Whenever you parent, it’s important to remember that you’re a human being. That means you’ll sometimes make mistakes. You’ll sometimes jump to the wrong conclusion, and you’ll sometimes do downright embarrassing things!
A few years ago, we attended a family reunion where I knew the pressure would be on me. I was the only female parent in attendance, and there were five kids between the ages of 5 and 17—most of whom were rambunctious boys. I came prepared for the week-long reunion. I brought board games, card games, swimming games, and outdoors games—enough games to last a month, and by the end of the second day, we had gone through them all. I was exhausted!
So I sat in the shallow end of the lake, the warm water caressing my worn-out legs and my zapped spirit. It didn’t take long before the kids were splashing around: swimming, catching minnows, and doing cannon-ball jumps. Then suddenly they were surrounding me: absolutely bored.
I gave them ideas, which they quickly discarded. I encouraged them to go up to the cabin, which they thought was even worse. Then they then came up with a plan that excited them all. Could they decorate me: With mud and seaweed? PLEASE?
I agreed, thinking it would be like being buried in the sand, which is often where parents find themselves when kids are young at the beach. It’s rather soothing to be encased in sand (as long as it’s not too hot). So I figured a mud and seaweed bath would have a spa-like quality to it. Kids aren’t the only ones who are adept at imaginary play ; )
I failed to factor in, however, the fact that young boys would be the ones giving me the “spa treatment”. Soon, I was covered in the smelliest, thickest coat of goo that I had ever imagined. Then the word got out, and adults began appearing with digital cameras.
I looked like a monster that had risen off the bottom of the lake! Everyone thought it was the most hysterical thing they had ever seen, but I was having trouble seeing much of anything at all since the pungent mud and seaweed was dripping into my eyes and even into my mouth as I tried to open it to say, “Enough!”
Today, I can laugh at these pictures. They are funny. But when it was happening, it was terribly embarrassing—even though no one could see me blush under all that mud and lake debris. I just had never imagined being dressed up as a muck monster that smelled like rotting bacteria. (And later when I showered it off, I discovered I had been bit all over by some type of tiny lake bug that made me itch—ick!)
I’m not alone in doing embarrassing things. A friend of mine locked herself out of the house in her pajamas one morning. She walked to her son’s high school to get her son’s house key. Talk about embarrassing! Another mom accidentally locked her baby in the car, and when the locksmith arrived, he didn’t know who was crying harder: the mom or the baby.
Then there are embarrassing moments that few parents admit. These are the ones that not only are embarrassing but also made the parent question his or her parenting.
That’s what happened to one dad. He was playing with his young son—and then accidentally lost his grip and his son fell on his head. The dad was horrified, but he was quick to get his son to urgent care. Still when the doctor asked what happened, it was hard for the dad to admit the truth. (The good news: The son was okay.) But this dad still cringes at this memory and works hard not to think of it too often.
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of things right as a parent, but I’ve also done some things that make me wince. I’ve apologized for my mistakes. I’ve made sure not to repeat some experiences again. But the truth is: When you’re an engaged parent, you’re going to get in there and find yourself in a mess a time. An embarrassing mess.
My kids can accuse me of a lot of things, but they’ll never accuse me of hiding behind a newspaper—or not being there. And they really do enjoy saying, “Remember that family reunion when we covered mom in mud?”
What’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done as a parent?
Maurice Elias, Steven Tobias, and Brian Friedlander, Emotionally Intelligent Parenting (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000).
John Mordechai Gottman, What Am I Feeling? (Seattle: Parenting Press, 2004).