In a world full of social media, camera phones, and YouTube it is tempting to be overly concerned with what everyone else is doing and how we compare. However, our constant need to “manage our image” can be detrimental to our children. The danger of this was captured in a heartbreaking statement whispered to me by a sweet 8-year-old boy,
“My parents care too much about how I make them look.”
One of the greatest delights of parenting is watching our children grow into who God created them to be. Along that journey, we all experience highs and lows. There are moments we are overwhelmed with pride for them and moments we are embarrassed for them. What you cannot do is be embarrassed BY them. When you are embarrassed by them, you are taking on too much of their responsibility to learn from their own mistakes. In other words, when we are embarrassed by our children we care too much about how they make us look.
Here are some examples of this unhealthy cycle.
- In the South, we love our sports! Have your ever expected your child to play a sport because you want to be a “baseball mom” or a “football dad”. For example, I know a mother who forced her sons to play football because it is tremendously popular and has a huge fan base. Consequently, she wanted to be part of the football parents’ crowd. It is fine to encourage a new sport, it is not okay to influence your child in a way that pushes them to live out your parenting dream.
- Do you expect more from your children in front of others than you do at home so you look like a “good” parent? If you do not care about your child saying “Yes Ma’am” to you at home, it is wrong to expect him to say it to you around your friends. It is unfair to change your standards for their behavior because you are insecure.
- Have you ever felt the need to cover up something your child has done so that you are not embarrassed? This sends a mixed message and prevents your child from learning hard lessons. I heard a story about a group of teenagers who were vandalizing different areas of a neighborhood. One of the houses had a security camera and caught an image of the teens. That image was posted on social media and one of the fathers turned his child in to the police. This is a great example of a parent not letting his own personal pride or fear prevent his son from an important teachable moment.
How can we avoid this unhealthy cycle?
- Be excited about your children’s interests. Parents should be equally excited about a speech and debate tournament as they are about a football game. Let’s go back to the example of the mom who expected her sons to play football. She went to every football game and volunteered for every football fundraiser. Sadly, when her son played soccer, she never even went to a single game. Her dedication was not to her children, it was to the perceptions of others.
- Maintain a consistent standard for your children. You can relax some of your rules at home, but never relax the standard.
- Never protect your child from learning an important life lesson. Natural consequences and the voices of other adults who care are two of the greatest teachers in the lives of our children.
Most important of all, however, we need to remember that children have unlimited imaginations and that their social grace has only the definitions we instill. With that in mind, just remember to laugh and encourage because kids are amazing, hysterical creatures.