Oh, that boy. You gave him life, and now he writhes in agony every time you get jiggy with it while driving him and his buddies to footy practice. What gives?
Embarrassment is a classic dynamic between children and their parents, and you should know that the feeling can be a healthy one. In Masterminds & Wingmen, a guide to the inner life of boys, author Rosalind Wiseman writes, “It’s more than fine to ’embarrass’ your son in a good way. As in, you demand that he recognise your feelings, you role-model how to treat people with dignity when it’s hard and how to show emotion in a healthy way, you respectfully speak out when he’d rather you keep your opinions to yourself, and you’re comfortable with making a fool of yourself.”
Read: Keep raising the roof in the minivan — you’re building character. Ya hear that, Puddin’ Pop?
However, Wiseman stresses that there is “good” embarrassment and there is embarrassment that veers into harmful territory, behaviour that might lead tweens and teens to shut their parents out. With boys, the damage can be easier to gloss over since, as Wiseman explains, by the time they reach adolescence, “most have adopted an appearance of calm detachment”.
Watching your son be embarrassed by you can be startling at first (“Wasn’t he just asking me to kiss his little ouchie-ouch yesterday?”), but after a while, the experience can become strangely satisfying. Still, it’s important to check yourself to see if you’re crossing the line. Here are some examples of good embarrassment vs. embarrassment that isn’t OK.
- Singing along to the radio (or your favourite ’90s gangsta rap album) in the car
- Giving him a hug or a kiss when you see him in public
- Telling his friends a joke
- Hinting to him that you have had sex at some point in your life
- Cheering loudly and screaming his name from the bleachers
- Saying phrases such as, “I can’t even” — even if he thinks it sounds like you’re trying too hard
- Chaperoning his school dance
- Brushing his hair out of his eyes
- Asking him and his friends, “What are you all up to tonight?”
- Asking him questions about his life
Embarrassment That Goes Too Far
- Introducing him by his deficits. Saying things like, “This is Billy. He’s really shy, but he’s pretty fun once you get to know him.” As Wiseman writes, “After you teach him how to introduce himself, it’s up to him to say his name and create his own image.”
- Oversharing. “Can you recommend a face wash? Ashton is breaking out everywhere.” If you want to have these conversations with other adults, do so privately, away from your child. For parents who may be prone to oversharing, talk to your kids about it. Wiseman suggests saying something like, “I’ve realised that sometimes I talk for you and don’t give you the opportunity to speak for yourself. From now on, I’m going to really try to stop myself. But if I don’t, I want you to say politely, ‘Mum/Dad, it’s OK. I’ve got it.’ I promise I’ll stop. If I overshare, you can politely tell me to stop, and I will.”
- Being rude or unkind to other adults or children.
Basically, if your actions are dismissive or belittling to your child in any way, it’s time to reevaluate your behaviour. But if you’re just being the unique parent you are, crank up the car radio and dance.