by Joanie Butman
Public humiliation isn’t confined to parents. Children suffer from the same malaise – probably even more so. No child wants to see a parent’s poor choices advertised in the local paper any more than their parents want to see their children’s mistakes in print – unless, of course, kids consider it a public validation of something they’ve known all along; namely, the insanity of their parent(s).
If you think comparisons are rampant amongst parents, teens are just as brutal when evaluating their parents. Every parent has a ‘reputation.’ It’s taken me years to build mine!! I’m not sure everyone’s children find their parents as embarrassing as mine do, or whether it’s just a talent at which my husband and I happen to excel. Granted, I do nothing to dispel my own ‘crazy’ image. I’ve found it works to my benefit to keep them guessing as to what I ‘might’ do. They know what I’m capable of so their fear isn’t totally unjustified. Okay, so I tracked down the boy who brought my daughter home with hickeys all over her neck and offered him a ring pop to suck on next time. Maybe I mistakenly sent an email calling my son’s coach a pompous ass to said coach, rather than to my husband, getting our son kicked off the team – until my husband intervened. So what if I drove them to school in my pink leopard robe until they were able to drive themselves. We all have issues.
Whenever my daughter wanted to push my buttons, she’d throw out, “Why can’t you be more like Mrs. So-and-so?” Mrs. So-and-so was the perfectly coiffed, always calm, always smiling Donna Reed that brought in cupcakes from scratch. The one I wanted to maim. The only saving grace is her children were perfect mini versions of her, so I could respond to my daughter in kind: “I’ll tell you what. When you become more like So-and-so, Jr., I’ll be more like her mom! Like it or not, we are stuck with each other darling. And by the way, Mrs. So-and-so would have sent you off to a convent after the hickey incident.”
I remember driving home after a Halloween party at my son’s school where I was the only mom who arrived in costume every year. He said, “Mom, I’ve got a great idea for your costume for next year. Why don’t you dress up as a mom like everyone else?” Shocked, I replied, “That’s so boring! And you should know by now I don’t do like everyone else.” He stopped inviting me. Spoilsport!
Our one disastrous family therapy session, when my kids were fighting incessantly, confirmed (or so they told me) their initial assessment of me. We were each interviewed privately and on the way home I asked what the therapist said to them. In unison from the backseat they replied, “He said you were crazy.” At least they had finally found something on which they could agree. I promptly called for a refund.
Seriously, giving birth doesn’t cure you of any personality defects. If anything, it tends to exacerbate them as the pressures of parenthood mount. Human beings are flawed. On that, I think we can all agree. Yet, how we choose to face our flaws and mistakes offers valuable life lessons for our children. Do we choose to hold ourselves accountable or do we try to excuse our behavior blaming others for our own transgressions? Do we choose to accept the consequences of our actions with humility or try to weasel out of the penalties? Do we choose to make the effort to correct damaging habits? Do we choose to seek or offer forgiveness?
The responsibility for good modeling in these situations might be daunting for some, but making mistakes is my forte so I’ve had to practice recouping from them more often than I care to admit. I haven’t made it into the police blotter yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t deserved to at times. What was it John Bradford said, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Why I consider the police blotter some kind of moral barometer indicating an imaginary line I’d rather not cross is one of my own personality defects. I’m working on it.
When I think of the cautionary advice that your children will eventually end up doing what you do, not what you say, I am both terrified and comforted. First, my examples have not always been the wisest choices. However, despite my litany of social gaffes and parenting debacles, the strength and consistency of my faith is probably the wisest choice and best example I could set for my children. Even though they found my ‘church lady’ writing even more embarrassing than my pink leopard robe, I believe at some point they may appreciate my stories and my willingness to be open and honest in an effort to encourage others to do the same. I hope my writing will illustrate that people of faith make the same poor choices as everyone else. We don’t have faith because we think we’re perfect. Quite the opposite; it’s because we recognize how imperfect we are and how badly we need a Savior.
In that regard, I can only pray my children choose to do what I do and develop their own faith to help them in the event they decide to imitate any of my more impulsive tendencies. They will need it – as I do, every minute of every day.
P.S. For those of you still deep in the trenches of parenthood, you might want to listen to Brene Brown's, The Gifts of Imperfect Parenting. Brown claims, "It's actually our ability to embrace imperfection that will help us teach our children to have the courage to be authentic, the compassion to love themselves and others, and the sense of connection that gives true purpose and meaning to life. Dr. Brown proposes that the greatest challenge of wholehearted parenting is being the adult that we want our children to grow up to be."