“Hello! We’re having a meeting of Grade 3 parents with all the subject teachers on Monday at 8am. It will last one hour. I’m calling to confirm you’ll be coming. You haven’t attended any such sessions over the past 3 years, and as the Parent Representative, I’d like to know if there’s a problem. Is there something I can help you with?”
As I finished saying my piece, I could sense the lady’s discomfort over the phone. We were both silent for a few moments.
As I was about to prompt her, she told me she had ‘no problems’. I told her I was glad to hear that, but that she might still have concerns she’d like to discuss with the teachers and other parents. Also, it was a good way to find out what was going on at school, and with other parents and the children.
After a bit, she said, “Actually, I don’t wear western clothes. I am more comfortable in traditional Indian clothes. And my daughter, she feels I’m not modern. She doesn’t like me to come to school. So I stay away. She wants me to come in pants and dresses like some other mothers. She feels ashamed to see me always in Indian clothes. She gets very angry. So…” Her voice trailed away.
Another silence on the phone.
I couldn’t say a word because so many emotions were warring inside me. I was incensed at how cruel the child was. I was pained by the hurt in the lady’s voice. I was horrified that a child could think this way about her parents. I wanted to charge in there and ‘do something’ about it. A moment’s thought, and wiser counsel prevailed. There was nothing I could have said that wouldn’t have sounded either patronizing or obnoxious.
Gently, I repeated, “You should consider coming for the meeting. It’s quite important. If you have anything at all to discuss…”
“No,” she replied. “Typically, my husband would be there, but he’s traveling, so we won’t be coming.”
I replaced the phone, contemplating what I would do to this girl if I could have my way with her.
But when I had gained some distance, I found perspective too. I found I could not blame the child. Her parents were responsible for her attitude. They had only themselves to blame.
Over the years, dozens of parents have confided in me about how they have strict instructions from their children about how they (the parents) should appear in public.
“You must wear lipstick.”
“Don’t come unless you’re wearing a suit.”
“You don’t speak English properly; it would be better if you don’t come to school. Send Mom instead.”
“You’re so short – you don’t look like a parent at all.”
“You’re so fat – lose some weight before you come to my school.”
In one instance, a 6-year old actually publicly refused to recognize her father because he was not (according to her) appropriately dressed! In the two years the child had been at school, she allowed only her mother to visit the school, because the father wore clothes indicating his religious affiliation. One day, the mother was stuck somewhere, and couldn’t get to school to pick the child up. She called her husband and asked him to rush to school as it was already very late.
After a while, the mother received a phone call from her daughter’s class teacher, who said, “There is a man here to pick up your daughter. He claims to be your husband, but the child says she doesn’t know him. What should we do?”
The lady had a hard time convincing the teacher that the man in question was her husband and the father of the child. It took over 15 minutes of conversation back and forth between the four people involved before the child consented to go home with her father.
This was narrated to me as an example of how fastidious the child was, how well she knew her own mind!
I tried not to show how appalled I was. And they were actually proud of the child behaving this way? If the primary school-aged child could refuse to acknowledge her parents, what was in store for the family when she grew up?
How come your children are embarrassed by you? After all, children are born ignorant, without any notions of good or bad, pride or shame. Where do they learn these ideas of being ashamed of themselves or their parents? From the parents themselves!
In the lady’s case, it was her own insecurity, her own lack of confidence in herself that the daughter picked up on and reflected.
Another mother might well have said, “Well, people dress differently. I prefer wearing traditional clothes, and I dress to suit myself. It doesn’t make me any less presentable than anyone else. It’s not clothes who make the person, but the person who makes the outfit.” Her daughter would have accepted the explanation happily, and taken pride in her mother’s appearance.
Another father might have explained to his child, “I believe in this religion. I was brought up believing in it, and it is an important part of who I am. My faith has helped shape my mind and my heart. I would not be the Dad you know and love without this faith. I am proud to belong to this faith, so I dress this way.” She would have understood and taken great pride in her father’s integrity, in the fact that he stood by what he believed in.
The most obvious thing about these two might-have-been incidents above is that the children would not have asked their parents for any explanations about their beliefs or behavior.
If you are clear about the person you are and what you believe in, you radiate it from every pore of your being. You are comfortable with yourself – being yourself – wherever you go, whoever you meet. Your child sees you comfortable being yourself. It will never strike him to be embarrassed by who you are.
There is, of course, one honorable exception to this. When your kids approach teenage, they will suddenly become embarrassed by you.
“You talk too much” I am told. 🙂
My response: “You’re growing up, and becoming super-sensitive to others’ opinions. I am still myself, though I’m changing too. But know this – you will be a lot more embarrassed by me before you begin to be comfortable with me again. It’ll get worse before it gets better.”
Her response: “Oh, okay. And when do you think it will be better? ” 🙂
I shrug. “Who knows?” And we smile at each other. 🙂