Raising Civilised Children Part Three: (Avoid) Embarrassing Your Kids

This article assumes you fall into one of two categories: those who want to keep your kin free of mortifying maternal moments or those who believe it is one’s parental responsibility to ensure one’s offspring have been exposed to humiliation by the ‘rents and so they know how to deal with life’s embarrassing moments (i.e. you are devilishly clever and know how to keep the li’l critters in check.)

Either way you may find this a useful guide:


Remember always you are NOT cool (even if you are.) This concept applies to most actions and points to the very real possibility that we can never avoid bedevilling our youngsters. Gone are the days when Junior snuggled up to you and shared his dream that one day when he married his princess, he would build a house right next to yours (I always thought: ‘Poor princess!’ But anyway…) Resign yourself to being barely acknowledged and do not be alarmed by that strange phenomenon so characteristic of the adolescent creature: the ability of their eyeballs to rotate in their sockets. This behaviour is at times associated with excessive sighing, foot tapping and folded arms. It is not permanent although it does reduce the sufferer’s ability to receive much pleasure from life and can cause heightened blood pressure in parents or, as in my case, alternatively uncontrollable giggles (okay guffaws – I never giggle), a fierce desire to slap the offending orbs back into place (to be resisted at all costs) or an Irish stubbornness which encourages the continuation of the offensive  cool (’So not, Mom!’ ) comportment.

Conduct which is considered uncool:

  • Dancing:

No matter how much your scintillating moves were in demand at nightclubs in the eighties, or how many times people compared you to Patrick Swayze, John Travolta, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer or that blonde girl in Abba, you CANNOT dance. So don’t. Not even when they have no friends to be embarrassed in front of. This applies to bopping in your car, jiggling in the kitchen and heaven forbid, swaying or jiving to the tune in the supermarket.  You may have been a professional dancer, but ‘Mom, that was then.’ The urge to threaten a little twerking is one to be resisted or indulged depending on your take on teen distress.

However the injunction to desist from all musical gyrations may be lifted at such time as your debutant/e requires lessons in waltzing in preparation for a formal occasion. But even then, it is probably safer to profess poorer skills than the overweight LO teacher and leave it to him.

  • Fashion

It is usually safest to check with the fashion police before you leave the house because there are so many clothing pitfalls for the unwary geriatric. We are not supposed to dress like them; wear old-fashioned clothes (apparently hipster jeans are ‘so last year’ -just when you had managed to rid your wardrobe of comfy high waisters); or dress like a teenager (make sure you pass the mutton/lamb SABS board of approval – no bubblegum colours). They are also scarred from that one occasion in their childhood that they had to go out in either matching outfits or Puritan hand-me-downs from benevolent acquaintances.(So maybe it was  more than one occasion). Wearing of your progeny’s clothing is a no-no, however your cupboard is fair game.  According to my younger daughter my wardrobe attire could be classed as ‘vintage’ (the cheek!), but if I wear their apparel it’s ‘just desperate.’ Appearing in public in slippers or any night attire is the child’s version of your mom’s horror story regarding clean underwear and accidents. Oh and please wear undies – that goes without saying.

Generally if they utter these death-to-parent-ego words: ‘Are you wearing that ..?’ it means they are displeased.

Of course hypocrisy and irony are foreign concepts for an adolescent so don’t believe that reciprocal fashion advice will appreciated. ‘Everyone’ is wearing skank pants and tarty cut-off tops, revealing bare midriffs. It is just you who are cruel and so behind the times. Ditto tattoos. 

  • Social Media

The advent of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Whatsapp groups and the like created a minefield for the unwary and conscientious parent. These are the dos and don’ts of such apps:

  1. We are not cool it seems when we comment on their statuses, but especially when we write on their friends’ or younger cousins’ walls. That is cringe-worthy behaviour.
  2. Perhaps steering clear of connections to anyone they know is sound advice, because tagging them or posting an uncensored photo or status can cause huge shame, I believe. My cousin committed the unforgiveable crime of befriending her grandson’s ex-girfriend. I can only imagine the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.
  3. Despite the clever adaptation of abbreviations on these apps, we oldies should use the full word, I am told. Lol. It is sooo embarrassing if we use shorthand. But, they will assure you, they are merely protecting you from embarrassing yourself. Lmao… I especially like those cute wiggly minions which dance when you read the post. I am such a disappointment.
  • Family Photography

You’re fairly safe with this because this generation spends more time taking selfies (They are called ekkiekies in Afrikaans btw(!), however the rule regarding posting on social media applies here. It’s probably not polite for you to pout or show gang signs either. And no dancing in the waves on your annual holiday – or any day. Remember, that rule still applies.

And don’t take too long to get the shot. That is a Luddite move.

  • Music

This is a bit like the prohibition on dancing: Don’t sing.

Radios are also on the teenage uncool radar. My children have had to learn that Le Moto is mine and therefore so is the choice of air waves. I don’t think they are necessarily uncomfortable with my stations, but they just don’t always like talk radio or the classics.  And if I change frequency, I might sing. Or dance. Or both.


For the teen, their image with their friends is paramount. So over and above the other potential transgressions whereby their image is affected by yours, it is essential that they be deemed acceptable. So having the dowager of the family do the following can be death to a youngster’s social standing.

  • Visiting school 

Rule of thumb for this is again: don’t.  Unless your happy high schooler knows, you may be encroaching on his turf. Never linger over farewells , especially on the first day of term. My unfortunate poppets had to suffer not only the indignity of their mother on the teaching staff, but they also had to endure her presence as principal. When my elder daughter began senior school, she was asked what she was anxious about. Her answer was her mother embarrassing her. Her elder brother chortled with derision, telling her to get used to it quickly. I never told her about tripping and falling right outside her classroom on her very first day. Luckily she didn’t notice.

Giving random children lifts and chatting happily as if they are best friends with their reluctant co-passengers (the ones you gave birth to) may ruin a reputation or two.

I have to confess to halting the car to correct behaviour of students in school uniform on the pavement or confiscate a skateboard being ridden in the street. The hapless occupants of the vehicle managed to reach new levels of reclining in their seats in an effort to distance themselves from the hated disciplinarian.

Mind you one or two of my monkeys used my position to threaten ignorant bullies with expulsion via their mother, an amusing situation only because I had no jurisdiction in the primary school.

On the sidelines of the sports field it is important always to cheer politely, without drawing attention to oneself. Insisting on lathering him with sunblock or fussing over him when he is hurt will damage his manly image and result in your being banned from supporting matches. Don’t yell at the ref or coach your junior bokkie.

  • Babying

Remove the Baby on Board sticker from the car before it fossilises itself in the glass and becomes a permanent feature.

Teach them to drive, but don’t tell them what to do. (Work that one out on your own.)

Hello Kitty and One Direction bedding dates. Boys however still want Spiderman in their thirties. Warn their wives. Batman is forever.

  • Reproduction

They want to know, but do NOT suggest that they were conceived and birthed in any carnal manner.

You do not have what one of mine called C-E-X. You are their parents – if you do, they do not want to know  about it, think about it, hear about it, or worse yet perceive it with any sense. Best way to keep them out of your space is to yell, ‘We’re naked!’

If you really want a laugh, trick a boy to walk down the supermarket aisle where the sanitary ware is kept.

  • Performing for family/ Anecdotes

No matter how proud you are of her eisteddfod poem, she probably does not want to present it to the elderly aunts at family dinner parties.

Likewise, regaling the assembled relatives with their cuteness will result in your spending some time in the delightful village of Coventry while en route home.

Tales which begin with ‘Now when I was your age’ should be banned (even if you want to humiliate them).

Don’t show baby pictures to anyone.  See ‘Family photography’ above.

You are probably thinking that my dear littluns have had a childhood of serial mortification. They are in fact reasonably well adjusted however, fairly nonchalant and seldom nonplussed by my antics. I think the children of theatrical mothers tend to be quite chilled or even reactionary in a prissy way. When I mentioned I was writing about this subject the general response was a shoulder shrugging of the ‘do your worst’ kind. Except for one, who, when asked what I do that embarrasses him, declared: ‘No way am I telling you.  I am not giving you that sort of power.’

Little does he know: I knew all along.

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