by Sarah Milligan
Source: Island Parent Magazine
Originally Published: June 2019
You figure out, fairly soon after signing on for this gig called parenting, that your child IS going to embarrass you. It’s just a matter of when, and where, and how badly. As much as your child may well be your biggest source of pride, they will absolutely, without a doubt be your most significant source of humiliation. In fact, it’s part of their job.
They start out sweet enough, all snuggles and cuteness. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t going to scream themselves hoarse while you are trapped in a grocery check-out line. They’re also likely to spit up in conspicuous places on your outfit right before you meet cool people, and produce epic, up-the-back diaper blowouts at the most inconvenient times.
Older babies develop new and ever more wily ways to mortify their parents. Be particularly cautious when wearing one in a front pack; this gives them opportunity for moves like yanking the handle of the bulk-food-dispensing bin, causing 17 cups of lentils to gush out onto the floor. Beware, too, of babies in strollers; this position allows them to pull stunts like, say, grabbing a cantaloupe as you walk through the produce section, and then gleefully dropping it on the concrete floor.
All this humiliation may be taxing, but we can take solace in the knowledge that these episodes serve an important evolutionary function. Your baby’s stunts are actually developing your resilience as a human, strengthening your ability to carry on calmly while the world points and stares. Most importantly, this training prepares you for the daunting levels of mortification you will encounter when your child becomes a toddler and embraces their full repertoire of tantrums, biting, screeching, and defiance.
By early school years, the flow of humiliation will be slowing, but by no means over. Preschoolers will talk loudly about poop when dinner guests are over; kindergarteners will sweetly produce filthy words while Face-timing the grandparents.
But, weather these storms and you will be rewarded. Somewhere around age seven or eight, you will abruptly find yourself in a magical phase when all are equal. Your child is now something approaching a rational person who can mostly control the words coming out of their mouth. They are fully in control of most bodily functions and can clearly grasp the concept that sometimes, certain behaviours are not socially acceptable. This is a rest phase; enjoy it, for your wits will soon be required.
Somewhere around age 10-11, a cosmic shift occurs. Now, for the first time, you will observe your child being embarrassed by YOU. It happens slowly at first, gradually building in frequency and severity. By the teen years, they will be utterly humiliated by anything and everything you say, do, think, and, most especially, wear.
This phase is likely to last for five to seven years, possibly longer. And there’s no use in simply trying to be cooler; in fact, any attempts as such will in fact make us exponentially less cool. Instead, roll with it and flex the power while it lasts.
Test the effects of formerly innocuous behaviours such as giving your son a kiss on the cheek while dropping him at baseball practice, or wearing a cowboy hat to pick up your daughter from school. You can also experiment with language; just for fun, see what happens when you casually drop words like “epic” and “cray” into conversation, preferably in front of your 14-year-old’s friends.
One day, you see, they will grow out of this, and your very existence will no longer be an embarrassment to your child; on that mystical day, the status quo will return to equality, and you will resume your relationship on equal terms. But for now, embrace your new role as the Most Embarrassing Parent Ever.
Remember, this work is essential to a child’s proper development. By providing parental embarrassment, we are returning the important service they themselves provided us as babies. Thanks to us, our children will now be given ample opportunity to develop the vital trait of resilience as a human—the ability to carry on calmly while the world points and stares. Otherwise, how will they be prepared for parenting one day?
Sarah Milligan lives on Vancouver Island. She is grateful to her children for the joy they inspire, not to mention the endless writing fodder.
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