As mothers, we have all had our children do things publicly to embarrass us. I was in a store here in the small town where I live with my youngst child when he was three years old. The store sold stationery products, fancy paper, and did custom copying. It was a cozy little store. As we walked in the door, my son looked around and saw at the front entrance a light switch. Guess what he did? Yes, he flipped it. Fortunately, all it did was shut off the flourescent lights overhead, and the lady who worked there was very gracious about it.
When my daughter was three years old, we were in the grocery store paying for our food items, and she was giving a running dialogue about what candies were at the check out. There was a family ahead of us checking out their items and she was just passing the time. She ran off her list: "These are chocolate bars, and these are candies, and these are batteries, and these are Japanese." She looked right at the family at the end of the checkout, just picking up their groceries.
I don't know if they were Japanese or not, but they were certainly Asian. Where she got the notion that they were Japanes is anyone's guess. Perhaps she saw something on "Reading Rainbow" about Japan. I wracked my brain to think if we'd been reading about Japanese people. Whatever it was, I was, in this politically correct age, mortified, and wondering about the blessing of having a very articulate toddler.
Those are small embarrassments, and they're the stuff of funny stories we like to tell when the kids get older. An old friend of mine had her three year old (what is it about the age of three?) see a person with dwarfism and shout out, "Mommy, look, it's a troll!" We expect such embarrassments.
It gets dicier when our kids are older and their slip ups become more serious. As they get older, they learn not to call dwarfs trolls or turn off lights in the store. At least most don't. Some kids never do learn proper social cues, and that's just something they have to deal with.
When our teenagers begin making their own decisions, they may make ones that embarrass us. They choose to wear things we don't like or hang around with friends we don't like, or maybe they want to be sullen and incommunicative in youth group. Sometimes, it is clear to our church family that our kids are struggling, and we may begin to feel embarrassed.
When our kids sin, it's important to avoid the temptation to have as our first reaction, "People are going to say I'm a bad parent." That thought reveals something pretty serious; it reveals that I am placing more emphasis on what others think than the heart of my child. I made that mistake often when my children were first teens, and my husband had to correct me often, and remind me that our kids' hearts were the concern, not what people said or thought.
Mothers can often be merciless with their criticism and judgment of other people's kids. I have, to my shame, been a mother such as that, and quite interestingly, it was when my kids were 12 and under. It was oh, so easy to think parenting teens is easy when you're simply watching from the sidelines. I didn't really find out how difficult it was until my kids were older teens. And yes, I worried too much about how their behaviour affected me, and that was wrong. When we start to worry like that, we could very well be making idols out of our children.
Ephesians 6:4 gives this injunction to fathers, and I think it should be applied to mothers: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."
I've often thought about what kinds of things provoke children; there are probably a lot. I do think admonishing them with the, "Don't sin because it will embarrass me," is potentially provoking. Think about what is says to a young, immature child: it says that he must make his parents look good. It makes avoidance of sin an issue of outward appearance, not an issue of the child's realtionship with God. While children are called to obey and honour their parents, they are not called to be the means by which the parents receive applause from those around them.
I took a lot of pride in my well behaved little ones, how they were neatly dressed, polite, and happy. When they began to do what we all do as we gain independence -- make mistakes -- I didn't always handle it well. I wish I had known then what I know now, and that is sometimes falling flat on their faces is what they need to learn.
If you have a teenager who is doing things that make you cringe, and you feel embarrassed, don't think you're alone. Every child rebels; it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of degree. We all have rebellious hearts. Some kids just don't do it publicly. Don't feel alone and discouraged; use it as an opportunity to learn more about being gracious, merciful, and dependent upon God.