Embarrassment versus Shame in Parenting

The other day “Ice Ice Baby” came blasting through my iPhone while doing dishes. I instantly squealed, “Oh my God! I used to love this song!” (Don’t judge me. You know you loved it too.)

I put down the dirty dish I held and started busting out my signature move, The Running Man. Of course, I have my own version, but I killed it.

That’s when I received a crushing blow to the gut. My nearly eleven-year-old daughter shouted from across the room, “Mom, seriously. You are so embarrassing.”

I stopped dead in my tracks. As I turned to face her and three of her friends eating pizza at my kitchen counter, I caught the last rotation of an eye roll as she turned her back on me.


So I did what any mom would do. I threw down my dish towel and did a little M.C. Hammer “U Can’t Touch This” shuffle across my hard wood floors and ended with “The Sprinkler,” which may have involved some PG-13 gyrating.

Her friends cheered me on but I could see the pink rising on my daughter’s cheeks. She was smiling, but I could tell the mortification was real. She was ashamed of me.

Later, I thought about how I drew a line in the sand with my daughter by continuing the dance-off. My fellow moms of tweens and I often discus how are lives are changing. Trips to Starbucks and the mall now replace princess tea parties and pretend fashion shows. iEverything’s seem to be glued to their palms and sleepovers replace playdates. And inevitably, there are a few more door slams and sighs then cuddles and kisses.

Some of my friends want to keep their relationships with their tweens/teens in tact and choose to relate to them on their terms. Some respect boundaries and allow their children more independence. Some even insist that they will be the parenting white unicorn — the cool mom.

I could have tried to be more hip to bond with the group, demonstrating that I once was like them. I could have stopped dancing and changed the station to something a little more current. I could have altered who I was at that moment.

But what fun would that be? When did we get so scared of our kids and what they think of us?

There is a lot of discussion about the role shaming has in parenting, so much so that as a culture we bend over backward to ensure we never say or do anything bad that may impact the self-esteem of a child. We worry that our every move will have an impact on their physical, intellectual, and even social well-being.

And this is important stuff. We should not publicly shame our children or make them feel ashamed about their behavior, appearance or choices. They should never feel degraded or diminished.

But that does not mean we should not teach our children the difference between shame, the mis-placed kind because of something someone else does, and good, old-fashioned parental embarrassment.

I think growing up with parents that embarrass the heck out of you truly makes you a stronger person. My dad was a lunatic. Growing up, he would blast show tunes while I was hanging out with my friends in the pool. He would do the moves to cheers when I was on the sidelines in high school. When I brought my very Italian boyfriend home in college, he asked if he could kiss his ring and call him “Godfather.”

It was mortifying. It was annoying. It made me want to curl up in the fetal position and not come out until adulthood.

And he was not the only one. My mom could be worse. She would stay up each night until I walked through the door. She called the parents of my friends —whether she knew them or not — to ensure I was where I said I would be. She would say no to my requests even when every other parent said yes.  I am not sure how I survived.

If parenting is about being brave and steadfast in your decisions, then my parents had cojones the size of Texas. And even with these “flaws,” my house was where my friends wanted to be, where we could all laugh and be ourselves.

I may not purposely do things to embarrass my kids. I won’t show up to their school wearing my pajama bottoms (if you don’t count the drop off line) or chaperone a school dance wearing my old prom dress (unless I can fit in it), but I’m not going to change who I am — or what I believe in — just to ensure they are not embarrassed. And if their friends don’t like me, well, that’s on them.

Because where does it end? There is a limitless list of things kids can be embarrassed about: not arriving to school in the right car or not having the right shoes; mothers who don’t wear make up or don yoga pants every day; or dads who scare boyfriends or dress in ridiculous ties. And yes, even a mom who does the Running Man — even when she nails it.

I know that my kids also will get embarrassed by what I don’t let them do, like wear makeup just because the other girls are or go to a party where I know there is no supervision.

It is a delicate balance when raising older children. I’m sure shortly that just the mere fact I exist will embarrass them.  But I’ve already lived through those painful teenage years of trying to fit in, and I am not doing it again.

My job is showing my kids how to enjoy life and be a responsible, productive member of society. If we can get through that and still be friends, then so be it.

And if they learn a few super-cool dance moves along the way, then that is a bonus.

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How to Show Your Daughter She Can Be Anything She Wants

“Oh no!” I exclaimed while drinking my coffee in between packing lunches.

“What happened,”my 5th grade daughter asked, in between bites of frozen pancakes.

Today is the day before Halloween, which means it’s class party time at the elementary schools. It’s a BIG day for the little people, one of their favorites. I have been at one of my children’s Halloween parties for, like, always. It’s what I do. As a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, it’s one of the perks of my job. Even with the coordinating and party planning and begging for volunteers —I am always grateful for that opportunity to see my kids in their element. I whole-heartedly love it.

But entertaining 26 ten-year olds without getting heckled is a tough job. That why I shouted “oh no” when I received an email from a fellow volunteer — a mom I really like and admire — who goofed up her schedule,

Halloween parties at our school run a little earlier than others because of a special Fall program the staff does. She accidentally inputted the time wrong, and now will be late because she is leading a meeting.

And she feels awful. I’m sure she feels guilty for letting the other parents down, but mostly for missing time with her daughter. She feels the pangs that working moms experience all the time.

That’s when I decided to pick the next words I spoke to my daughter carefully. I looked deep into those dark brown eyes and said, “Nothing is wrong. One of the moms is going to be a little late to your party because she gets to lead a very important meeting for her company. She actually teaches people how to communicate ideas about their business better, and she is really good at it.  Today, she gets to lead a video conference. She has a lot to pack into her day so she’s just going to run a few minutes behind. We will figure it out until she gets there!”

“Really? That’s a cool job,” my daughter said. “I’d love to lead a video conference for a bunch of people one day.”

“You could totally do it, “ I told her. “She started her own business but works with some of the biggest companies in the world. She combined her passion with making a living. You could do that too one day.”

“Like maybe soccer and math?” she mumbled with a full pancake in her mouth.

“Sure, maybe even soccer and math.”

I know this sounds like an innocuous conversation. Really, it’s just a school party. But to me, a stay-at-home mom, this is important stuff.  Life-changing stuff.

Because to be honest, I am counting on you working moms.  I need you guys to succeed.

Due to life circumstances — a husband who travels, moving around the country a few times, birthing three kids in sixteen months — it made sense for me to stay at home. I didn’t anticipate becoming a full-time mom, but it works for my family. I enjoy it and live a fulfilling life filled with volunteering at my kids’ school, charitable work and a little bit of writing here and there.  My children understand that I work, even if I am not getting paid.

But my daughters may choose a different path, and I need role models for them. Role models like my friend who volunteers at school, creates beautiful projects with her kids and runs a business — and still has time to go out and grab a glass of wine.

In that moment I found out my working mom friend was going to be late, I could have admonished her in front of my daughter. But, instead, I wanted to show her something else, something much more important.

Middle school is the time when most girls no longer believe they can be anything they want in this world. According to my friend Vanessa at TIA Girl Club, this is the time when camouflaging occurs, meaning our daughters want more to fit in then become their authentic selves. This is when we lose them.

The number one way to raise girls who believe they can do anything and be anyone is by supporting other women — women who make different choices than ourselves. It is the most important way to show our girls that they control their destiny.

We need to support the moms who are working either by desire or by necessity. Offer to carpool so their child doesn’t miss an event or take in a snack they prepared. Help their kids when they can’t be at the class party. Don’t make them feel bad when they are running late. I’m pretty sure dealing with guilt is a second job for most working moms, so don’t add more.

Because the truth is, I feel guilty too. I wonder if I am the best example to my kids at times, if I am demonstrating girl-power. I am comfortable if they choose to follow my path, but I don’t want them to do it out of fear or resignation. I want them to understand they have the power of choice.

And my brand of feminism has to do with two things and two things only — equality and choice. Feminists who came before us fought for the right to choose a life that was on their terms —whether that was staying at home or participating in the workforce.

And we ladies should support each other in whatever choices we make. If we don’t support them both, what message will that send to our girls?

When men do it they are applauded, so as women, let’s really show them how it’s done.

So, to all the working moms running late today: don’t worry. We got this!

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I Am Sad Before It Even Begins

I watch the two girls ride away on their bikes, and I am surprised when tears fill my eyes like raindrops in a bucket.

“They look so big,” I think to myself.

I am unsure why this particular outing causes me to choke back tears, paralyzing me in the moment. I have watched my twin daughters ride to their various friends’ houses all summer without significance.

But this Friday is the last one before fifth grade starts. It is their last summer weekend as elementary students. Next year the pair will be middle schoolers.

I swallow hard trying to control the rush of emotions surging through my body like an electric volt. It all went so fast.

I am sad about the end of this chapter. I am sad before it even begins.

Memories flood my brain like a slide show on fast forward. I see images of the first day they rode the bus, school parties, and Christmas mornings. I see snapshots of them with their tiny arms wrapped around their friends, playing dress up or walking in their father’s work boots around the kitchen floor.

Next year, they may go to their first dance, have a crush, or get embarrassed when I show up at school. Playdates will get replaced with “get-togethers” and the pressures of academics and social status will increase. They will need me less and more all at the same time.

I already miss our walks to school. I miss their excited little faces as they run through the door to tell me about their day. I long to hold them in my arms, squeeze them both tight and tell them one more time how lucky I feel that I am their mom.

The sound of my daughter’s cackling laughter startles me, pushing me back into reality. I shake my head side to side quickly to clear my mind and turn to wipe a tear before she sees.

“Mom, I totally forgot to put the sunscreen in my bag,” she says, cracking herself up. Her long leg easily goes over the side of the bike, an adult-sized one we bought this summer since she now stands five feet tall at age ten.  She sheepishly smiles at me and my heart grows a little bigger as I watch the beautiful young lady standing before me. This girl who is self-conscious but with a wicked sense of humor, sensitive yet resilient, routine-oriented, but an individual to her core.

As she runs into the house, her sister shouts good-naturedly after her,“Yeah, mom only reminded you like fifty-seven times!” I am always surprised at the loud voice that comes out of that little body. My other daughter proves that great things do come in small packages. This petite powerhouse has never met a challenge she didn’t believe she could win. While life comes pretty easy for her, she soaks up every experience to the fullest, and I smile, knowing  it was she who reminded her twin of the sunscreen and then did not get angry at her forgetfulness.

In a flash, I feel gangly arms around my body and kisses on my cheeks. We shout our I love you’s again and I yell out, “Be careful” just one more time as I see tiny hands wave straight up in the air so their pink and purple backpacks don’t slip off their narrow shoulders.

And then they are gone.

I miss them already. I miss this time filled with innocence and wonder and imagination, already.

I have no regrets. I know I live in the moment with my kids, relishing every experience and celebrating every first. I will continue to do so.

But, I also know we are at the beginning of the end of an era. It reminds me of reading the last chapter in a great book that I don’t want to finish. I want to know the ending, yet I don’t want it to be done.

I am sad before it even begins.

I finally turn away from the empty road and walk slowly back into the house.  Before I even shut the garage door, my phone beeps with a text message from my friend. “They are here!” it says across my screen.

I smile, feeling happy they are enjoying the last moments of summer, as they should at this age. Happy they are old enough to go places by themselves, but still want to climb trees; happy when we eat frozen yogurt with their friends they still want me to sit next to me; happy they want to shower me with hugs and kisses one more time if only because they forgot their sunscreen.

Although I can feel the tears stinging my eyes yet again, this time it is with joy. Because although I am sad knowing it is the beginning of an end, I am grateful to be a part of it, a voracious reader in the story of their lives.

And I sigh, thankful that although this is the last chapter of their elementary years, the next book in the series will be right at my fingertips.

I Thought I Would Be Better At This

Recently, one of my daughters and I were in the car together driving to the dermatologist’s office for an appointment to check out some pre-pubescent acne. It is a rare occurrence that her sisters aren’t tagging along, so I relished the opportunity to chat with her about the upcoming school year, and other things we don’t have nearly enough time to discuss, like her love of Pitbull and new skins on Minecraft, whatever that means.

As we rode along, she meekly asked, “Mom, why do I have to go to the dermatologist?”

“Oh, it’s no big deal,” I responded off-handedly. “You’ve inherited Dad’s genes, and we just want a doctor to look at your skin to see what we can do to clear it up. And we want to make sure we do whatever we can to make you feel good about yourself.”

“But I already feel good about myself,” she replied quickly.

The words stabbed me right in the heart. Did I just tell my daughter that the way she looked right at that moment wasn’t good enough? Did I inadvertently slam her body image? Why didn’t we discuss this more and let the choice be hers?

I decided to slam the brakes on the conversation and take a different route.

“No, honey,” I stammered. “That’s not what I meant. You are perfect just the way you are. We just want a doctor to look at your skin to make sure you don’t have an allergy or infection or something like that. It has nothing to do with how you look.”

Phew. That was close to being a body image fail.

“So these pimples mean I’m sick?” she nervously asked.

Crap, I’m right back in it. Now I’m scaring her. Way to go, Mom.

“No no, no. It doesn’t mean that at all! I just meant when you have a reaction to something going on in your body, it’s good to have a doctor check it out,” I said too quickly, hearing my voice get higher as I tried to dig myself out of the hole.

“Like when dad had the wart on his foot?”

“Um, yeah, just like that.”

And then radio silence until we pulled into the parking space. In real-time, I think it was two minutes, but in awkward-parenting moments it felt like three days.

I put my arm around her shoulder as we walked through the office building door, and all I could think was I thought I would be better at this.

I thought I would be better at talking to my kids about the difficult stuff — the stuff that made me die of embarrassment when my mom tried to discuss it with me. I read books about discussing sex and articles about promoting health body image and blog posts about getting through puberty. I listened to my girlfriends as they talked about issues with their daughters and took mental notes. I even bought the American Girl series on puberty — all three books!

I wanted to be my daughters’ source for information. Although my mom swears she had “the talk” with me, I think I blocked it out like a traumatic experience. Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret was my go-to source for getting through puberty.

Most importantly, however,  I wanted to make sure my girls felt comfortable enough to come to me with questions before they put themselves in a risky situation — or after if they ever found themselves in trouble.

I wanted to be a boss at awkward conversations with my daughters.

Well, not so much.

When we talked about bras, one daughter was most interested in knowing if she could get one of the thick, squishy bras, like mommy has. Apparently I’m raising a future Victoria’as Secret model.

When I tried to explain sexting after a friend caught her daughter just a year older than mine sending inappropriate photos, the conversation yielded a series of giggles about how disgusting boy’s “private parts” are. Despite my best efforts at a serious conversation, all I got was: “Who would want to see that?”

And my personal favorite is when I tackled the topic of menstruation with my girls, and one of them ended up bawling because apparently I made her believe that you get pregnant every single month. “I don’t want to have a baby every month,” she wailed. Epic fail.

I sucked at this. None of these difficult conversations went according to plan despite my best efforts.

I thought I would be better at this.

Or so I thought.

The other day I took my daughters to Claire’s to spend some gift card money. While there, a young girl sat screaming in the ear-piercing chair, begging her mother to let her out. For ten agonizing minutes, the child screamed while the mom negotiated with her to go through with the piercing, but she continued to cry and stuck her head between her knees.

Listening to them broke my heart. I unknowingly shook my head as I helped my daughter pick out some earrings. That’s when she turned to me and said, “Mom, no one should make you do anything to your ears that you don’t want them to.”

Yes! Yes! We had a conversation about respecting bodies sometime in the past. We talked about that.

And then this summer, my daughter hastily jumped out of the pool. I asked if she was okay and she told me a little boy, a four year-old friend of ours, was touching her inappropriately. “He keeps grabbing my butt, Mom. I know he is little, but he’s not listening, so I thought I would just get out of the pool.”

We talked about that too! Taking yourself out of difficult situations and not allowing others to touch us in ways that make us uncomfortable. We talked about that.

And then my youngest burst into tears one night for no apparent reason. I suggested that maybe she was tired, and she replied: “Maybe. Or maybe it’s those moaning things you talked to us about.”

“Hormones?” I said to my 9 year-old. “I don’t think that’s what it is. But I’m glad you are listening.”

Even the conversation on the way to the dermatologist, the one that broke my heart, demonstrated my daughter is doing okay, even when I flub it up. She confidently told me she feels good about herself no matter what —and I can’t ask for more than that.

Puberty, sex, drugs, alcohol, driving, bullying, boyfriends, body image, guns. etc. The list of things we need to discuss with our kids is long and never seems to end. I’m going to keep tackling these issues, as awkward and painful as it may be for all involved.

And although I thought I would be better at this.

It will be better because I tried.

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What I Want My Kids to Know About Cell Phones

When my kids were younger, the thought of providing them with cell phones terrified me. It seemed that all the world’s evils were wrapped up in one pretty iPhone case. Sexters, cyberbullies and online predators could attack my babies with just the click of a button.

Eighty-five percent of kids ages ten to seventeen either own or have access to a smart phone and nearly 25 percent say the are “cell-mostly” Internet users.  My oldest two are approaching eleven years old, and while I am not in a rush to furnish them with their own phones, many of their friends already possess one. I want — I need — to be sure they understand the risks that come with unfettered access to texting and the wild, wild Web.

To quash my fears, I became educated about Internet safety, and developed a  plan for monitoring their online behavior and use. And although I do not have any delusions of grandeur that I can keep pace with the constantly evolving methods people are using cell phones and social media to prey on our children, I hope to keep the bad guys out of our wireless world.

I’ve talked a lot with my kids about the responsibilities that come with owning a cell phone or access to the Internet when I’m not there to monitor. Stranger danger applies both in the real world and the online one. I showed them how an innocent personal photo could end up on a dangerous web site. I demonstrated how “privacy” settings don’t really make things private.

But lately I have noticed that there are a new set of dangers that come when a child walks around with his own phone. The problems may not be physical or unlawful, but I do believe they can have a lasting effect on their social well-being.

Here’s what I want my kids to know about cell phones:

iPhones are not for validation. Life is not measured in how many likes you have on Instagram or followers on Twitter.  And all the “friends” you have on SnapChat will never fill the void in your soul. Make sure that the “self” in selfies does not impact your self-worth. Always remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so build your brain and grow your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

Don’t disconnect. I am the first to admit that I often whip out my cell phone when I am waiting to pick up my kids or in a room full of people I don’t know. Unfortunately, tweens and teens are now doing the same thing, except at every opportunity. Instead of bonding with teammates, boys are texting on their phones during water breaks. Instead of chatting with their girlfriends before a movie starts, the group is checking Facebook. Cell phones are for connecting with people, not for using it to avoid conversation.

Every text is an opportunity to be mis-interpreted. The average teen girl receives around five calls on her cell phone per day and 100 texts. That is 3,000 per month! Although most are innocuous messages and chatter, many kids use texting because it is easier, faster and makes them feel less uncomfortable. That is code for lacking the courage or fortitude to have a difficult conversation.

When young people type instead of speak, they lose the opportunity to develop important interpersonal skills, such as reasoning, problem-solving and yes, even compassion. Those on the receiving end of a text, often teens experiencing insecurity or trying to fit into a social clique, often misinterpret a message without any visual or audio cues in which to guide the intent.

The net-net is people often use text messages to avoid a mess, but learning how to fix a mess is a lesson we want all young people to learn. The pain and discomfort that comes with learning how to communicate — really communicate —with others is what leads to better relationships. So use the phone, not your fingers, to get your point across to the people who matter in your life.

Privacy means different things to everyone. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that manages impulse control is not fully formed until our twenties. That means even your BFF can have poor judgment or make the mistake of forwarding a private text or photo merely by hitting the wrong button.   My mantra is if you would not walk into the lunchroom and shout it out, don’t ever text or share it on social media. Your “friends” list will not adhere to the same standards of discretion about your life as you expect, particularly when hitting the forward key is so simple.

Cell phones are for personal use, not to shame others. In today’s iEverything age, a person can snap a photo in a millisecond without the target even knowing. It’s a picture posted on Facebook of an overweight girl’s butt crack sitting on the bleacher in front of you or recording a schoolyard brawl only to post it on YouTube for entertainment.

But here’s the thing, and there is no way getting around it. Those pictures and videos live forever and regardless of your privacy settings they can be shared and spread like wildfire. And they are humiliating to the — wait for it — victim. Because that’s what a person is who unwillingly gets subjected to ridicule because you couldn’t keep your cell phone in your pant’s pocket.

Don’t be so busy taking a photo of a stranger to not notice when someone is in need of help.

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