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What To Do When Your Kids Are Embarrassed By You

06/19/2014 07:03 am ET | Updated Aug 19, 2014
  • Ann Brenoff Senior Writer/Columnist, The Huffington Post

I spotted something on Facebook the other day that caused a parenting flashback. A woman posted how her overweight husband was at a school function when at some point during the festivities, her young daughter whispered in his ear and asked him to please leave. Why? Some of her classmates were commenting on his weight, calling him things like "fatso," and the little girl was embarrassed.

The dad left, feeling about as awful as you just did when you read that. The closed Facebook group the Mom posted the story to showered her with support and offered her lots of parenting advice. There was the usual chorus of "kids can be so mean" and few minority voices who demanded justice, maybe even retribution. Yep, there ought to be a law.

Me? I barely knew where to start -- and like I said, it caused a parenting flashback.

My husband and I are both older parents -- as in the oldest parents in our kids' classes. Always. Let's just say it outright: Ours is a family that people notice. Two old geezer parents, a full-time working mom (trust me, in our community, this is a big anomaly), and two kids born in China who are obviously adopted as opposed to the 15 percent of the population that is adopted but you can't tell by looking at them.

Our parenting attitude has always been to embrace our differences, even celebrate them. But it hasn't always been easy for our kids, especially when they were younger.

I remember the time when our son shooed his Dad away after another kid asked if that was his grandpa. My husband also needed to be educated on that one. Instead of growling at anyone who arrived at this logical conclusion, I encouraged him to make a joke of it. "Oh Lord no," he learned to say, "my grandchildren are much older than these two." Discomfort averted with just a smile. Life is full of small slights and you need to learn to differentiate which battles are worth fighting, because not all are.

In our case, having "old" parents was just one of the many things our children have had to handle.

My daughter, born cleft-affected, frequently would be asked on the playground "what happened to your nose?" While I initially wanted to choke the little monsters who asked her this (and their mothers for not teaching them better), I taught her instead to listen to her gut. If she felt the question came from simple curiosity, she would answer it "I was born like this. Do you want to go play?" If she felt any malice of intention -- any meanness whatsoever -- she would answer their question with a question: "Why do you want to know?"

I taught my children that their adoption stories are their stories and they have no obligation to share them just because "someone wants to know." I empowered them to say "I don't answer personal questions from strangers. Should I call my mom over so you can ask her?"

A common thread on many China-adoption online forums are the intrusive questions we all get -- questions like, "How much did she cost?" or my personal favorite: "Is her father Asian?" (I once replied to the nosy woman asking that doozie that "I'm actually not really sure because I never got a good look at his face -- ya' know what I mean?" Yeah, she sputtered as she fled the market.)

All of which is to say this: I'm no stranger to the situation the woman on Facebook wrote about. Adults and kids -- other people's, not ours of course -- can be the unkindest people on the planet. Sometimes they don't mean to be unkind, but the fact is that the things that come out of their mouths can take down the biggest-hearted, nicest Dad in the world, which is kind of what happened to the Facebook poster whose husband is overweight.

The poster tossed out a few courses of action -- including complaining to the school that they need to teach the kids a bit more about kindness. Yeah, that would be great, wouldn't it Wouldn't it also be great if the children's parents did it too? You know, actually role model what acceptance looks like and maybe even teach them what hurtful speech is and how to practice empathy? I'd add that fat-shaming is long past its due to hit the "things we used to routinely say when we were stupid and oblivious" pile. Fatso? Really?

I don't know this woman's husband, but I already love the man for doing what he thought would make his much-loved daughter happy. I'm big on putting my kids first and that's what he did. This dad erred on the side of caution, put his own hurt feelings aside and did what he had to do to spare his little girl further embarrassment. What's not to love about the guy? So for the record, I think he did fine on that part, but now it gets trickier.

He and his wife need to talk to their daughter and make this a learning moment. He needs to tell her that he understands how those other kids at school made her feel and how she in turn made him feel. I'd throw in a few role-playing lessons too, giving her the language to use when she encounters kids who say mean things.

She can start with, "That's my Dad. Why are you so mean?"

As for the talk my husband and I had with my son years ago on the evening he asked his dad to leave because a kid thought he was his grandpa, I'm happy to report progress.

About a year later, I proudly overheard my son tell a kid, "Yeah, I'm lucky. My dad is retired so he is always at all my games and practices. Too bad your dad can't make it but I guess he still has to work or something, right?" Way to go, kiddo.

Earlier on Huff/Post50:

What Celebrities Learned From Their Grandparents