It didn’t take too much to convince my friend, Guizelda, that we would be a big hit presenting Presidential facts to our kids’ elementary school class on Presidents’ Day one year. A bit more effort was required to get her to dress in costume as George Washington while I donned a stove pipe hat and brown felt facial hair to represent Abe Lincoln.
As we entertained and educated the 2nd grade class with facts, historical tales and distribution of quarters and pennies, it never entered my mind that my child could be headed for years of therapy with Mom publicly on display as a bearded man. After all, reading to her Kindergarten class dressed in an inflatable pumpkin suit one Halloween didn’t seem to incur any psychological damage.
Her mortification DID register with me when, in 3rd grade, she asked me NOT to wear the pumpkin suit to the Halloween party that year. I assured her I would respect her wishes and learned that turning deep shades of purple is indeed, humanly possible when I surprised her by showing up in our Fat Ballerina costume.
Forget sanctions like being “grounded” or taking away privileges to elicit appropriate behavior from children—parenting by embarrassment is much more effective!
Not intentional, painful embarrassment, of course—although, at times that can’t be avoided due to the very basic premise that all parents are embarrassing to their kids. By laying this foundation of all-done-in-fun, costumed outrageousness when my children were young, the possibility of more parental preposterousness as teenagers is horrifying to them.
It doesn’t take much of a reminder as to just what can befall them if they aren’t careful. Carrying a chicken shaped purse, showing up for car pool driving with the windows down blaring Selena’s Tejano music, wearing their jeans—all are not-so-subtle reminders as to who really is in charge.
I think I’m losing my edge however, as my kids are on to me and now seem to revel in being treated differently from their friends when it comes to parenting styles. Garnering sympathy from their peers makes them special and possibly envied as flashes of parental ridiculousness are far less painful than a week without the car keys or cell phone.
Consider the response I overheard between my daughter and her friend who was bemoaning her own mother being “so embarrassing.” “Wait a minute—has your mother ever worn a pumpkin suit to school?” my daughter asked. They walked off in agreement that I was indeed, more embarrassing.