause great shame and humiliation to the parent. This was a time when the reasonably new parent still cared slightly what the rest of the world thought of him and/or had not learned to say convincingly, “That’s not my kid.”Children, especially small children, have a great proclivity to embarrass their parents. For greatest effect, children wait to do truly embarrassing things until a formal event, hopefully in the company of some sort of clergy or a seldom-seen, straight-laced maiden aunt.

Embarrasing Memories

Below are true examples wherein a child caused great humiliation to a parent to the point where the parent’s eyes opened to previously unimagined size followed by a dropping of the shoulders and a general desire to turn into a garden slug and slink slowly out of the room.

(At a restaurant with friends the parents had not seen for years)
Child climbing out from under the table: “There sure is a lot of gum under the table.”
Parent: “Well don’t eat any of it.”
Child (with an indignant air of disgust): “I won’t.”
Upon leaving the restaurant the parent notices the child smacking loudly.
Parent: “Did you eat gum from under the table?”
Child: (with an indignant air of moral superiority) “No, from under the chair.”

(Just before reception at the child’s house following a funeral)
Maiden aunt in formal black dress: “Denise, I think one of your dogs pooped behind the couch.”
Child: “Aunt Beulah, in our house the rule is: ‘Whoever finds it has to clean it up’ and you found it first.”
Mother of the child after showing Aunt Beulah, now holding large dog bomb wrapped in toilet paper, to the outside garbage can: “Aunt Beulah, you did not have to clean up after the dog. Really, that rule only applies to people who live here.”

Smelly Science

Now, my daughter goes to Skyline School. One of the things I like best about Skyline is that the parents care greatly about the academic success of their children and encourage learning. They take it so seriously that most of the kids don’t find out how dorky it is to learn new historic or science facts until high school and sometimes not even then. A case in point: my father was driving a minivan load of people back to my house after a school carnival. In the minivan were my mother, me, my daughter and a few of her friends. I took the opportunity to entertain the children while teaching them a few science facts.

Me to daughter’s friend: “Do you smell through your nose?”
Friend: “Yes.”
Me: “You know about goats, right? Do goats smell through their noses?”
Friend: “Yes.”
Me: “So if you smell through your nose, and a goat smells through its nose, you must smell like a goat. Isn’t that right?”
Friend: “Well, I guess so.”
Me: “Most animals smell through their noses except snakes; they smell with their tongues.”
Friend, shifting nervously: “Oh.”
Me: “And butterflies smell through their feet.”
Other friend in the car: “That’s only if they are flying, otherwise they are tasting.”

These are smart kids.

And this brings me to my original point which is, the things parents do that embarrass their children. My mother who had been quietly sitting in the passenger seat took the opportunity to say, “My feet smell so I must be a butterfly,” all the while making little air quotes with her hands to simulate butterfly wings. I was so mortified the only thing I could say was “Mo-o-o-om!!”