Hey Kids, Let's Share the Shame
Originally printed on huffingtonpost.com
Parental shame is a two-way street, and my kid is already pedaling down it -- on the pink tricycle he insisted we buy him.
Will I embarrass my son? Sure. That's a given. But that dude is going to shame me, too.
Enough worrying about all I have done and will do to make him slink down into the front seat of life. It's time to talk about me, and all parents, and how we sometimes get embarrassed, too.
Of course I'll show up to soccer games in vintage mini-dresses suitable only if I were opening at Coachella. And 23. There's no question that as a parent I'll wear and say and do things that make him wish he lived in a group home in New Mexico sustaining the nightly possibility of being molested by his bunkmate or bitten by a Typhus-carrying rat. It's a given that parents shame their children.
However, it's a tricky thing to talk about being embarrassed by our kids. Because no matter how illogical it may be, messes they make will always seem a bit like our fault. And they may be.
Look, I don't care if my son prefers a pink tricycle or wears a tuxedo to day care every day and goes to "Glee" camp. None of that does or would bother me.
However, when I look around with my new perspective as a mom, I see every human creature as someone's child (I know, duh) and can't help wondering: When your kid does something -- from mildly idiotic to massively criminal -- aren't folks secretly blaming the parent? Even when they understand that a person has free will or some biological predisposition to act out, or is simply a full-fledged grownup who should be responsible for her own actions, don't most people look a bit askance at mom and dad?
When Michael Douglas has a kid in jail, don't we think "absentee dad"? If Lindsay Lohan were a shy veterinarian living in a condo with her accountant husband, would her parents seem like pieces of work?
I'm going extreme here for a second, but don't worry. I'll come back to the small stuff our kids do. I just need to make this point: Have you ever seen an interview with Jeffrey Dahmer's father? That guy seems really normal, even caring.
His kid ate people.
Yesterday, my child didn't want to leave the sidewalk because he was staring at a giant truck removing slabs of metal from the street. We sat there for 20 minutes. I tried everything -- getting down on his level, reflecting back his frustration, giving him a countdown. I finally had to pick him up and surfboard him to the car. The lady walking her dog in a chartreuse Juicy Couture sweatshirt? She judged me. The guy selling hot dogs in the parking lot? I'm pretty sure he thinks I'm a wildly incompetent mom. Anyone without significant hearing loss within a mile radius? Well, it's safe to say they thought I was using enhanced interrogation techniques on a high-value prisoner.
When you see a parent prying their screaming child out of a restaurant booth for a little timeout in the alley, trust me, that parent is acutely aware that his child's behavior is reflecting on him.
My toddler was just being a toddler, and I was doing my best. Still, I got in the car and we both cried, and that kid, by way of a little garden-variety freak out, made me pretty self-conscious about my parenting and, thus, the very core of my being.
So, yeah, he's not eating runaways.
There's a continuum. You get credit when your kid gives the valedictory address or strikes out the side, and you get the blame when he eats people. Or, to work our way toward cannibalism, when your kid fails algebra, bites the teacher, gets busted smoking pot, gets a DUI, ends up at sober living, ends up on the pole, holds up a bank or just plain doesn't write a thank-you letter to his grandmother, fair or not, that looks bad for you.
Keep Mr. Dahmer in mind. He has it worse than you do. While you're complaining about your kid's pink tricycle, you know what he'll be thinking? Eat me.
Teresa Strasser is an Emmy-winning television writer, a two-time Los Angeles Press Club Columnist of the Year and a multimedia personality. She is the author of a new book, Exploiting My Baby, the rights to which have been optioned by Sony Pictures.