Young People Ask . . .
Why Do My Parents Embarrass Me?
Right in the middle of biology class, you begin to feel sick. Much to your despair, the school calls home, and before long your mother is there—clad in slippers, pink hair-curlers, and those awful red sweatpants she wears around the house. Convinced you are in dire straits, she has rushed to your side without any concern for her appearance. But you have little appreciation for her rescue efforts. All you can think of is how silly and sloppy your mother looks in her outfit. And when she starts making a fuss over you in front of your classmates, you wish you could simply disappear. You are so embarrassed!
INCIDENTS like this may appear funny to onlookers. But you are not laughing. You feel an awkwardness, a pressure so great that you feel you could just die. Indeed, an expression was coined: ‘To die from embarrassment.’ And you are not the first to feel that way. The ancient Jews, for example, recognized the devastating potential of embarrassment. The Hebrew Talmud likened the shaming of a person in public to the shedding of his blood!
There are many sources of embarrassment, but many young people agree that there is none greater than their own parents. The list of things parents can do to humiliate you seems endless: publicly displaying affection, boasting of your accomplishments, acting like children in front of your friends, demanding that you “perform” before guests. Why, even the way your parents look may cause you shame! Little wonder, then, that some youths cringe at the thought of being seen with their parents.
Why, though, may your parents embarrass you so much? ‘Don’t they know any better?’ you may wonder.
Why They Embarrass You
Let’s analyze your own feelings in this regard. Being young, you are particularly vulnerable to embarrassment, as you have become increasingly aware that there are more people in this world than your immediate family. You want to be accepted by others—especially your peers—and you try hard to act “correctly.” Naturally, you do not want this acceptance undermined by embarrassing behavior on the part of your parents. As a youth named Linda said: ‘If your parents do something that embarrasses you, you worry: “What are my friends going to think of me?”’ Why, then, cannot your parents be more considerate of your feelings?
Psychologist Bernice Berk relates that one mother told her especially sensitive teenage son: “That’s my job, to embarrass you. My mother embarrassed me, and you’ll have to embarrass your children.” There’s more than a grain of truth in this rather blunt statement. No, being embarrassing isn’t hereditary, but something else is: imperfection.
Parents are imperfect. (Romans 3:23) They cannot be expected to look like fashion models, nor are they always in control of everything they say or do, any more than you are. They also have the right to relax from time to time and have fun. Occasionally acting younger than their age—or even downright silly—may be their way of coping with getting older. Oblivious of the effect this has on you, mom may mortify you by trying out the latest dance steps with your friends; dad may try to prove he can compete with teenagers on the basketball court. Embarrassing? Perhaps. But, for sure, they had no thought of hurting you.
Your parents also have your best interests at heart, and because of imperfection, they may overreact when your welfare seems threatened. For example, the Bible writer Luke tells of the time when 12-year-old Jesus attended the Passover in Jerusalem with his family. As his parents were returning home, they noticed he was missing. They made a diligent search for him, and “after three days they found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers and listening to them and questioning them.” No doubt Jesus was enjoying this conversation with men much older than he. Nevertheless, when his mother came on the scene, perhaps in full view of these principal men of the nation, she said: “Child, why did you treat us this way? Here your father and I in mental distress have been looking for you.”—Luke 2:41-48.
Another factor to consider is that your parents have their own problems, some that you may not even be aware of. Perhaps financial worries, sickness, or other pressures are responsible for their behavior.
Finally, most parents are proud of their offspring. They enjoy showing them off. This, however, may lead to all kinds of disconcerting situations, such as your being asked to play the piano in front of your mother’s friends or having to endure hearing your father tell anyone who will listen how “brilliant” you are!
Learning to Cope
When her parents embarrass her, a youth named Tonia says, “I blush a lot.” While this may be a natural reaction, there are more productive ways to cope. Simply remembering some of the points brought out thus far may help temper your initial discomfort. (Proverbs 19:11) Consider also the following suggestions:
Stop Worrying: All the worrying in the world probably won’t change things much anyway. (Compare Matthew 6:27.) After all, you are not responsible for your parents; you are a separate person. ‘Each one must carry his own load,’ says Galatians 6:5. Besides, your predicament is probably not as bad as you imagine. Dr. Joyce L. Vedral observes that ‘every embarrassed teenager imagines that there is an audience watching him.’ However, most people are not all that interested. Adds Vedral: “Most people are more concerned about a pimple on their nose than they are about your whole family history.” Remember, too, that your peers also have anxieties about the impression that their parents are making!
Don’t Make a Bad Situation Worse: Says Proverbs 27:12: “A shrewd man sees trouble coming and lies low.” (The New English Bible) Calling attention to yourself by crying out, ‘Oh, Mom!’ only aggravates the situation. ‘Lying low’ by saying nothing may be wise.—Ecclesiastes 3:7.
Accept Needed Discipline: Public correction may well embarrass you. But often the discipline is well-deserved, and the embarrassment is simply a part of it. (Hebrews 12:11) What if the discipline seems uncalled for? Recall how Jesus handled his mother’s interruption. He remained calm and explained his situation. Indeed, the Bible says he “continued subject” to his parents. (Luke 2:49, 51) Why not try to do the same?
Talk to Your Parents: Kindly and respectfully tell them just what is bothering you. It works! Rosalee found in her case that “if you tell them how you feel, and if they think it’s reasonable, then they will usually try to correct themselves.” One way to help parents see your side of the issue is to ask them about the embarrassing experiences they had when they were younger. This might get them thinking about your situation.
Show Fellow Feeling: Just think of all the times you have embarrassed your parents! Did you do it maliciously? Of course not! So why feel that your parents are deliberately scheming to embarrass you?
Never Lose Your Sense of Humor: As one teen admitted: “Some things you have to try and laugh at; afterward they are kind of funny.” Yes, why take a mishap so seriously? Remember, there is “a time to laugh,” and sometimes showing a sense of humor takes the sting out of humiliation.—Ecclesiastes 3:4.
Try as you may, however, you cannot entirely avoid embarrassment. But by applying the foregoing, you may very well be able to change the way you view so-called embarrassing situations.
For example, author Jami Bernard relates: “My mother always made me hold her hand when we crossed the street, even when I was older. One day, I pulled her hand away, whining, ‘Mom, I don’t need this anymore.’ She turned to me and said, ‘I do.’ I don’t know whether she meant that she needed someone to lean on or that she missed the time when I was her ‘baby’ or that she wanted to make contact with me and didn’t quite know how. But now when I hold her hand to cross the street, I get a warm flush—not of embarrassment but of love.”—Seventeen magazine, December 1985.