Tuesday, July 1, 2014

A Parenting Skill I'm Good At...

I’ve discovered a critical aspect of parenting I excel at: Embarrassing my kids. 

It’s a good thing, because there are other parts of this job that don’t exactly play to my strengths, like multi-tasking. (More on that in later posts). But when it comes to embarrassing the heck out of my kids, I’m like a duck to water … or is it fish to water. Anyway, I rock at it.

Today, when waiting in the line of family cars to drop off the three girls at the local day camp – so their mom and I could have three whole hours of uninterrupted work-from-home time – the “Cruise” song by Florida Georgia Line came on the minivan’s radio, the one that goes, “You make me wanna roll my windows down and cruise.”

Being cool and all, I decided to slide my seat real low, crank up the bass and roll down the windows. I thought it necessary for all the other camp kids to see at least one hip dad in that dreary procession of minivans. 

Right when I got that radio blasting for maximum hipness, all three of my girls shrieked and made the most horrific faces. The two younger ones assumed the fetal position, and the older one dove for the radio power button. Then she frantically asked me to put the windows back up – which had the child-safety locks on – while she held back tears.

I obliged. I guess I’ll just have to cruise after I drop the kids off.  
Rad Ride, dad. Just imagine how
embarrassed this guy's kids are at pickup. 

I’ve seen embarrassment at work with my kids before, like whenever I wear that awesome yellow fleece vest brought to you by the 90s and the fine folks at Eastern Mountain Sports.  

“Please don’t wear the yellow vest,” my kids say. For the record, they wouldn’t know cool if it moonwalked into the room and started belting out Pearl Jam tunes. I know, because I've done that too.

We all know the ease with which parental embarrassment can paralyze a child with fear. The scope of that fear seems to increase exponentially as the child enters the pre-teen years.

Our oldest, who's pretty well-adjusted on most other fronts, has become obsessed with how we act around her in public, especially when other kids her age are nearby. She doesn't want us to sing or dance or do anything fun. Or hug her, or talk to her. Frankly, she'd just as soon not be seen with us in public at all.

When she is around us, the mere threat of potentially embarrassing actions is enough to get her to follow our subtle commands -- or to make her start bawling. That all depends on how close we get to an actually embarrassing event.
When handled properly, fear of embarrassment can be a powerful teaching tool. Of course, this is the part I'm still learning: how to wield this power to a tactical advantage and not just for the occasional fun. Using embarrassment right is truly a subtle parenting art form.

The whole drop-off episode was my attempt to change her negative attitude about day camp. I think it worked, at least as a temporary diversion.
Some parents clearly don't know how to use embarrassment properly, and underestimate its power. All those stories about parents shaming their kids online, or making them stand on a corner with a sign that says something derogatory about themselves -- that's idiotic. You never want to do anything that will leave permanent emotional scars.

And you certainly don't want your own silliness turned into ammunition for other kids to be mean to your offspring. If my kids came to be known as "that weirdo's kids," that would be embarrassing ... to me.

But, when it comes to making sure the kids have a good attitude, a sense of humor, and much needed perspective on life, nothing works better than a little parent-centric embarrassment. And sometimes, it’s just plain fun.

Now, I'm going to roll my windows down and cruise. It's almost time for pick up. 

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1 comment:

Jack said...

My kids know not to push me too hard or I will be the dad that sings to them...everywhere. :)