“Have you ever noticed how parents can go from the most wonderful people in the world to totally embarrassing in three seconds?”
― Rick Riordan, The Red Pyramid
There’s nothing like chaperoning field trips to gauge where kids are when it comes to being embarrassed of their parents.
Take my son, John. He’s in the second grade. I saw a girl in his class sucking her thumb the other day when I was picking him up from school. Sure enough, when I help chaperone his field trips, he’s right by my side, holding my hand. When I chaperone my daughter Beth’s field trips I get a more fourth grade treatment. Not unfriendly. Not overtly embarrassed. Just a little more wary.
The seeds of embarrassment have been planted.
As a human and a dad, it can be a tough pill to swallow. I mean, where do my kids get off being embarrassed about me?
A) I’m cool. I have shiny aviator sunglasses that make me look like an out of shape extra from Top Gun.
B) I spent multiple years handling their poop. That should preclude them from ever thinking that I’m an embarrassment.
Still, the fact remains. Kids spend an inordinate amount of time being embarrassed by the existence of their parents – even in the midst of realizing that we parents are actually the most wonderful people in the world.
It’s really, really, really normal. Kids are actually at the beginning of a grand experiment in becoming individuals, who are separate from their parents, around the same time parents begin to notice that their kids are beginning to be embarrassed by them. How are they supposed to develop into grown up, independent people if they are constantly reminded that their existence depends upon us? And yet, they do depend on us and that dependence is tied to an attachment that makes them feel safe and loved.
There can be a really powerful conflict in kids’ minds between those two impulses — feeling independent vs. feeling loved, protected, and safe.
It hurts to feel like my kids are ever really ashamed of me. But I know that what they’re really ashamed of is their own ambivalence about fear, dependence, and becoming a grown up. My presence is just a reminder of it.
So I let it go. And I let them know I’m okay with standing back. And it’s okay for them to be independent and try out being a big kid without me. And that I’ll be there ready to love and protect them as much as they need when they’re ready for it.
But I don’t tell them all that in front of their friends.